Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse

Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse

We tell each other stories for no other reason than to make sense out of the chaos of being alive. And we, of course, love to be at the center of the stories we tell. Just look at the social phenomena of the “selfie,” those self-taken pics that populate Facebook and Instagram like Chickenpox on a toddler.

I’m in the throes of finalizing my new book on brand storytelling called, Story Built: How to Craft Spellbinding Brand Stories to Create Epic Customer Engagement in 10 Easy Steps. One example that demonstrates how we use stories to create meaning in our lives is the Greek myth about Narcissus. It occurs to me that this story may be more powerful today than it was for the ancients given our self-absorption with social media.

Narcissus was a brave hunter and spectacularly handsome. One day, he was walking in the forest when the mountain nymph, Echo, saw him and fell deeply in love. Narcissus felt the presence of Echo and called out, “Who’s there?” Echo repeated, “Who’s there?” This exchange went on for days, which intrigued, and as you might imagine, slightly annoyed, Narcissus.  Then the shy Echo revealed herself and expressed her love for him. Narcissus rejected her outright.  She fled embarrassed and heartbroken, and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her.

Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of Echo’s slight and set out to punish Narcissus for his callousness. Nemesis lured him to a pond where he was greeted by his magnificent reflection. He was transfixed by his image. For days Narcissus sat by the pool and stared at himself. When he realized his love could never be addressed, he committed suicide.

The lesson found in the story of Narcissus: don’t fall prey to your ego. Selfies can be fun, intoxicating visual storytelling, and often intoxicated. But they can reflect poorly on you, too. Your Nemesis might turn your pic on you, making it viral to echo forever through the glens of the internet.

When brands are too self-absorbed, gazing at their own presumed beauty instead of empathizing with and appreciating the greatness of their audiences, the Goddess of revenge takes her toll. Customer engagement vanishes, and so too does the brand.

Look in the mirror and ask yourself: What stories is your brand telling your customers?