Telling a compelling story can have a profound impact on a business, influencing audiences and captivating an audience. It turns customers into converts. It transforms employees into evangelists. Executives into leaders. It changes the nature and impact of marketing, and perhaps most importantly, it can change how we see ourselves.
- the Value Story, to convince customers they need what you provide;
- the Founder Story, to persuade investors and customers your organization is worth the investment;
- the Purpose Story, to align and inspire your employees and internal customers; and
- the Customer Story, to allow those who use your product or service to share their authentic experiences with others.
The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story. – ANTHONY DE MELLO
The Gap in Your Business
The goal of a business is to profitably deliver value to people, to get a product or service from point A (the business) to point B (the people who will use it). To make a business work, you need to bridge the gaps. More importantly, those who bridge the gaps best, win. If you can sell better, pitch better, recruit better, build better, create better, connect better—you win.
Bridge the gaps, win the game.
Regardless of the type of gap you face in business, you must master three main elements to have any hope of building a bridge strong enough to get your intended audience—potential customers, key team members, investors, etc.—across the great divide: attention, influence, and transformation.
“If gaps have emerged in your business or on your path to success that you just can’t seem to close, there’s a good chance the problem starts with the elements you’re using, or not using, to build your bridges.”
Storytelling and Attention
As the teller tells the story, the listener is taking the words and adding their own images and emotions to them. Yes, the story is about certain characters in a certain setting, but listeners will fill in the narrative with their own experiences until the lines between the message and the recipients are blurred.
Captivate your audience with a story and you will have access to all the attention you could ever need.
Storytelling and Influence
In addition to the captivating effects of a story, or more accurately, as a result of them, stories possess an inherent persuasive quality. Researchers have tested this as well, determining that, as audiences lose themselves in a story, their attitudes change to reflect the story minus the typical scrutiny.
With a story, resistance dissipates. With a story, we don’t need to taste the food to want to go to the restaurant or smell the cologne to want to buy a bottle. A story allows people to fall in love with the product, appreciate the value of the service, and feel compelled to act.
“In business, there is always more than meets the eye, something bigger at play. Telling the story of that something can transform business entirely.”
When you look at the advertising, meetings, pitches, and boardrooms of the world, you quickly realize one thing: despite the acceptance of the concept, there’s still a lack of actual storytelling in business. And then, every once in a while, a real story is told, and we remember it.
The Four Components of a Great Story
•A significant moment
To be clear, a character is not a company name. It is not a value someone is committed to. It is not even a large mass of people or even a small group of people. A story needs a single or several single, separate characters we can identify with and connect to.
A list of events or occurrences does not a great story make. A static timeline is not a story. The emotion doesn’t have to be overly dramatic; it can be as simple or common as frustration or wonder or curiosity. But it needs to be there.
Additionally, and for clarification, emotion does not refer to what the story receiver experiences, but rather the emotion felt by the characters or inherent in the circumstances of the story. It is through that emotion that the story receiver experiences empathy with the story. No emotion means no empathy; no empathy means reduced impact of the message.
A Significant Moment
The third component to an effective story is a moment. A specific point in space, time, or circumstance that sets the story aside from the rest of our existence. It’s a way to take what might otherwise be a broad, generic description and zoom in tight to allow an audience a better view.
The specific details component involves the use of specific, descriptive, sometimes unexpected details and imagery that are relevant to the intended audience in an effort to create and draw the listeners into a world that sounds familiar to their own. The finer the detail, the better.
“The strongest, stickiest stories are those that master this final component. Using specific details in a story is a way to illustrate how well the teller knows the audience.”
The Steller storytelling framework
- Normal: Things are how they are.
- Explosion: Something happens.
- New Normal: Things are different.
A bad story has a single defining characteristic: we don’t care. Even the flashiest of colors, the biggest of budgets, or the cutest of puppies can’t make us care. They might get our attention, but they can’t make us invest emotionally. They can’t influence and transform. Fortunately, the majority of the time, the root cause of this disconnect can be traced back to a single mistake: leaving out the first part of the story. The normal.
The normal is where you include the components. The normal is where you give your audience a reason to care. The normal is the part most people leave out, which is why their stories don’t stick.
The explosion, for our purposes, is simply the happening. It could be a big thing or a small thing, a good thing or a bad thing. Most importantly, it’s the moment things change. Perhaps it is a realization or a decision. It may be an actual event. Whatever the case, the explosion is the point in the story where things were going along as normal and then suddenly they are different. Good different, bad different, doesn’t matter.
The third and final phase is the new normal. This is where you share with your audience what life is like now, after the explosion. You tell them what you know now, why you are wiser or stronger or how you improved (or are still trying to improve) as a result. It could be a moral. It could be when a client lived happily ever after, after using your product or service. It could include a call to action. However it comes together, the new normal is why storytelling works as a strategy to convey a point or enhance a message and not just to entertain. The new normal is what makes a story worth listening to in business.
Sometimes the best way to learn to tell a great story is to see others at work. Each of the following four essential stories has its characters and its audience. Each has a purpose in your business. You don’t need to create all of them at once. But when it comes to the infinite universe of possible tales, understanding these four types of business stories will help you decide not only which ones to tell but how best to tell them.
“People don’t buy the thing. They buy what the thing will do for them. In order for them to do that, you have to tell them a story. That story is a value story.”
The Value Story
This is the first gap in business: the value gap.
The gap between the problem and the value of the solution.
The gap between the product and the value to the customer.
The most important gap any business needs to bridge is the gap between what they offer and the people who, whether they know it or not, need it. To capture the attention of buyers, to convince them that, yes, this is the solution, and eventually to transform them into repeat users, customers, buyers, believers. When it comes to sales and marketing, the value story is king. And the value of a value story starts in psychology and spans the full spectrum of why we say yes.
“The people who might use your product are your customers and prospects. And they’re humans, not data. And that means they respond to story.”
The Founder Story to Bridge the Customer Gap
According to the Kaufman Index, 540,000 new business owners start the entrepreneur journey each month.9 Yes, you read that right: 540,000! A study by Intuit revealed that 64 percent of small business owners start with less than $10,000, and 75 percent of them rely on their personal savings to start their business. This means 540,000 potential competitors, 540,000 founders equally as hungry and willing to throw in their personal savings and do whatever it takes as you are.
“When it comes to a founder story, it’s not the magnitude of the story that matters; it’s the decision to tell it.”
“One of the easiest stories to forget to tell is the founder story, because amid all the other drama of what it takes to get a company off the ground, it’s easy for this story to get lost in the shuffle. When it comes to business, stories don’t often sound like stories; they just sound like part of a start-up life. But overlooking the founder story means missing a powerful opportunity to connect with investors, to differentiate yourself from the competition, and eventually secure talent for a thriving team.
The Purpose Story
The purpose story offers members of an established organization a reason to show up each day. To commit, to cooperate, and to accomplish something together.
Part of our need for purpose may be wired into us. We have an almost inescapable habit as humans to want to give meaning to things. From an evolutionary perspective, being goal-oriented and purpose-driven is an advantage. Wandering aimlessly versus hunting and gathering, for example, deliver entirely different results. Both involve walking, but with the first one, you starve to death.
People want a purpose. If you don’t give them one, they’ll make up their own. Tell your stories first, otherwise someone might tell them for you, and you might not like their version.
The Customer Story
Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.- Jeff Bezos
When you tell someone your product is great, that’s called marketing. When another customer tells them, it’s called a referral, and referrals carry a whole different level of clout.
Consider these findings from a BrightLocal consumer review survey:
•85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
•Positive reviews make 73 percent of consumers trust a local business more.
•49 percent of consumers need to see at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.
•Consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business
While referrals, reviews, testimonials, or other shared customer experiences can be valuable, they don’t necessarily come packaged as a story, and as a result, they don’t have the same impact a story can have. A review might answer questions, but it rarely includes the normal—that first part of the story framework—or draws people in with specific details that inspire imagery in the mind of the reader. A testimonial might state the facts, but rarely does it include compelling emotions. A product review might be good for business, but turning it into a customer story is great for business.
A customer story draws people in, makes them care, feel connected, and perhaps most importantly, makes them feel understood; for example,
“Someone else, like me, has felt the way I’ve felt and wanted the thing I’ve wanted and found the solution here. I want that. I’ll buy it.”
Customer stories are quite possibly the easiest and most powerful type of story to use. If you have customers, you have stories. You just have to find them. Instead of building them from scratch yourself, your job is simply to curate and tell them.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.