Regardless of your industry there comes a time when every business must answer a very important question.
“What is our story?”
At the company I work for, Porch.com, storytelling in an important part of our business. We are passionate about the work we are doing and must convey that to our customers, partners and the overall industry. And with today being our one-year anniversary, it seems that our storytelling skills are working out for us.
So how do you get started? As part of a class I teach at the University of Washington we focus early on the importance of storytelling and how companies go about crafting their narrative. I teach through what I intend to be a very simple six-point framework: the BASICS of storytelling.
To help emerging businesses develop their stories, here are some pointers for understanding (and implementing) the BASICS of storytelling.
Great stories simple and actually begin with the most basic of concepts -- a very basic story. Every story has a protagonist and an antagonist. Make your story as simple as you can so it is memorable. Steve Jobs was the master at this. When he launched the iPod and talked about “1,000 songs in your pocket” – that was the story. He did the same thing when he unveiled the iPad. He presented a unique problem statement, outlined a proposed solution, and unveiled a new device category in about six minutes. Great stories are not overly complicated. Keep them simple.
Also ensure you answer the question, "what problem will your company solve?" And while you will be tempted to put everything your business does into your story. Resist that. Leave some oxygen for future stories to take shape.
As you think about your story, think about the actions you want people to take. That is where you get to continue to relationship with the reader. If you are clear on the outcomes you want readers to take, chances are they will make that connection and take the action.
That can come in the form of a pointer that brings the reader back to your website to continue the story or asking the reader to share a unique piece of content like a video or a graphic. Also, the story could encourage the reader to ask themselves a new set of questions or envision a desired future state where your company or products provides the optimal solution.
This is the “so what” question you need to answer for every story. What makes you special? What do you do/provide/make that nobody else does? You clearly got into business to solve a pain point. There is a gap in your industry that you fill. There is a disruption that your business is creating. There is sector of the universe that is not as good as it should be and you are going to fix that. What is your solution and why does the world need it? What is your secret sauce? If you can nail this part of the exercise you are going to be in create shape to tell a truly differentiated story.
By answering these questions, you are not only serving your external audiences well but you are also aligning your employees. You can use this exercise to ensure everyone is clear on what is being built, why it matters, why it is unique, and why it will change the industry.
There is one thing we all have when we read or hear a story: intuition that is based on our emotions. Great stories tap into the emotions of their readers. From a brand perspective if you can create an emotional connection between your company and your reader, you are on your way towards creating a household brand. This comes from giving people what they need to embrace their intuition. It makes people feel something they didn’t feel before they read the story. It promotes thinking, curiosity and reactions. Think about this as your develop your story. What emotions are you tapping into? What is the intuition of your readers? If you can zero in on this you are able to take steps towards creating that desired emotional connection.
If you have trouble figuring out the emotional tie-in, share your story with some outsiders before you go public. What does their body language tell you? What do their facial expressions tell you? How do they intuitively react? If your story doesn’t illicit the types of emotions you want associated with your brand, you may want to revisit the story you are telling.
This is one of my favorite tactics for storytelling. I already used the iPod example, but that is a great one. Remember listening to music on CDs, let alone tapes? When something new is compared to something old or current, if done the right way, you can immediately pull your readers into a new state of mind.
By doing comparisons, you give people a frame of reference and allows your readers to use their imaginations. It allows the reader to become personally vested in your offering. You want them saying to themselves “Yes, what we have today is no good – I want that!”
Your story is bigger than you. Don’t write for yourself; write for your potential readers. Everyone is different so you need to hit on different elements to ensure everyone gets something out of the story. If you do this effectively, ideally you can get people to share your story for different reasons.
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