Monday, October 26, 2015

unConference 2015 Session: How To Use Storytelling

By Ken Lynch, Jones & Company@jones_marketing

It seems every few months a new buzzword gains traction in the business world, gets a few books written about it, is the highlight of industry events, and then fades away.  Today, one of the biggest buzzwords in business is “storytelling.”  Marketers are obsessed with storytelling and its getting lots of attention as a tool for businesses to use to gain a competitive advantage. 

Not surprisingly, How To Use Storytelling was one of the best-attended sessions of MassTLC’s Innovation2015 unConference.  In this dynamic session facilitated by Eric Braun of 30Hands Learning (@southshoreeric), the questions started flying fast. 

What is a story?

Do you need permission to tell your story?

Do stories need to be true?

To help ground the conversation, it was quickly pointed out that storytelling isn’t new, but that it continues to take on new forms, especially in today’s connected world where social media has gotten us comfortable having conversations with each other and companies in new, impactful, and sometimes questionable ways. 

Participants provided several examples of the history and foundation of storytelling. Greek philosopher Socrates challenged his contemporaries to ask themselves if what they were about to say is true, good and useful.  Aristotle divided storytelling into three categories – Ethos (credibility), Pathos (emotional), and Logos (logical).  Citing a more recent example, participants were pointed to a now famous TED Talk given by Simon Sinek where he introduces the Golden Circle of Why, How, and What.  Why, says Sinek, should be the core and driving force of every company’s marketing and business operations – including their storytelling.

A colorful dialog continued with nearly every attendee in the room providing input on what makes a good story and how to leverage storytelling to build a brand.  Several examples provided by participants are captured below:

What Makes a Good Story?

·         A story is a narrative that gives background and makes an impact on the audience.  A story must be told in a way that “connects” with the audience.

·         A good story should entertain, inform, and provide utility.  It should affect the hearts and minds of people and move them to action. 

·         Stories should address emotional, functional, and financial needs.

·         It is good practice to put others (your customers) in your stories for them to "feel" connected. 

·         You shouldn’t tell people you are funny, smart, or that your product is the best, but you can communicate these points through a story by providing examples of what you’ve done.

·         Your story must be unique – customers will know if they’ve heard it before.

·         Viral stories include a “magical moment” or “moment of change” that prompts that others to tell your story for you.

Why is Storytelling Important?

·         It has been proven that people don’t remember data as much as they do stories, but it seems children today are being taught information, not stories.  Stories should have a message (a takeaway) as opposed to just providing data.  It is important to tell your story and interject data as part of the narrative.

·         Storytelling can have a tremendous impact on success.  For example, scientists who write their findings as a story have greater paper acceptance rates.

·         Consumers are more likely to purchase from companies with stories that align with their own.

·         Business people not only have to understand their companies’ past, but they must project the future. In this way, stories can be used for employee engagement and retention.

How Do You Become a Good Storyteller?

·         Don’t make your story a sermon, but allow it to become a dialog.

·         Make sure your story has personality.  Include a high impact message at the beginning of story, fill in the details, and end with a clear takeaway.

·         Customers can tell the difference between being sold to and being told a story. Know your audience, know when to tell your story and when to modify your story, and don’t stray far from your objective.

·         Let pictures tell the story for you.  Using visuals as a backdrop forces you to tell a story and is a great tool for self-discipline.

·         Have variations of your story.  Don’t let your 30-second elevator pitch become a 3-minute presentation.

·         Don’t over-own or over-tell your story.

Modern Uses and Examples of Storytelling

Leveraging the discussion points above, the session concluded with conversation about how one can use storytelling in modern sales and marketing practices:

·         Prompt customers to tell their story.  This can be more effective than giving a pitch or even telling your own story.  You may find that your customers will make you part of their story, providing an unsolicited endorsement.

·         Get others to tell your story to create word of mouth buzz.  It can be as easy as attaching a video of your story to your email signature.  When it comes back to you from a new prospect, you know you’ve done something right.

·         The easiest way to go viral with your story is to copy an already successful viral idea, but with a different product or new concept.

·         You can create a storytelling campaign without creating the content.  How ALS foundations raised awareness through The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great example.

·         Be careful with this one, but a story doesn’t have to be 100% true.  There are ways of going over the top to engage and audience in a positive way e.g. Dollar Shave Club advertisements.

·         Let everyone own your story.  Don’t control it, let people create content around your context and let it go viral.  #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back was formed with these principles.

·         Great products sell themselves.  Have you seen an Uber ad or received a call from an Uber sales person?  Let your product tell lots of micro-stories that resonate with a broad audience of buyers.

Several other resources were cited throughout the discussion, including: Center for Story-Based Strategy - a national movement-building organization dedicated to harnessing the power of narrative for social change; The Power of Visual Storytelling, a book that suggests attention is the new commodity and visual storytelling is the new currency, and Contagious, a book that asks and answers the question: Why do things catch on?

Much like the the closing of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, this unConference session challenged us to find inspiration and become leaders through storytelling.  In Sinek’s parting words:


“Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to.  We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.  And it’s those who start with WHY that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

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