How to Grow By Becoming an Expert Storyteller

Expert Storytelling

If your story matters, it will be shared, retold and passed on. By doing what matters and telling a story that matters, you will ignite a passion among people that is inherently sharable and provide an organic boost to your company’s growth and long-term viability.

Have you crafted your story so well that others are likely to share it over cocktails at a dinner party? If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you probably haven’t. Most founders take the time to think about their company’s mission and purpose, and that’s hard enough. But having a mission and a purpose is not the same thing as expert storytelling. “A computer on every desktop” was a great mission for Microsoft, but it pales in comparison to Steve Job’s epic story of Apple–which everyone knows, but is not particularly easy or simple to tell (it took Walter Isaacson 656 pages).

If you’re looking to boost your company’s growth, start with a simple and easy-to-tell story that is compelling and gets to the heart of why people should work with you. A couple of examples will help illustrate this point:

  1. Blake Mycoskie is the CEO of Tom’s Shoes and author of “Start Something That Matters“. For every pair of shoes that he sells, he gives one pair away to disadvantaged children. He started in South America giving away 10,000 shoes and, to date, has given away more than 1 million pairs of shoes in 40 countries. Why buy his shoes? Because in addition to comfort and style, you’re helping to put shoes on children in need throughout the world.
  2. Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos and author of “Delivering Happiness“. He has arguably created the most awesome place to work on the planet because while Zappos technically sells shoes, they are actually in the business of delivering happiness. There are hundreds of stories of delighted Zappos customers whose lives have been changed by an empowered call center agent who went WAY above and beyond. These customers will NEVER buy shoes from anyone else, and will share the Zappos story with enthusiasm.
  3. What about the story of Jared, who ate over 700 Subway sandwiches over the course of a year and lost 245 pounds? That simple story has driven Subway sales and franchise expansion through the roof because, fundamentally, it illustrates that this fast food restaurant must be delicious enough to go there every day for a year and may actually help you lose weight.
  4. Or what about Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity Water, who on his 31st birthday decided that he had every material possession he needed in his life and simply asked his friends to donate $20 so that he could go to Northern Uganda and build water wells for poor villages with no access to clean water? Since then, he has completed 9,000 projects in 22 countries and provided roughly 2.5 million people with clean water (at time of publication).
  5. How about Billy Bean and the Oakland A’s whose inspiring story captured in the book “Moneyball” illustrates how Major League Baseball was measuring all the wrong things and how the A’s leveraged data and analytics to win the World Series at the lowest cost per player?

When you begin to look for them, these stories are all around us. They help us distill which businesses we should pay attention to and care about. Expert storytelling is more compelling than any traditional marketing or advertising techniques; these stories generate awareness and extremely compelling Word of Mouth marketing that is, as MasterCard would tell you, “Priceless”.

Is compelling storytelling limited to “consumer” products? Absolutely not. Just askJulie Roehm, whose title is “Chief Storyteller” of B2B software company, SAP. She was hired by CEO Bill McDermott to leverage the power of expert storytelling to help SAP reach its vision: to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. How? By tackling problems that have a big impact on the world; to have SAP play a role in solving the problem for multiple clients with advanced technology.

What’s Julie Roehm’s advice? “Write a story you could tell to anyone, anywhere. Make it so simple that anyone from a child in kindergarten to the Chairman of the Board can understand.” She has led SAP’s teams to break storytelling down into 5-step process:

  1. Who are you talking about? Describe the customer and “give me something real”. Why does this company exist? SAP client John Deere, for example, is over 100 years old, humble and is about empowering farmers, the earth and making food. Give me reasons to care who we’re talking about.
  2. Define the problem or opportunity in simple terms. For example, by 2050, the world’s population is likely to double in size, and there will be so many people we won’t be able to feed them all.
  3. What is it that [your company] can do to help solve that problem? Again, in simple terms without buzzwords or jargon, give me a sense of what SAP could do to help our customer. How do we leverage what we have to help them address this important problem?
  4. What does solving this problem do? Or what does our client think solving this problem will do for them? What’s the value to the consumer (where they be a B2B or a B2C consumer)? What can they do now (that the problem is solved) that they couldn’t do before? How does our involvement impact their business, industry, and life?
  5. What’s the customer’s customer story? In the case of B2B, show me how our customer’s customer has been impacted (i.e how their life has changed or experience been improved) because our SAP customer has delivered something better.

In short, how has SAP made the world a better place to live? At this point you might be thinking, “sure, that’s SAP, they’re a massive global company working with the best companies in the world” and you’d be right. But if your objective is to grow, you first have to envision how what you do matters; and I mean how it really matters, not just what sounds good, but what is good for the world. That’s when you have found your purpose and the purpose of your company. Only then can you truly tell an expert story that’s worth repeating.

Expert storytelling works because deep down, you’re passing what our ancestors referred to as “tribal knowledge”–information that sounds important (even vital) to our success as human beings. From ways to eat healthier (Jared’s Subway story) to delivering happiness (Zappos) to buying shoes that help clothe the world (Tom’s) or even how better data and metrics help you win an unfair fight (Oakland A’s). If your story matters, it will be shared, retold and passed on. By doing what matters and telling a story that matters, you will ignite a passion among people that is inherently sharable and provide an organic boost to your company’s growth and long-term viability.

 

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