Good stories, told well, can supercharge your business, build and bolster your brand, and heighten the emotions your customers associate with you. This is no secret. The hard part is understanding how to find and deliver effective stories you can use across all aspects of your business.
Here’s a simple approach.
Start by getting in touch with the experiences that define the business and the people who comprise it. Many of your best stories are sitting right in front of you, like the nose on your face. In my workshops, I use provocative questions as a kind of mirror to help people see, in a different light, the true nature of their work and what makes them tick.
The goal is to identify the key moments that made you who you are, or that reveal what propels you.
For example, “On a visit to the Caribbean, our founder, Joe Coulombe, had the crazy idea of using a South Seas motif to make buying food and wine more fun in the US,” (the Trader Joe’s story) instead of “We have a passion for delivering international food and wine at excellent prices.”
Write this down: No one cares about your “passion,” but people are very interested in what happened to make you so passionate. These are the kernels of great stories.
Other questions to ponder, which may reveal your uniquely powerful business stories:
Who founded the business, or leads the organization? What specific problem did they aim to fix, and why? Any memorable moments of insight, struggle, or triumph? What kind of joy, dignity, ease, entertainment, or pleasure do you make happen for your customers, employees, and communities? Where do you see lives being changed in ways that make you proud?
Consider Jeff Bezos, who one day had the idea of starting an online bookselling company. It had never been done, and he encountered resistance. So he gave himself 48 hours to consider his options. He came up with a “Regret Minimization Framework,” in which he imagined how he’d look back on the moment. “I knew that when I was 80…if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.” The story reveals not only Bezo’s entrepreneurial core, but the driving spirit behind Amazon as well.
More recently, when communications innovators Plantronics and Polycom merged and formed a new company, called Poly, Amy Barzdukas, the head of marketing, published the backstory of how she and her team came up with a new name and logo. In doing so, she humanized what otherwise could have easily been viewed as a marriage of corporate convenience. “We want to explicitly get away from those stock-photo images of shiny happy people in offices high-fiving the deal they apparently just got,” she wrote.
As you build your story, distill it down to one or two relatable moments. Do not generalize. Instead, take people to a new place, a specific point in time and space with real characters that anyone can identify with. Bring it all vividly to life with physical descriptions and action-driven words. And don’t shy away from struggle, risk, failure, or pain. Make people feel the experience.
Use your story to spark a conversation with your audience, one that you hope will last for a long and productive time. Invite people to respond or reply with stories of their own – which you may want to capture and share online or on social media. Remember, there’s never really an ending to your best business stories. Just new chapters.