Stories are the most primitive and powerful form of communication. The most enduring and galvanizing ideas of our civilization are embedded in our stories. It's in our genetic makeup to capture our best ideas in stories - to enjoy, to learn, to connect, and to teach.
In the book Super Simple Storytelling, author Kendall Haven explains that human minds rely on stories and story architecture as the primary roadmap for understanding, making sense of, remembering, and planning our lives. Stories also help us frame the experiences and narratives we experience along the way.
Harnessing the Power of Story
Smart, future oriented companies use this ancient impulse in new ways. Stories people can watch on youtube, and share on Facebook. When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are, or how many degrees you have, or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is the key to not only starting a business, but to clarify your own personal identity and choices.
From the moment you start your business, before you ever make your first sale, lead with your story. Funnel excitement about the brand to your patrons. Make it easy for your audience to make a previously thoughtless decision, about what to buy, what to wear, what to use, or what to share, into a meaningful one.
Forging Connection Through Emotion
A story evokes emotion, and emotion forges connection. This is why the way companies introduce themselves to customers has changed. No longer rely on simple, straightforward ad campaigns. The Madmen style of advertising was effective in an era when you only had three channels on your television. Major brands controlled the conversation by buying airtime and bombarding consumers with pitches.
Today, media is much more fragmented, and the attention of consumers even moreso divided. People are no longer listening to the same three radio stations or tv channels each week. They’re following their own carefully curated twitter feeds, commenting on and creating blogs, channel surfing on more than 500 channels, watching hulu on laptops, clicking on youtube, reading Kindles and Nooks, and surfing on ipads. Sometimes all at the same time.
It may sounds counterintuitive, but because so many products and ads are only a click away, it makes it more difficult, not less, to make purchasing decisions on this information. Not only is there too much to sift through, but a lot of it is contradictory. And unless this information is presented in an emotionally compelling manner in the first place, you’ll probably forget most of it almost immediately.
Stories Bring Meaning to Facts
Business consultant Annette Simons tells us that 'facts are neutral, until human beings add their own meaning to those facts.' People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not the facts themselves. The meaning they add to facts depends on their current story. Facts are not terribly effective in convincing others. People don’t need new facts. They need a new story.
Stats Versus Story
Facts don’t matter as much as the story you tell. Facts can even get in the way of a story’s impact. An onslaught of facts and stats is simply not as powerful as a simple, well-told story. And science backs this up again and again.
In his book, Meatball Sunday, Seth Godin explains that "people just aren’t that good at remembering facts. And When people do remember facts, it's almost always in context.
Patagonia sells more coats because they live a story that has less to do with their products, and more to do with the plane. They build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.
TOMS Shoes sold their first 10,000 shoes in one summer, not just because they makes great shoes, but because they give away a pair to a child in need for every pair they sell.
The power of a great story is in its ability to shape the lives of others. Focus on improving or enhancing the lives of your audience. When you use the power of a great story to empower, engage, and inspire others, you create a solid brand for your company based on value. This transforms mere customers into a community of people committed to the same vision and values.
Building Community Through Story
Everyone belongs to some community, whether it’s based on your background, your home state, your college, or your favorite sports team. By identifying all the possible communities that you belong to, you might just find an affinity group you can connect through your story. That emotional connection helps get your business off the ground, secure your dream job, or help you achieve whatever goal you are pursuing.
The power of your story isn’t just a way to connect to your ultimate consumer, but is also a means of making you attractive to potential partners, investors, and employees who want to align themselves with something deeper than business as usual.
Find Your Own Story
Almost everyone has a passion for something, but sometimes we have trouble saying what it is. It’s surprisingly easy to lose touch with our true passions. Sometimes because we get distracted with everyday living, because in the usual stream of small talk or transactions, no one ever asks us about our dreams. That’s why it’s so important that you first find a way to articulate your passion to yourself. When you discover what your passion is, you’ll discover what your story is as well.
Here's a Few Questions to Ask Yourself:
If you did not have to worry about money. . .
What would you do with your time?
What kind of work would you do?
What cause would you serve?
Once you answer these questions you’ll have a good idea of what your passion is. Once you know your passion, you have the core of your story, and the beginning of your work. The more strongly you feel about what you do, the more likely you’ll push yourself to be good at it, and find a way to make a success of it.
“If you organize your life around your passion, you can turn your passion into your story, and your story into something bigger - something that matters.” -Blake Mycoskie, TOMS Shoes
Once you figure out your story, and start your work, how do you share it? The most important thing is that you commit to telling that story at every opportunity. Your story is not an incidental part of your business - it’s a core piece of every aspect. If you don't spend the time crafting your story, you won't have the clarity you need to promote and share it.