On March 17, WWPR presents The Art of Story-Telling: Selling Your Company, Your Product, and Yourself through Stories featuring Cindy Atlee. This guest post was originally published on February 8, 2011.
I love a good story. You probably do, too. Stories influence, inspire and capture our imaginations like nothing else. We tell them all the time. And they scare the heck out of many of my clients.
I don’t mean my clients are literally afraid of stories. I mean they sometimes get intimidated at the thought of using story to communicate about an organization, product or service. Some don’t know where to begin. Others don’t know what kind of story to tell. Some don’t think they’ll be taken seriously unless they have lots of facts and information share.
So here’s the good news: You don’t have to tell a story at all to make your communications a lot more interesting–or to dramatically increase the chance that your messages will be heard–or to make the kind of human connection with an audience that starts to build a real relationship. But you do have to use story-based communications principles. Here are four core principles to remember:
- Begin at the end. If you don’t know where to begin, remember this: when it comes to quickly engaging other people in what you have to say, it’s the outcomes they care about (the “happy endings,” so to speak). In formal marketing speak, that means shifting your communications strategy to an outcome-base orientation. In plain speak, it means telling people what’s going to happen for them if they get involved with you (e.g., buy something, donate, advocate for your position, etc.). Tell them less about what you do and more about how it’s going to turn out.
- Typecast yourself. If you don’t know what kind of story to tell, mentally cast your organization in the role of a character it’s most like–and talk about the things that character would talk about. Maybe you’re organization is most like a Creator that helps people innovate or express something. Maybe you’re like a Hero that helps others overcome challenges. Maybe you most resemble a Jester that helps people have fun. Each of those characters would say very different things if asked to make a presentation about you, probably in a lively and interesting way. Knowing who you are and what role you play in the world can bring your communications to life, too. For help with this, you can find a free story typing survey on my website that will tell you which one of 12 great characters you or your organization is most like.
- Get serious about sharing your values. The characters in great stories rely on a combination of strengths (what they’re good at) and values (what they care about) to accomplish their missions. Strengths are critical, but they’re not as memorable as values. Most organizational communications focus a lot on strengths and a lot less on values. At the end of the day, though, you’ll be defined by the value system that others associate with you. They’re the most critical part of your identity infrastructure because they make you seem real and alive to others.
- Tell the truth. Okay, so some of the great stories we love to hear aren’t exactly true. But when it comes to organizational communications, nothing is more important than authenticity. Telling the truth about who you are and what you or your products/services really mean attracts the people who will be your best customers or employees or advocates. And if creating an attraction field for your work isn’t what you’ve set out to do, why tell a story at all?
Cindy is the founding Partner at The Storybranding Group, where she helps clients use the power of who they really are to create compelling brands, develop inspired leaders and deeply engage their workforces.