time's up

figuring out who should buy your business

Lemme Tell Ya a Story

“We’ve lost track of what a good story is,” writes Kindra Hall in her outstanding book Stories That Stick. Hall recognizes that the concept of storytelling in business is widely accepted, popular, and has even achieved buzzworthy status in the stuffiest of boardrooms, but for it to be transformative the goal must be bigger than simply attempting to get customers and stakeholders from point A to point B, across what she calls the gap. In other words, will is one thing, skill quite another and readers looking to improve their game have come to the right place. First off, pick the type of story to tell – value (to grow sales), founder (to help differentiate), purpose (to align the organization), and customer (to enhance credibility). Next, decide exactly to whom it should be targeted and who’s best suited to deliver the message. Easy, right? Sure is… if you follow the author’s guidelines.

For example, take the value story, through which we want to persuade someone to buy something (product, service, concept, you name it). The audience has a problem, you know how to solve it, and ain’t life grand again. Hall spells this out through her “normal/explosion/new normal” framework. There are four components:

  • Identifiable characters whom we care about and/or somehow connect with;
  • Authentic emotion, e.g. frustration, worry, curiosity, etc.;
  • A significant moment which zooms in on a particular fact; and,
  • Specific details painting descriptive, unexpected imagery.

Hall is reticent to use Apple to illustrate her point, calling incessant business book citations of the tech giant “a bit nauseating.” Amen to that. However, the 2013 Christmas ad known as “Misunderstood” is one you’ll surely recall, where the dopey, mopey teenager with his nose forever in his iPhone is actually creating a keepsake family film. Run it through in your mind (or watch it here) and notice how it nails the criteria (and, admit it, makes you choke up a bit).

And no, your company doesn’t have a trillion dollar market cap, so it’ll take a more modest budget and some effort to pull off the same trick. Good news: it requires roughly zero funding to write a differentiating founder story (no grey-haired men in grey suits required). Whether you started the business or someone else did, there’s a non-threatening, non-salesy story to be told. “No matter how big, no matter how small, no matter how old or new,” the author writes, “show me a company or a product, and I’ll show you a story of how it all began.” Get on a white board and capture all the random thoughts and notes your team can conjure and shape it into something compelling, an influential tale to be told in meetings and through marketing materials. Don’t leave the conference room until you have at least a draft. And you can keep the excuses. As Hall admonishes with all the tough love of a good coach, “There are no exceptions.”

4 comments for “Lemme Tell Ya a Story

  1. Thank you, Chris. This is really helpful. This dovetails really nicely with Pixar’s story structure:
    – Once upon a time…
    – Every day…
    – One day…
    – Because of that…
    – Because of that…
    – Until finally…
    So easy, yet also so easy to forget in the heat of marketing campaigns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.