We instinctively use stories to understand the world around us and influence each other. Stories are what give meaning to our ideas and experiences.
I teach, speak and write on the subject of narrative intelligence, which is the idea that stories are the most powerful tool we have for changing behavior. Through my work helping leaders from Fortune 500 companies and startups tell stories to transform behavior, build an inclusive culture, and communicate new ideas, I know what impact stories can have. But I also know how much business owners struggle to use stories to create an emotional connection, build their brand, and sell their bold ideas.
Why the numbers don’t cut
Most business owners communicate in numbers: they share the size of their communities, the profits they make, and the statistics behind the problems they solve. Numbers are an important part of your brand, but without a story they fall into the water.
In a series of studies on compassion and empathy, psychologist Paul Slovic discovered what he coined “mental numbness” – a phenomenon that describes how people ignore a problem when it is presented exclusively in statistical terms.
He and co-authors show that people create sympathy for the story of an identified victim of poverty or war, but do not do so for statistical victims. As a result, even the most convincing data often fails to create change.
This truth is applicable even to a lesser extent. If you want to have a brand that drives people to action, you have to make a story.
Types of stories to tell
Before I became the owner of my own business, I used stories to encourage behavior change in the media, marketing, sales, and nonprofits. I have found that every organization goes through a series of milestones and recurring events around which stories can be built. This includes:
- The origin of why the organization exists
- Troubles that the organization must overcome
- New ideas and innovations that he creates as he grows
Collection and communication Origin, An accident, i Innovation stories are a powerful way to build an authentic brand that connects more deeply with the people you serve. Here’s how.
Origin stories help people understand why what you are doing is hidden. For example, the story of the origins of my company The New Quo begins in my childhood. I was raised as an “extreme minority,” as I coined it, because I was racially, religiously, and politically different from the majority who grew up in Utah. Being outside of so many groups, it informed me about how powerful the narratives people get from education, the media, family, and other institutions are to influence biased beliefs and behaviors.
I then spent my career using stories to motivate people to take action on social goals as well as close sales. I used the story as a means of influence, but I noticed that most organizations had no idea how narratives affect their culture and leadership practices.
These experiences inspired my fascination with how narration affects our beliefs and behaviors and motivated me to create tools that will help people become better communicators and more inclusive leaders.
I now openly share this origin story in communicating with my brand and thought leadership, and it helps individuals truly understand my brand and why I built my company.
My origin story that I regularly share in brand communications and on social media.
Discover your origin story by asking yourself the following:
- What problem motivated me to create a solution provided by my company? What is my personal connection to this problem?
- What aspects of my identity and experience have shaped the values behind the solutions I have created?
- What does the company represent outside of profits? What values drive our business decisions?
Unfortunate stories record moments in which you managed to overcome an unexpected challenge. They show the resilience of your brand, and at the same time make you connected, because everyone faces adversity in some form.
A great example of the Adversity story is when Procter & Gamble experienced a business downturn and realized they needed a new cleaning job. They hired a research firm, Continuum, which found that people clean their rags as much as their floors. There was a clear need for faster cleaning, and perhaps new tools.
These researchers realized how much people hate touching dirty rags, as well as that most of the dirt in the house is dust. The team used that knowledge to design a new cleaning tool: essentially a wet towel on a stick that can be thrown away after it gets dirty.
Although this pivot questioned what they originally knew about the cloth market, it created a new product that had sales of 100 million dollars in the first year when it was released on the market and is today the main product in households.
To discover these stories, ask yourself:
- What are the key challenges my business has overcome?
- What lessons have been learned during these challenges and how have they strengthened the solutions we offer?
These stories capture when you have created new insights and connections between amazing ideas and demonstrate the creativity of your brand.
A great example of an innovation story is the invention of post-it banknotes. In 1974, 3M employee Arthur Fry had an “aha moment” while in church. He knew about the lightweight glue developed by fellow 3M employee Spencer Silver, but no one figured out how this new glue could be used. He realized that a piece of paper with this type of glue would be a great way to mark his place in his book of songs while singing in a church choir.
The company was initially skeptical about product profitability, but in 1980 Post-it was introduced. Today, post-it banknotes are sold in more than 100 countries.
This story showcases unconventional inspiration and problem-solving that 3M can say over and over again to solidify its brand and demonstrate its innovation.
To discover your own innovation stories, answer the following:
- What unconventional connections and insights did our company create and others did not?
- What unexpected solutions have we generated?
- What about our creative process that shows our values?
Once you’ve collected your moments about origins, adversity, and innovation, you can start telling versions of these stories on social media, in long-form content, on your website, and more.
The stories we tell are powerful – personally in terms of how we feel about ourselves, and socially in terms of how they define how others see us. The more honestly you tell the truth about your experience, the more impact and results you will achieve with an authentic brand.
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