Paige Arnof -Fenn is Founder of Mavens & Moguls.
Leading into the holidays families get together often and I recently spent time with my nieces and nephews and they begged me to tell them stories several times a day. It got me thinking, people of all ages are naturally interested when you engage them with an entertaining story. They listen, they remember, and they ask you to tell them more. Almost every company has a unique story to tell about its history, conception, early customers, and bumps in the road. How can your company use your story to generate more business, explode on the scene with a new offering or launch as the memorable new kid on the block?
Stories help you connect with people on a sensory level. I tend to be the color commentary sidekick who tells about how the person was dressed, what they ate for dinner, or the design of their office. You can actually visualize the pinstriped suit, smell the coffee in his oversized mug and taste the salty air blowing in through the open window. The descriptions make the facts come to life and keep us engaged. Anybody can find the facts on Google but data starts to run together if there is no context around the information. Creating a story with those facts is what helps them stand out. Would you rather buy the cheapest switching gear on the market or buy the one from the company that controls the power generated for the Statue of Liberty, the Superdome, and oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico? “If it is good enough for the Statue of Liberty… ”
Take Nantucket Nectars for example. On each label and their web site you read that “Tom First and Tom Scott, known as Tom and Tom, met at Brown University in the fall of 1985. Four years later, they graduated and headed to Nantucket. That summer they started a floating convenience store serving boats in Nantucket Harbor. The pair delivered everything from newspapers to laundry in their unmistakable red boat. Then came that fateful cold winter night, when Tom and Tom began mixing juice in a blender. The following summer they sold it off their boat. People loved it! They decided to call it Nantucket Nectars.” Fast forward and Nantucket Nectars was acquired by Cadbury Schweppes in 2002, and today it is part of Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group, an integrated refreshment beverage business marketing more than 50 beverage brands throughout North America.
Not to be outdone, Honest Tea is another drink company with a great story on their labels and web site. The 2 co-founders (a professor and one of his students) realized they “shared a passion for the idea of a less sweet, but flavorful beverage during a class discussion of the cola wars case study. They agreed that there were tons of sugary sweet options and lots of watery drinks, but in 1994, there was nothing in between to fill the void. Fast forward to ’97. The student goes for a run in New York City with college friend who used to concoct juice drinks with him after class. As they found themselves doing the same beverage mixing after the run, he knew then that if he was going to quench his thirst for good, he would have to create the drink himself. He e-mailed his professor to see if he was still excited about the idea. He was and the rest is history. A major beverage company, arguably the most recognized brand in the world, made a major investment in Honest Tea and in 2011 and exercised its option to acquire the remaining portion of the tea brand.
The late Steve Sabol, the man behind NFL Films, once said “tell me a fact and I’ll learn, tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” Turns out stories are good for your wallet too, just ask Nantucket Nectars and Honest Tea! How can you argue with that?
Create stories that are easy to remember. Narrative plays to our most basic needs – before radio, TV, Internet, iPods, there were stories around the campfire. Cavemen and ancient cultures told stories through pictures. The more vivid the detail, the more interested we become. Another client we’ve worked with is in the move management and corporate relocation business. They move offices for law firms, universities, biotech companies, etc. Lots of companies are in the moving business so highlighting the biotech firm that had the 800 pound sub80 degrees Celsius freezer that had to be hoisted through the window, moved across town in less than 6 hours and protected so that the fragile materials inside were not destroyed makes this firm stand out from the pack. Who would you trust with your precious equipment? You can be sure this team is reliable if they can be trusted with Ivy League and Nobel Prize winning professors’ life work in progress. Companies should take advantage of these great stories by putting them in their marketing materials, illustrating them via advertisements and websites.
If the eggs came from a farm with organic chickens and the story is communicated clearly, people will pay more for those eggs because they have a great story behind them. They can actually envision the happy chickens frolicking on the grass outside the red barn. Once you can trigger the hot buttons, people pay attention. Stories can be used as a form of differentiation – your story is unique so it helps to set you apart from others in your category. One of the authors we represented was not just telling about corporate success in the real estate industry, he was sharing a story about the power of women, families and building the American Dream. The book hit #3 on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list.
Aren’t great brands really just stories that are never fully told? They always leave you wanting just a little bit more. Great stories create great experiences that people can share, internalize and make their own. So whether you call yourself the CEO, President, Founder, Grand Pooh Bah, you are really the Chief Storytelling Officer (CSO) of your company whether you realize it or not. The CSO’s key job is to keep the story alive, relevant, and interesting. To do that, you have to get out from behind your desk, out of the office and walk the halls, talk to your customers and clients and be a student of the world.
As Isabel Allende said, “You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not.” So create a compelling story and share it, everyone loves a great story! Just ask my nieces, nephews… and my customers.