We all love a good story… 22 times more than any fact we could ever hear. This theory was originally credited to Cognitive Psychologist Jerome Bruner and is now taught in innovation labs around the U.S.
To prove his theory, think back to a day that you enjoyed a long time ago (at least five years ago). Try to recall as many details as possible. As you do this, notice that your mind isn’t thinking in chronological order or facts. Instead, your brain is recalling transformative experiences. It’s recalling what you were talking about when you bit into that perfect piece of Chicago style pizza. It’s recalling the walk you took around the shops in a cute, new town. It’s recalling your experience by way of little stories stored in your memory… facts and information are secondary. For example, you might remember it was cold that day but do you remember how many degrees the weather report said it would be?
Last week I told you that repetition is a key strategy to getting your brand not only noticed, but remembered. I also said that presenting information in the form or a transformative story helps your brand stick. So… how DO you tell a good story?
Experts say that any story ever told can be attributed to one of seven types. Try as I might, I can’t find a single story that refutes this, so today I am going to share those seven themes with you, with business related examples:
1) The Quest.
When you go on a quest, you choose to take a journey. The journey is often difficult, but in the end you triumph. Is your business a product of a career change that was hard, but ultimately worth it? Awesome, you went on a quest.
2) The Journey/Return.
Like quests, Journey/Return stories always end in triumph. Unlike quests, journey/return stories are not chosen by the hero. Maybe you inherited a business and went on a journey/return to ultimately fix it? That’s a great story!
3) The Underdog.
Hollywood loves this story. It’s what movies are made of. An underdog story is about triumph against all odds because of an unexpected life event or incident. Businesses who had to temporarily close or rearrange their services due to our current pandemic are an example of an underdog story.
4) Rags to Riches.
Think Cinderella. Or, for a more business oriented example, I’ll tell you about a friend of mine. His business was struggling so he took out a loan against his home to save it. It was his last chance, and he succeeded.
Just two decades ago, Apple was having trouble securing its corner of the tech world. Creative ingenuity brought them back from the brink by creating new, more modern tech concepts that put them in a league of their own, rather than a red ocean.
Think Romeo and Juliet. These stories are tough to tell in business (we all hope not to have too tragic a tale, after all), however you can use a tragic historical event to elevate the work you’re doing. For example, was there recall in your industry that had a tragic impact on consumers? How did you learn from that story and safeguards against it ever happening within your company?
We all love a good comedy. I have a friend who accidentally ended up in the plumbing business. He loves his job but never imagined it. His potty jokes are the funniest I’ve heard… as is his story about the events that ultimately led him to start his business.
Now that you know every category of story you could ever tell, I’d like to leave you with three additional pieces of advice.
1) Find as many stories in your business as you can in as many of these categories as you can. Whenever possible, also include personal stories about yourself, colleagues, or customers. The trick to doing this is to be mindful of what you choose to tell. Entire life or business stories are boring and long. Take snippets and reveal them over time. Remember—you have to repeat yourself dozens of times for people to get the point anyway—don’t blow your whole story in one shot!
2) Are you excited to tell a story but feel stuck when you sit down to do it? Don’t forget about my 52 Power Prompts for inspiration and start by making one story-based post in your social media each week. For bonus points, carry it over to a weekly eblast.
3) Get your characters in order. Whenever possible, make your customer the hero and make your product or business the guide who helped the hero along the way. For an example of this, tune into Robin Williams’ role of a guide in the movie Goodwill Hunting.
Here’s some business examples of this concept: Maybe you are the tax accountant who found a business owner an extra $10K a year through smart analysis. You’re not the hero here… the CEO who had the courage and tenacity to go over his or her most personal assets with a fine-tooth comb is the hero. You’re merely the guide.
Or, maybe you run a nonprofit organization. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a thank you note for a donation that starts by saying, “Thank you for helping us ______.” As a donor, I don’t want to merely help. I am the hero… I want to solve problems and save the world. Please don’t tell me that I am helping to reduce world hunger. Tell me that I am reducing world hunger instead. See how that one little change switches the donor from the guide to the hero immediately, giving the donor the status she or he needs to donate again and again?
Okay… now it’s your turn and I can’t wait to hear all of your stories. As I said last week, we buy the car for the experiences in it, not the specs (even if you do research all the specs—you are doing it because you want a better experience in the car). Focus on the transformation, not the information, the benefits not the features… now I really am a broken record. Repetition works though, right?