It was Christmas morning 1997. My sisters and I were down to the last few Christmas gifts and picked up the one from our grandparents. I remember this moment clearly, because their gift that year made such an impact on our lives over the years to come. We opened their gift, throwing the bright red colored wrapping paper aside to reveal a beautiful shiny black Sony video camera.
I can still remember how light it was to hold, how easily your hand fit perfectly in the side strap and how the lens cushioned your eye perfectly as you peered through. This camera became the creative catalyst which put our stories into action. In the years to come, we used this camera in school projects, filmed our family trips, and captured our friends on camera telling their stories. It allowed us to express ourselves in ways we never were able to do before. It was magical how it allowed us to communicate and share our lives with others. Those memories got me thinking about other ways you might communicate your brand, your product, or service to others.
The best brands are built on great stories.
Expressing ourselves through stories goes back to the cavemen days, 20,000 years ago, when they used the walls of the caves to visually tell their stories and history. Research shows that our neurons, the mechanism in our brains that help us transmit information, fire differently when we hear stories versus just hearing facts. Think about how your attention increases when you hear someone say, “I have a story to share…”. Think about when you meet someone new and they start to tell you their personal story. It may be about when they first heard about their product or it might be sharing about a specific moment in time when they had a life changing experience. I know I sure perk up and lean in to hear more. Keith Quesenberry, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University discovered that people are actually attracted to stories, and that our human brains are programmed to respond to emotional stories because we are social creatures. That’s how we relate to others.
So, when you think about how important stories are to our social interactions, and our engagement with others, how could any business or organization NOT be placing value on making sure stories are being told about their brand? Ian Rowden said “the best brands are built on great stories.” Think about some of your favorite brands and what you know about them. Just the other day, I was on an airplane when a women commented on the earrings I was wearing. I immediately launched into the story behind my earrings. I told her about the Texas designer Kendra Scott, who started her jewelry business in her spare bedroom, struggling through many pitfalls, to now owning a multimillion dollar company with retail stores across the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if that woman didn’t go straight home and order a pair of Kendra Scott earrings!
I recently heard a fascinating story from speaker and consultant Kindra Hall. She described how two men, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, put together a literary and anthropological experiment that demonstrated the powerful effect a story can have. They purchased 100 random items, such as a small stapler and a pool ball, for around $1 each and had a group of writers compose a story around each item. They then posted these inexpensive items on EBay, with their respective stories attached. They sold all the items totaling around $8,000, increasing the value of each item by over 20x!! Now, that’s the power of stories!
But what makes a good story? Think about the stories you’ve heard, the movies you watch and books you read. They all follow a similar structure, a beginning, middle and end. Growing up, my sisters and I loved putting on plays for our parents. When we were about seven years old, my sisters and I spent hours practicing and rehearsing what we considered one of our best masterpieces. I can still recall the amount of time we put into our costumes and props. We pulled our parents and their friends together, had them all sit down on the couch, dimmed the lights and started our performance of the year, or so we thought. The play went on for over an hour. What we didn’t know at the time was the importance of an ending. Toward the end of the hour, my mom pulled us aside and kindly let us know that, while they loved watching our plays, they would be even better if we worked in a great ending! That was such an enlightening moment for us and changed the way we viewed telling our stories.
the most powerful marketing you’ll ever have is when you learn to tell your story right.
So, think about how you are telling your stories now. Are you telling them in a way that captures the audience’s attention throughout, reaches a climax, a critical point and comes to a resolution? The structure of our stories are key in how successful they are. In 1863 a German playwright, Gustav Freytag, developed a 5 act dramatic structure which became known as the Freytag pyramid. Under Freytag’s pyramid, the plot of a story consists of five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling actiondénouement/resolution/revelation. This structure became the basis for future plays and novels, and we see this same structure in many of our stories today. You can use this story structure in developing your own brand stories, ensuring that your story makes an impact on the listener, while avoiding my childhood mistake of forgetting to write an ending!
You want your stories to evoke feelings, not only describing why your service/product is remarkable, but also highlighting the reasons why your clients love your brand. However, don’t confuse a testimonial with a story. Think about Freytag’s structure and about your favorite stories that you know. You can use that positive testimonial that hits on all the reasons your service/product is so great, but simply weave it into the great story you are telling. If you don’t have stories right now, just view this article as your special Christmas gift – let it be your “lens” or catalyst to start to write and share your stories with others – just like that Sony video camera was ours so many years ago. Brendon Burchard says it best that “the most powerful marketing you’ll ever have is when you learn to tell your story right.”
My career is helping to open a brand of luxury private schools across the country. Over the last seven years we’ve grown from one private school to over 40 schools across the country. I rely on our stories everywhere I go to help communicate who we are. I have a whole collection of stories I share with others, depending on who I’m speaking with and what feature I want to promote. One story is how our first school was started over 25 years ago.I have stories about our students and their journeys in finding our school, and how, for some, our school has literally saved them. As a company, we pour a lot of time into developing and messaging our stories and making sure we share them with every new hire we bring on. We’ve recorded our Founder’s story and we make sure that her story is shared by everyone in organization.
Getting that Sony video camera for Christmas gave us the lens to create stories, unlocking the magic that was our imagination and giving us years of practice in how to capture our audience’s attention. It’s up to you to tell your clients the stories that make your brand or business come alive for them. Storytelling can be an exciting journey and an awesome way to communicate your brand to others. It’s time for you to unlock your hidden superpower and become the storyteller you were meant to be!