"Tell me and I will forget.
Show me and I will remember.
Involve me and I will understand."
In a world where technology is advancing at the speed of light and the volume of information doubling every few years, we as human beings are just as rapidly tuning out the information clutter overwhelming our lives. We are starving for a new kind of communication that authentically connects us to ourselves and to one another. Proof is all around us.
In 1993 two then unknown authors sold millions of copies of their self-published book making it one of the best selling books of the 20th century. Most of us have (or had) a copy of that book Jack Cantfield and Mark Victor Hansen Chicken Soup For The Soul. Since then, more than 30 different Chicken Soup For The Soul themes have been published.
Why have they been so popular? The #1 reason: the power of stories. Stories, since the beginning of civilization, have been an unchanging form of communication that touches our heart, rekindles our spirit and bonds us to each other. Stories fill the void that no amount of information will ever be able to satisfy.
Why Stories Are The New Strategic Business Advantage of the 21st Century
1. Stories create trust.
People don't want more information. They are already on overload with the information they have. What they want is to trust you, your words and your intentions. Stories give your customers and employees a peek inside you, your values and beliefs and an authentic connection no amount of data can provide.
2. Stories appeal to our heart, emotions and imagination.
Stories communicate directly to our reptilian brain the part of the brain that controls sensory experiences and our emotional response to them. In my last article, "NeuroMarketing - 7 Secrets To Unlocking Your Customer's Brain For Instant Sales," I shared how your customers make all their buying decisions from the reptilian brain. Because stories stimulate our feelings, they can also ignite action, creativity, collaboration and instant rapport.
3. Stories are memorable.
According to story-telling guru, Doug Stevenson, memory is formed when a person's attention is engaged over a sustained period of time. By stimulating our senses, stories engage us for sustained periods of time and the message sticks; whereas data typically leaves our memories in less than 2 seconds.
4. Stories bypass conscious resistance and speak directly to our unconscious minds.
On a conscious level, we all have biases that create resistance to certain solutions, perspectives and messages. If you go up to someone and say "here's your solution," it will likely be ineffective. Expressing your viewpoint through a story, however, will bypass conscious resistance and be "heard" on a deeper level. This unique advantage of story-telling alone makes it a powerful tool in marketing, leadership, culture building and personal growth.
5. Stories are transformative.
Stories not only have the ability to shift our thinking. Stories have the ability to inspire us, awaken our potential and shape the way we live our lives. Stories can catalyze deep lasting change - whether for a single person or an entire organization.
The Magic of Story-Telling: How Great Companies Wow Customers, Ignite Employees and Become the Envy of Their Competitors
While there are many ways to utilize stories as a strategic advantage in business, below are three forms of storytelling with massive payoff.
The purpose of a brand is to stand out in your customers' minds and emotionally bond them with your product/service. In today's overcrowded, me too marketplace, it is the brands whose customers tell the best stories that win.
Super-brands and their super-stories are all around us. Apple, Pepsi, Southwest Airlines and, yes, even Harry Potter just to name a few. One of my favorite brand stories comes from my own personal experience.
In 1985, I worked as a sales temp at Nordstrom during the holidays for extra cash while launching my business. The most memorable part of the experience was the story shared by the HR manager the first day of employee orientation. After reviewing their return policy, she told us about a customer who brought back a refrigerator and the store gladly gave a full refund no questions asked. And Nordstrom doesn't even sell refrigerators!
It is Nordstrom's world class customer service and going the extra mile that creates word of mouth customer evangelism -- the envy of every retail business. If you don't have stories like this to tell, your brand may be in trouble.
Alain Thys, in an article titled "The 10 Truths of Branded Storytelling" (http://www.mpdailyfix.com), talks about the importance of identifying your USP - Unique Story Proposition - as your anchor for all other marketing activities. The best USPs not only make an emotional connection, they also say something about benefits.
What stories about your business make you stand above the rest? What unique stories can turn your customers into evangelical fans?
As every business owner or CEO knows, a clearly defined vision is critical to your future company's success. However, for many businesses, vision statements are nothing more than superficial, one-dimensional sound bites and meaningless wishes.
How do you transform your vision statement into a compelling message that pulls your business forward?
The key is a vision story. In my article "The Disney Difference," I talk about Disney's Imagineering process and their use of powerful visual stories - known as story-boarding - to depict how the company would get from point A (present) to point B (future vision).
In creating your vision story, you must imagine your desired future in your mind's eye as though you already achieved it. It must be described in sensory terms. Ie., what do you see, feel, taste, smell and hear in your new "imagined reality?"
One way to develop your vision story is to imagine that it is one year from now and Forbes magazine is going to write a story about your business. What do you want them to say? Who, why, where, when and how made that 1 year vision a reality?
VALUES AND CULTURE BUILDING STORIES
Every story is a values story on some level. Values stories - through fables, symbolism and metaphors, or real life situations - can be one of the most powerful tools for building high performance teams and cultures. Below are two examples how.
* "Values in Action" Stories
If you dig deep into your business' history, you can find many examples of values in action stories. These are real life situations in which you did the right thing in tough circumstances. They are stories demonstrating the core principles for which your business stands.
A great example of "values in action" story is Southwest Airlines' legacy story that not only put them on the map, but has also made them one of the largest, most profitable airlines in America. Every employee for the past 34 years knows that story -- the 4 years of courtroom battles that the airlines overcame to even win the right to fly from the very start. That experience set the stage for a unique, mission-driven culture and their Warrior Spirit that keeps them flying high to this day.
Where in the history of your business did you follow your principles of integrity or fight for a cause, even if it meant sacrifice or saying no to personal gain? If excellence, loyalty and generosity are your core business values, what real life stories speak of those values? How can you communicate those stories to your customers and employees on a regular basis?
* Metaphorical Stories
Metaphors - usually visual in nature - are like mental equations, substituting one thing for another. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech "I Have a Dream," equated the Declarations of Independence to a promissory note as an example of a metaphor.
Sources for metaphorical stories are endless such as, movies, songs, science, nature, art, even fairy tales. A great example of a metaphorical story for team building purposes is Flight Formation of Geese (http://fairy-tales-fables-business.blogspot.com/).
While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into depth, here's a simple way to get started. If your business were an animal, a movie, a color or a planet, what would you pick in each category to best represent your company? Why? How does that metaphor mirror your current or desired values?
The greatest challenge today for any business is to cut through the information clutter that knocks them off course from their vision, distracts their focus and prevents their message from being heard by the marketplace.
Storytelling is a powerful tool for meeting this challenge and provides the missing link in most failed business communications. As Steve Denning, author, The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative, says so eloquently "Stories fill our lives in the way that water fills the lives of fish."
What's your story? How can you use this powerful tool in your business to rise above the noise, gain trust, inspire action and communicate your authentic message? As Annette Simmons reminds us in her book, "Whoever Tells the Best Story, Wins."