Failure to embrace storytelling will be your failure story


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Yikes, sounds controversial.

It is. And anyone who knows me knows I can be a bit of an antagonist.

Sometimes we need to be antagonized to break out of the cycle we find our selves stuck in.

I could have said, “Storytelling is important.” But that sounds kind of boring, doesn’t’ it?

You want boring? I didn’t think so…

Before we dig in: two, quick, items of housekeeping.

First up: Welcome! Today we begin eight value-packed weeks of story-geddon. We’re going to share a bunch of great story tips and story-brain-tools (yeah, that’s a thing, I just made it a thing). We’ll share stories about underdogs, business lifeblood, the four types of business story, storytelling for product development and a bunch more.

And yes, there will be plenty of stories.

Don’t forget – we are here for you if you have any questions.

The second item of housekeeping: we need to get this out of the way up front:

When we say “storytelling” it is a metaphor for all things “story”: not just the *telling* but the understanding, use of, structuring respect to narratives in business and so forth.

So, a “failure” at storytelling also could mean, for example, a failure to understand the cultural narrative and build a strategy that resonates with it. For instance: Hilary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election.

Too soon?

Maybe. But it’s true. You must realize by now I’m not sugar coating this. Right?

That’s how horrific failing at storytelling can be. For all of us.

Enough with presidential elections, for now. Let’s bring it back to real life. Your life.

At the family holiday table or the next cocktail party you go to will you be telling a success story about your life?

Or will you be quiet and put on a brave face. If pressed perhaps you will drop in some fiction “yeah it’s going great!”

Consume and use the next eight weeks of content, and you’ll be ready for the holidays and beyond.

“Yeah, but sitting around the Thanksgiving turkey is different to business.”

I’ve got news for you. It’s not.

It’s people sitting around that table. And businesses are filled with people. There are even frequently tables involved (aka “meetings”).

We are storytelling animals. Storytelling is a fundamental pillar of how we communicate.

“Fiction is an ancient virtual reality technology that specializes in simulating human problems.” - Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

We live and breathe story. It runs through us and until A.I. takes over, the world of business is and will continue to be run by people, and people are inseparable from the story.

When WorldCom crashed and burned, it was because of the story being lived by CEO. One where he took actions that he justified in perpetrating and $11,000,000,000 accounting fraud.

Aside: What’s going on at Equifax right now? What story are the executives in that company living? John Oliver’s 15 min rant is enough to get you up to speed and very, very concerned.

When Uber skidded out of control and crashed into the brick wall of corporate decency, it was fueled by Travis Kalanick’s narrative. A narrative in which anything was OK. To hell with everything else. This article drips with story as evidenced in this sentence: “So one evening in August 2013, Kalanick checked into a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto, paid for by Google, and woke up the next morning for a ten o’clock meeting with the most powerful man in Silicon Valley.”

Hilary Clinton failed to factor in deep-seated concerns of middle America. She ignored the cultural narrative of this critical demographic. To make matters worse, Clinton is a terrible storyteller. Great leaders must tell stories to take people on journeys. She didn’t do that.

We are all living a narrative. We move from story to story. From friendships to new markets we make decisions about the stories of which we wish to inhabit. As business leaders, we have to illuminate the path ahead with stories to bring people on the journey with us.

If we don’t, they will not buy from us. They will walk away.

So, when you next think of the content, you create, and your strategy to land that content marketing with your target audience consider the stories that you tell.

What narratives will you tap into and how you will get people to join you on the journey?

Here’s an example: In 2012 when I was running the Lotus F1 Team sponsorship for Microsoft. Initially, I failed to get traction with the Marcom team to build out a content marketing strategy for the partnership. I stepped back and considered why. I realized I hadn’t respected their story. I went back to the drawing board and focused on ‘customer showcase’ and built deep alignment with the existing case study effort. With language like “case study” and “video content” the Marcom team (and others) got on board. We involved corporate advertising and ended up with one of the most exciting and impactful campaigns I’ve had the pleasure of leading. The results showed it: everything from our videos driving a 42% increase of inbound traffic to a 7.35x increase in engagement for people visiting the story rich sites to winning multiple film festivals and coverage in Huffington Post.

What story/stories are you telling? To which narrative does it accrue? Feel free to bounce it off me and get some feedback.