September 14, 2015

Brand Storytelling is Mindset, Not a Formula

startup marketing

Given the growing appreciation for the value of storytelling, one of the most frequent questions is: how can I create good stories?

Two of the key pillars are taking a customer-centric approach that involves their needs and interests, and focusing on channels used by consumers through the buyer’s journey.

But I think the most important part of storytelling is having a storytelling mindset. It’s not strategic or tactical, but adopting an approach that applies a storytelling lens to the world around you.

To put it another way, it’s about looking at everything as a potential story. It involves people you meet, content consumed, trends noticed and news that happens. Everything automatically passes through a filter that quickly determines whether a story has the potential to educate, engage or entertain your target audiences.

It is a formula that reporters use when exploring and testing story ideas. Many things are rejected for a variety of reasons but, in time, the good stories begin in emerge. Then, these stories are scrutinized before a decision is made to green-light them.

While, in theory, this approach (which I describe as “editorial popcorning”) is straightforward, it can be difficult to embrace because it is a different way of looking at the world. It takes practice and a new perspective. It is not a mechanical or automated process but more of an attitude or approach that makes storytelling an integral and constant part of how your business operates. In time, storytelling becomes part of the scenery.

So what are the keys to embracing a storytelling mindset?

One of the easiest ways to start is simply writing down every single story idea that comes along. If you collect dozens of ideas, this exercise will be successful. It means you’re consciously and continually thinking about ideas for stories, storytelling and the needs of your audience. Peter Gruber talks about telling stories with purpose, which talks about emotion bonded with information.

It doesn’t mean every idea will be a good story. It’s not the way the process works. Instead, you’re looking for winners – stories that will resonate with target audiences to drive awareness, leads, sales, etc. Maybe, one or two winners come out of every 10 ideas. As long as it fuels your storytelling efforts, it’s a return on investment that will work just fine.

It really isn’t more complicated than that. You explore lots of ideas before settling on the ones that hit the mark.

In a nutshell, do the following:

  1. Think about the stories customers want to hear, not the stories you want to tell them.
  2. Focus on the channels that customers use to research and make buying decisions.
  3. Rank these channels based on resources (people, money, and time)
  4. Collect as many story ideas as possible.
  5. Select your winners based on goals, timing, etc.

Note: The inspiration for this post was a First Round Capital post on Chris Holmberg, an executive coach who focuses on changing business mindsets so clients can reach their potential. Another good read on storytelling is Fleur Broca on how the best brand storytellers are powered by being good, sincere and human.

 If you’re looking to jump-start your marketing, I can help you make it happen. I recently published a book, Storytelling for Startups, that provides strategic and tactical guidance to entrepreneurs looking to embrace the power of story-driven marketing.

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