This piece was originally published as a guest post by Elizabeth Sosnow for Jason Baer’s Convince & Convert blog.
Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy slips on banana peel, temporarily loses girl, but ultimately gets girl back.
My college cinema professor Elliot Stout once observed that there really are only a few basic stories, but that your storytelling opportunity lies in the rich details you can add to each plot. For example, Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Psycho” is ultimately about a very bad mother, but he gives us a huge narrative shock when we first see “her” in the infamous shower scene. Human beings love — and learn best — through stories.
We know that social media communities require an unending supply of stories to succeed. But the daily grind of coming up with those ideas can feel overwhelming. In our recent study of consulting firms, we found that many abandon blogs, probably because of bandwith and story fatigue.
It doesn’t have to be painful. Start with an audit of the intellectual capital or “thought leadership” you already have:
- Review business plans, potential industry and product scenarios.
- Consider your leaders’ past marketing output: their speeches, bylined articles, internal memos that codify an “ah-ha” moment for the company.
- Develop an educated opinion on what your competitors have accomplished from both a business and marketing perspective.
- Evaluate public research on audience, product and business development opportunities.
- Listen to what your prospects, customers/clients, communities and competitors are already saying — about you and about what they need to be successful for themselves.
Now consider if your existing ideas lend themselves to a story framework. Here are 7 ways to identify the possible stories in your own organization:
- Once Upon A Time: Does your company or client have an instructive story from its history to share with others? Are there some “lessons learned” that could benefit your community?
- What if?: People are fascinated and terrified by the future. We crave stories that control that fear by predicting what might happen next. There’s no reason your organization can’t identify some potential scenarios for your own industry.
- David vs. Goliath: Are you the underdog? Tell your audience about the day-to-day struggle against the “giant.” And if you are Goliath, spend your time telling stories about how you help the “little guys.”
- Adam and Eve: Romantic stories hold tremendous appeal for all of us. And they do exist in business, from mergers & acquisitions to the passion of innovation to the steadfast commitment of an employee.
- Hannibal Lecters: In the book “Silence of the Lambs,” Clarice is much more interesting when she’s in a scene with Dr. Lecter. Simply put, your potential customers are intrigued by villains, so is there a “bad guy” you can use to your advantage?
- Heroes or, better yet, Frodos: In Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings,” we are inspired by Frodo because he is not a typical hero. He’s far too small and quiet, though he ultimately succeeds where everyone else failed. When choosing your own leadership stories, the CEO may be the perfect choice. But don’t stop there. Search for the rising star or an unexpected voice.
- A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words: Sometimes words can’t do justice to a story. Think of the unforgettable picture of the lone protestor standing in front of the tank in Tiannemen Square. Businesses have their own pictures, too. It could be as simple as capturing the right moment with a customer or as insightful as a graphic from the masterful David Armano.
Starting a blog or building a content pipeline can feel intimidating. But if you begin your intellectual capital audit by looking for these kinds of stories, you’ll have a built-in head start.
Don’t forget the most important part of being a successful storyteller. Your primary job is to excite your audience.
What’s the best business story you’ve ever told?
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(photo by Foxtongue)