One of my family’s favorite movies is RV starring Robin Williams. In it the hero Bob Munro, played by Williams, takes his family on a vacation in a rented RV while secretly continuing to work in his high-profile job at an advertising agency. He even goes as far as coordinating his cross-country RV trip to put him in the vicinity of an important meeting with a key prospect, and attempts to covertly attend the meeting to land the a major new client without his family knowing.
Aside from the usual William’s hilarity, there is an instructive sub-plot. Within the fictional ad agency there is competition between the senior Munro character, and a younger up-and-coming Account Manager fresh out of business school. In one of the key scenes the up-and-comer attempts to make a ‘pitch’ with a series of slides, charts and graphs containing data, numbers and in-depth analysis. And his pitch falls flat. In turn, the William’s character takes another approach. Instead of using charts and graphs, he reaches out to the company owners by connecting the personality of their brand and the history of the business to a desired future state. In doing so, he makes an emotional link by painting a picture of a future, a future where the business personality and culture is still strong. He wins by telling a story.
Story Trumps Data
Many of us like to think of ourselves as rational, logical thinkers who, faced with any significant decision, carefully weigh all the pros and cons of our choices. However, real life experience suggests that people are more often engaged and compelled by story than by facts and data.
This is the case made by Peter Guber in his book titled, “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story”. In it Guber recounts dozens of situations from his varied and successful career where he experienced the power of storytelling. He tells of the ‘wins’ and interactions he had with the likes of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Bill Clinton, Frank Sintra, David Copperfield, Nelson Mandela and many others.
Guber’s thesis is that human beings are wired for story. He opens with the lines, “Built into your DNA is humanity’s ten-thousand-plus years of telling and listening to oral stories. This veneration of story is a force so powerful and enduing that it has shaped cultures, religions, whole civilizations.” In the book Guber shares business successes and failures in his career that lead to his conclusions about the power of story.
One of the most powerful elements of story is its ability to move from one person to the next. Rarely do people feel the urge to share data and facts (unless specifically asked), but we will often feel the need to stories about experiences we have had or have heard from others.
And stories stick with us! Many of us can recall the story behind famous companies and brands like the story of Jobs and Wozniak working in their garage to build Apple’s first prototypes, or the story of the adhesive ‘accident’ that led to the invention of 3M’s Post-It Note.
To further illustrate, think of situation where you are considering a significant purchase from a company you have no experience with. Are you more influenced by that company’s customer satisfaction rating (data) or a story a friend tells you about his or her experience with that firm? For many of us, the friend’s story trumps the data.
So if story can become part of the way we communicate in our business, the opportunity exists for those stories to be ‘told forward’ by customers, employees and others who come in contact with those stories.
What’s your story?
I have recently been experimenting with the power of story in our business here at RESULTS.com, and I have to agree with Guber. Clients and prospects are much more engaged when I tell a story versus sharing information, facts and data.
For example, when I speak about the development of our RESULTS.com Business Execution software, I don’t speak about the number of companies or users we have globally, or the ROI companies receive. Rather, I tell the story of the business owner who was frustrated by his inability to easily see the performance of every team and individual in his firm; or the CEO who introduced the software and how that led to the departure of her company’s worst performers (and how good she felt about that). These stories resonate with people more deeply than facts and figures.
So how can we leverage the power of story? Here’s some ways to use storytelling to enhance your firm’s success:
- Make sure your firm recognizes its own unique story – Every firm has a story behind how it got started and why it exists. Ideally this is linked to your company’s Core Purpose, the rationale for the firm’s existence. Make sure every member of your team knows and can retell the company core story.
- Tell Core Value stories in your weekly meetings – have every employee shares a story from the past week about how one of their colleges demonstrated one of your company’s Core Values. This ensures that your Core Values are actually alive and being used, and not just nice words on some plaque on the wall.
- Create and tell customer stories – these stories tell of the hero (your customer) facing some adversity (the challenge), and how they overcome the adversity (thanks to your product or service). Looks for ways to embed emotion in the story as that becomes the fuel for spreading the message.
However you approach it, look for opportunities to leverage the power of story. Story can create an emotional response that, if powerful enough, will be ‘told forward’ and drive the growth of your company.