The idea for this post came from a video recording of Simon Sinek speaking on how great leaders (and products/companies) inspire action. In his talk, he emphasizes this quote: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The reason that quote stood out to me was because I recently finished reading the book Contagious (and before that, Made to Stick) which are both about how storytelling sells, not products or features. It’s why Apple has such an insanely dedicated customer base, and on the flip side, it’s why IBM feels like a big, untouchable corporation.
A little backstory…
A few weeks back I was vacationing in Cape Cod and made my yearly stop at the Truro Vineyards, one of my favorite places on the Cape aside from the beach. I’ve been nearly ten times so far, but every time I go back I always remember my first visit. My mom and I sat down for a wine tasting and they started to tell us how the vineyard got started, issues they ran into along the way, happy stories about their employees, and even details about the grapes themselves. They even told us how they named each wine. After the tasting, we went on a tour of the vineyard. We heard an even more detailed story from the tour guide on their grape selection (and why some grapes do have to be imported from California still), the hours they work, and a little more about the owners. That day, I left with four bottles of wine in hand (to give to others as well, of course) and feeling like I just met a new friend. I felt like I knew who Truro Vineyards was. I’ve since gone to many other vineyards (and breweries) but few have stood up to Truro Vineyard’s storytelling power.
In everyday life…
Whenever I’m watching a TV ad, walking into a store, reading a company’s latest blog post, or visiting their Facebook page, I’m always searching for that “sticky” story. Sadly, 95% of them don’t have it. No wonder brands envy companies like Apple for their loyal customer base! Storytelling is super hard — so getting loyal customers is that much harder. But if that’s the critical part of a company’s success, it’s important to learn how to craft those stories and where to tell them.
Why stories are interesting
If you read the first chapter of Made to Stick, you’ll instantly be sucked in. Why? Stories! I can still remember them, and it’s probably been 2+ years since I last read it (and I don’t even like books that much). Stories feel real. They feel memorable. Facts and product features — meh, not so much. People remember other people, emotions, and visuals, not facts and figures that they cannot relate to. When you tell a story your target audience can relate to, they will remember it.
Why products and features are boring
Would you rather buy from:
- ABC Company whose messaging conveys the fact that they sell the most durable, ergonomic recliner with 100% of the best fabric, and at a competitive price, or
- from XYZ Company whose messaging tells the story of how the founder’s grandfather had chronic back pain so he sought out to create a chair to make his grandfather more comfortable, and everyone else with chronic back pain at ease, and has since been recognized by medical foundations across the world for the innovative design?
Unless you’re solely a facts person (and if that’s the case, this blog post may not be for you) you’d probably enjoy and trust the XYZ Company, right? Now think of one of your last purchases — perhaps a computer, piece of clothing or an iTunes song. What drew you to that purchase? Chances are there is some attachment you have to that brand, type of product, company story, etc.
How to do it
- Find out why your company was started (or if you started it, what was the compelling factor for you?)
- This can be anything from a family backstory to a personal reason, a touching moment with a stranger, passion project, or even an obvious gap in the market that just had to be met.
- Pick out what is absolutely the most unique “wow” factor about your product and tell a story around that.
- i.e. if you are building the fastest online backup application, what is a great way you can tell that story? Using an analogy to “fast” could be a good starting point, but I challenge you to dig deeper.
- Is there an early customer who is the perfect fit for what you’re building and would be a great person to profile?
- Latch onto their story, as that will put a face to the problem you solve and excite others like them!
- Identify the 2-3 top themes you want to be known for. So many brands today try to be everything to everyone, but that is setting yourself up for failure.
- Once you decide on the top few things you want to be known for, consumers will be able to easily say, “oh yeah, THAT company solves just this, I’m going to use them!”
- What is unique about your company culture and employees?
- Are they all passionate about the same cause?
- Do they have a backstory that relates tightly to what problem you’re solving?
- Highlight them and show how excited and passionate they are for working on your product. This will translate excitement to your customers.
This list could go on and on, but this should be a great starting point for you, especially if you are an early stage startup. And the earlier you choose your compelling story, the easier it will be to tell that story again and again as it’ll be embedded in your entire messaging from the start. And since you have no time to lose as a startup, nailing your unique messaging earlier than later can be a huge win.
Let me know if your company is using a great story in place (or as a supplement) to pure product features & facts and what the traction has been!