You’ve likely heard the saying that “Companies don’t sell products, they sell stories”, which is at least partially true. To seduce today’s consumers, it’s critical to show them more than flashy merchandise, as their Instagram feeds are already awash in glossy photos of the latest luxe loungewear, NFL merch, dating advice… a myriad of pitches. To differentiate a company, you need to tell a story, to engage their values, and to create a sense of community and connection. This is why Jack Daniels claims that it has been “turning nights into stories since 1866”, and why Ancestry.com promises that “behind every question is a story”. Even the U.S. Forest Service is in on the tactic, encouraging Americans to “make the forest part of your family’s story”.
But of course, storytelling can also run the risk of becoming another corporate cliché, an empty platform that entrepreneurs trot out to make their companies simply seem relevant. Savvy consumers and investors will then likely tune out, their eyes glazing over when they hear yet another warm and fuzzy invocation of corporate values in a shopworn yarn. Far too many companies tout “stories” without any substance or commitment, trafficking in a limited, and limiting, understanding of this actually nuanced communication technique. Entrepreneurs need powerful language and narrative to create meaningful connections, but to do so, it’s critical to think more intentionally about what storytelling is and how to do it in a way that will create lasting value.
1. Don’t tell the same old story
For all the emphasis business leaders place on innovation and disruption, we sure love clichés. Scrolling through LinkedIn is like playing buzzword Mad Libs. Another floundering founder turned serial entrepreneur, followed by another ex-private equity, ex-Facebook, ex-Google accelerator grad bootstrapping a way to fame and glory? So, first and foremost, take off the turtleneck and tell your story, not Steve Jobs’. If your business has a unique history or an uncommon path to success, celebrate that. Embrace what distinguishes you, not what reduces you to a predictable caricature.