5 Building Blocks to Develop a Compelling Story

At the core of it’s effectiveness, storytelling is how people learn about the world. Author of the Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, PhD and NY Times bestseller, explains that the “human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”

Features and functions relate more to the rational mind and never make the jump to the long-term memory because our minds aren’t designed to process logic. Stories on the other hand, often times do make the pass-through to the long-term memory because they tap into human emotion.

Billionaire and entrepreneur Richard Branson places so much value on storytelling that Virgin has a storytelling month (March), and says that “We would be nothing without our story.”

But simply having a product-focused company and slapping a story on top won’t work, according to Ben Horowitz, who says that “the company story is the company strategy,” and the product direction should feed off of the story.

If you have personal access to these folks stop reading now and pick their brain on how to tell a compelling story.

If not, it may be worthwhile to learn from Andy Raskin who helps leadership teams at growth-stage companies (Flux, Mashery) and former growth-stage companies (Yelp, Uber) transform their product pitch into a compelling story. Andy has also worked with numerous portfolio firms of Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures.

I recently had a chance to talk with Andy in his office on the tactics he shares with his clients and how we can all improve our storytelling abilities. Below are a few takeaways:

  1. Most successful company stories have the following themes: citing of an important change, implications for how the change will impact the customer, the “Promised Land” or destination that your company can take the customer too, roadblocks that prevent the customer from getting to the ideal destination without your company, and finally, positioning of functions / features  that help address the obstacles.
  2. The strategic story should be owned by the CEO and in turn impacts every aspect of the business, from product to marketing, HR, sales, and engineering.
  3. Stories can guide product monetization. Look no further than the obstacles that prevent your audience from realizing the promised land as sources of innovation for new products or features.
  4. Use questions throughout the story to keep the audience engaged. The questions should be asked and answered as you move through each theme, and especially when presenting your company as the solution.  A common phrase used to introduce the solution as a question is, “so we thought about [the problem], and asked [what would happen if we, why isn’t it done this way, or how can we make a better].”
  5. Look for inspiration everywhere. If you are a CEO of a growth-stage tech firm, read a book on a famous playwright, or comedian to get your neural networks firing outside of their normal patterns.

Stories are the patterns through which we understand life, and if businesses can start to change their brand or perception from one of features / functions to that of emotional engagement they could be on their way to much success.

Here is the full 30 minute interview (episode #7).

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Written by:
Ryan Warner (@Ryan_N_Warner) is an account executive on Salesforce’s Financial Services team. Ryan also co-hosts the TR Talk Podcast, where co-host Tom Alaimo and Ryan interview leaders in their fields to learn how millennials can make an impact in today’s workforce.
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