Stories are a way for us to connect with others and understand the world around. Stories give meaning to our ideas and experience.
I speak, teach, and write about narrative intelligence. This is the belief that stories are the best tool for behavior change. My experience working with leaders in Fortune 500 companies as well as startups has taught me the power of stories to change behavior, create inclusive cultures, and communicate new ideas. However, I know how difficult it is for business owners to use stories to build brand loyalty, create emotional connections, and promote their bold ideas.
Why numbers don’t cut it
Business owners communicate with numbers. They share the size of their businesses, the profits they have generated and the statistics that are behind the problem they solve. Your brand is incomplete without a story.
Paul Slovic, psychologist, discovered “psychic numbing,” a phenomenon that describes how people ignore problems when they are only presented in statistical terms.
His co-authors and he show that people can sympathize with stories about identifiable victims of war or poverty, but not for statistical victims. Even the most compelling data is often not enough to bring about change.
Even on a small scale, this truth holds true. You need to tell a story to create a brand that inspires people to take action.
There are many stories to tell
Before I started my own business, stories were used to motivate behavior change in media and marketing. Every organization has a series milestones and repeated events around which stories can be built. These are:
- The reason the organization was created
- Organizations must overcome obstacles
- It creates new ideas and innovative solutions as it grows
It is possible to create a strong brand by telling your Origin story, Adversity and Innovation stories. Here’s how.
Origin stories can help you understand why you do what your doing. My childhood is the beginning of my origin story for The New Quo. As a result of being racially and religiously different than the majority, I was raised in Utah as an “extreme minority.” I was able to see how influential the narratives that people get from education, family, media and other institutions are for shaping bias beliefs and behavior by being outside so many groups.
My career was then based on stories. I used stories to inspire people and close sales. Story was a powerful tool for influence, but I noticed that most companies didn’t know how narratives affected their culture and leadership practices.
These experiences led me to be fascinated by how narrative influences our beliefs and behavior. I was inspired to create tools that help people communicate better and become more inclusive leaders.
This Origin story is now part of my brand communications and thought leadership. It helps people understand why I founded my company and my brand.
Christina Blacken (@christinablacken), shared this post.
My Origin story. This is a story I share regularly in brand communications on social media.
Ask yourself these questions to discover your Origin story:
- What was the problem that motivated me to create my solution? What is my personal connection with this problem?
- What are the influences of my life and experiences that shaped the values I used to create the solution?
- What is the company’s value beyond profit? What are our core values?
Stories of Adversity
These stories are about the times you have overcome unexpected challenges. These stories show your brand’s resilience and make you more relatable because everyone experiences adversity.
Procter & Gamble was in a slump and decided they needed a new cleaning company. This is a great example of Adversity stories. They hired Continuum to conduct research and discovered that people weren’t cleaning their floors as often as their mops. It was clear that there was a need for a faster clean and possibly a better tool.
The researchers discovered how disgusting it was for people to touch dirty mops and that dust is the most common dirt in homes. This knowledge was used to create a new cleaning tool. It is basically a wet towel attached to a stick that can be thrown away when it has become dirty.
Even though this pivot was challenging what they knew about mop markets, it resulted in a new product with $100 million in sales the first year and is still a staple in household households.
These stories are yours to discover.
- What are the key challenges that my company has faced?
- What lessons have you learned from these experiences? How can they help to strengthen our solutions?
These stories show how your brand can create new insights or connections between unlikely ideas.
Post-it notes are a great example of an innovation story. Arthur Fry, a 3M employee, had an “aha” moment while attending church in 1974. Spencer Silver, a fellow 3M employee, had developed a light adhesive. However, no one knew how to use this glue. This adhesive was a great way for him to identify his place in the hymnal while he sang in the church choir.
Although initially skeptical about the product’s viability, Post-it was eventually introduced in 1980. Post-it notes can be found in over 100 countries today.
This story shows 3M’s unorthodox inspiration and creative problem solving. They can tell it again and again to reinforce their brand and show their innovation.
Answer the following questions to discover your own stories of innovation.
- What are some of the unexpected connections and insights that our company has made that others don’t?
- What are some of the unexpected solutions we have found?
- How does our creative process reflect our values?
Once you have collected your Origin, Adversity, and Innovation moments, it is possible to start telling versions of these stories via social media, long-form content on your website, and other ways.
Stories are powerful. They can change how we see ourselves and others. An authentic brand will have more success if you are honest about your experiences.
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