“Being able to both conceive and execute on a great story is really important for your business. You need to really bring your end-user to life, it’s showing the impact on people that helps your audience understand why what you are doing matters,” said Michael Copeland, Startup Strategist, Amazon Web Services (AWS) at a recent masterclass for CMOs at TechSparks 2019. Michael, who loves talking to entrepreneurs, listening to their stories and helping them tell it better, took the audience through an interactive session on how important it is for companies to craft a great and persuasive story.
Every company has a story, you just need to figure out what it is. It’s important for your story to have a purpose – who you’re trying to reach through the story and why. “Never let any important moment in your company’s existence go to waste. Did you just sign up your first 100 customers? Did you launch a product, or are you going the hire the world’s greatest AI specialist? Through the story you are telling, are you hoping to attract customers, investors, new hires? Think about why you’re telling the story,” he said. “Always think about the end objective and measure it.”
According to Michael, something for businesses to try as they are putting together their stories is writing down a "Nut Graf," which refers to a paragraph or sentence that summarizes the essence of a story. “In a written, audio or video story, it’s the kernel that makes the reader or viewer pay attention to or care about what you’re saying. It’s a good exercise to shrink down your entire storyline into a short paragraph, distill what you do, and get into the crux of why it matters.”
Communicating the same purpose to a changing audience
The purpose of storytelling is always the same, to tell people what you’re doing and why it matters. But the audience will change.
- Customers – The consumer space is the most crowded one, so it’s harder to get people’s attention. There are three things to keep in mind while telling your story – FOMO, Future and Fashion. Consumers react to FOMO (fear of missing out) on a new app or new trend. If you tell them how rapidly things are changing, they will react to those kinds of stories. The second is to give them a sense that they’re buying into the future. And finally, fashion, where customers know that everyone’s doing it and they want to be a part of it too. “The consumer story is an easier one to tell in some ways, because we’re all customers in some way,” said Michael.
- Businesses – If you’re in the B2B space, it’s harder, because it doesn’t have the same appeal as the customer-facing space. The story you’re telling is to businesses who are your customers, and the strategy is to tell your story through your other customers.
- Media – Your story has to be unique and you should have a surprise pitch. It has to be a breakthrough you can back up, a great team, a brand new product –to get their attention, the bar is set high. “Be authentic, don’t use fancy language, tell it straight and tell the truth. You’re developing relationships, and you can do that without demanding coverage with guns blazing.”
- Employee – Think about telling the story to your own people and how it matters to them. Always remember that your story equals your reputation both externally and internally.
The end user always comes first
The end user matters while telling your story, as it has to resonate with them. Storytelling, according to Michael, can take something as complex as blockchain or cloud, and simplify it into an image of a rice field. The end users are farmers who don’t necessarily need to know the inner workings of blockchain, what they care about is how you are solving their problems -- access to credit, fertilisers, water, etc. – rather than the underlying technology that enables it.
He said that it’s important to create your own content, especially if you’re a startup no one has heard of. “If you can talk about your end user in a crisp manner in a way everyone can understand, it might capture the attention of journalists who would want to cover your business. You can be the centre of gravity, the expert, and show people how to do it. When they see smart content, they will come to you.”
But owned content is a commitment, and you shouldn’t take it up if you can’t be consistent. If you can’t generate your own content or don’t have time to do it, you have to find people on your team who want to do it, and who are good at it. They should be committed to telling your story and love doing it.
Addressing businesses in the niche segment, Michael said it’s important to go after the end customer, even though it’s niche, because the general audience won’t care. Podcasts are a great tool for the niche audience as audio is really good for narrow reach. You can go deeper and talk about a topic than you can do in a video. “If you’re in early stage and in a niche market, go after the niche unapologetically because you want people to pay attention.”
Resonate with the customer’s need
Many technologists, he said, struggle to tell their story well. They have the tendency to talk about the technical muscle, all the things they’ve built and the technical features. “Everyone is fascinated by AI and ML, but in reality, it’s often hard for non-technical people to understand why it matters and how it works. You need to step back, do the Nut Graf exercise, and practice it on people who aren’t so technical and who don’t care as much as you do.” Using examples and user success stories is a great way to help them understand better. “What the technology does to solve their problem is more important than what it actually is,” he said.
When it comes to speed versus quality, quality wins. “Everyone can do it, but not many people do it well. If you can explain your technical business to non-technical people and make them care, that’s powerful and rare.”
Let your customers speak for you. “Show people the result of your work, and the impact you’ve created – that will resonate with them.”
Practice makes storytelling perfect
Talking about the best frequency to share content, Michael said that once you commit to it, you need to follow through, be it once a week or a month. “If you’re in the consumer space, frequency is high, so that they don’t forget you. But if you’re in a niche segment and it’s very technical, talk once a month and they look forward to hearing smart things from you. Once your audience grows, you can increase the frequency.”
Today, there are different formats like data visuals, video, audio which enable you to break down complex information and effectively reach the end user. Michael ended the masterclass by saying that it takes practice to craft a great story, but it’s important that you love doing it.
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