Park Howell, is the voice behind the Business of Story podcast and the author of the book Brand Bewitchery. The first part of his interview, you can find here. In his book, he talks about how authors are entrepreneurs and lives can be broken down into chapters. Doing that involves using some formulas, including heroes, stakes, antagonists, disruptors, mentors, joiners, and so on. Taking a leaf out of Hollywood, Park Howell shares how to build a great narrative for the businesses.
How to help your customers solve a problem
When you start thinking about leaping into act two, which is where the conflict or the problem really arises, Park considers that disruption, which is part of chapter four. What has happened in the audience’s or customers’ life that has disrupted their world and has shaken them out of status quo? If they’re in status quo thinking they’re going to buy from the lowest price, that you’re just a commodity, you want them out of that mindset. You want them to help them overcome that change. When you deliver on that, you can charge more, and you actually build greater loyalty. In chapter four of disruption, Park says your goal is clarify what has changed in your audience’s life. With that, it makes you get out of your own brain. Unless you demonstrate that you understand and empathise with what your customer actually wants, that’ll remain a problem that you’re trying to solve in that disruption phase.
The trick with storytelling is not just having a problem to overcome, but dealing with the universe that starts pushing back as well. Whenever you try to fix a problem, it actually gets worse quite often before it gets better, so use that dynamic, and that is chapter five, which Park calls villains, fog, and crevasses. What are the competitive forces that you’re up against both externally and internally? This could be actual competition out there, or it could be not enough time, not enough money. You’ve got to think about all these things. And then internally, what’s going on in their heads? What are they fearing? What is that voice that is telling them, "No, don’t do this"? You do this to understand them.
The story cycle and the ABT framework
As a side note, Park highly recommends that you use the story cycle system on yourself. Ask all these questions relative to yourself, and then use it on your business and on your customers too. You will find these worlds starting to meld together, and you will have a much better understanding and empathy for your audience. Words create worlds, and stories connect them, Park says. That’s when you tell these true stories about the real world impact that you make a change in their lives. In act one, the protagonist, the backstory, and all that were introduced, and then boom, you pull the rug out from underneath them. What has changed that makes you the most dynamic, urgent, and relevant offering in the world? A really good example is with COVID, there’s a global disruption that’s created a massive disruption to everybody all over the world. Park then demonstrates the use of the ABT framework, which is a very simple foundational narrative framework. Imagine this, "We were all looking for the promise of 2020, AND what this new decade had in store for us, BUT COVID struck the world. THEREFORE, we are reassessing who we are, what we stand for, where our careers are going, and how we can be in service over sales." There, you have the setup, problem, and resolution. That is a perfect, three-act story structure that any marketer or any PR person can use to frame a point and then to go on. You literally are using the problem-solution dynamic algorithm of story of And, But, Therefore where "And" is to set up, "But" is the problem, and "Therefore" is the resolution.
Then comes chapter six, which is where the mentor arrives. This is the person with the new app, product, or service who arrives on the scene. This chapter all about you and all about the brand and where you do your OOOH exercise, because everything leading up to this is all about your customer, what they’re going through, and how you can help them. Now, you have to talk about how you are uniquely equipped to help them. You do the OOOH exercise to figure out those stories that are proof of what your UVP is and what your brand is all about. Boil it down to one word, and that’s your brand promise. What do you promise that customers, partners, and staff will get from you emotionally by buying into your product or service? What is that one thread of emotion that they all get by buying in? And then you move on to the next thing which is, what is the intrinsic gift? What do they get when they go through this?
Brand storytelling is not about what you make, but what you make happen in people’s lives. For instance, Park makes the story cycle system, and he makes a measurable, proven training program that you can physically take and teach people to grow a brand. What he makes happen is he helps leaders excel through the stories they tell. So, even though you’re buying the system, what do you really want? You want to be smart and optimistic. You want to have the courage and confidence. You want to have all these emotional things that come with being a really good storyteller, and that’s ultimately what he’s selling to excel through the stories you tell. It’s this journey of brand awareness, brand adoption, and then brand appreciation, and how you are going to level up people’s lives in every one of these steps. What do you give them of unbelievable value that keeps them coming back in?
That leads, then, into chapter eight of victory. What are your success milestones? You’ve got to be strategic about what your audience’s experience is in brand awareness when they first hear about you, brand adoption when they first buy into you, and brand appreciation when they come back for more and start telling their friends about you. You have to dial in like you’re on a journey, so that they know when your story is progressing with them.
Chapter nine is about the moral. When you’re doing a brand story development, this is about your brand purpose. Why do you exist beyond making money? You can start the sentence by saying, "My brand exists to help people do what?" Park goes back to his moral, which is based off of his intrinsic gift. The Business of Story exists to help people live into and prosper from their most powerful stories. His job is to connect people with the power of story, so that they can connect their world with their audiences world for a better world overall. Use it for good, not for evil. That’s what the moral is. That’s high-level brand strategy thinking. This is what the brand stands for and what they believe in. Value, by the way, also appears through those nine one word descriptors. As you are telling stories to your customers, you want to make sure you connect their shared beliefs and values with your beliefs and values, and that’s where you use chapter nine to really understand what that is.
The last step focuses on a ritual. It’s a metaphor of two things: building repeat business and word of mouth marketing, which is the most powerful form of advertising, because it’s how customers tell their stories to the world, plus, it’s free. When ritualising a brand, findout what your call to action is to get them involved. You’re essentially inviting them into your story and making your story their story, so the magic is in understanding their story and determining where you can have a decisive impact on their journey. You invite them in, they purchase something, they purchase something else, and they share it with a friend. You want to be able to trigger that in your victory lap by showing them where they’re having success with your brand, and then invite them to share that story and show them what to do online by giving them the tools and the story elements of videos, blog posts, or whatever it might be that they can reshare, because they have bought into who you are and what you’re about. Now, they become a very active member in your story.
A narrative spiral, not a circle
It’s worth pointing out that if you go to Amazon and search Brand Bewitchery, the story cycle system is a spiral. Park’s good friend Dr. Randy Olson, who worked with him on ABT framework, calls it the narrative spiral. Park calls it the story cycle system, a narrative spiral. It’s different from Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey because that was a circle. Your hero starts out in an ordinary world, and after a call to adventure, they go into this extraordinary world. They have trials and tribulations, they learn something, and then they return to their ordinary world, but they’re elevated, and they are better and smarter. To Park, it’s a spiral, because every time you go around this, you are actually elevating the customer experience and customer engagement. The moment you go through the story cycle once with a customer, that could be brand awareness already. Then, you start it all over again, but from a different spot, and they’re now aware of you. Now, it’s moving into brand adoption. And then you go through the same process again with brand adoption, and then it becomes brand appreciation. So, one can then see how those concentric circles just keep growing and growing as they become an active member of your story.
These were lessons on the story cycle from Park Howell and his book, Brand Bewitchery, which is on Amazon. Park shares how entrepreneurs can take the business and make it into a story, one that is empathetic to staff, customers, and partners. If you thought that was the last we’ll hear from Park, you’re wrong. In the next article, Park will discuss the impact of technology on storytelling and a couple of key case studies where storytelling has been great for business.
Cover Photo from Park Howell