Park Howell, the world’s most industrious storyteller, recently launched a book called Brand Bewitchery: How to Wield the Story Cycle System to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand. In it, he says the internet has transformed so much that most people may not even be listening to what we’re saying. So, how can business owners create compelling stories that make them great storytellers?
When you think about the massive amounts of channels and the millions of messages that are being sent virtually every minute, if not every second, people are bombarded by content. The brain’s cerebral frontal cortex has done a brilliant job of building technology that has evolved at the astounding rate of Moore’s law that everyone’s familiar with in technology, yet people are still walking around with their limbic system, the same brain that has not appreciably changed for over 90,000 years when ancestors were navigating and trying to survive the savannah. It’s the same system that people today are trying to use to navigate and survive the bombardment on the internet.
It’s no wonder that people have a hard time connecting to stand out and be heard in this noisy world, because the masses have become the media. You don’t just have a few TV stations and radio stations and print production in newspapers and magazines to choose from anymore to push your story out. Everybody’s a TV station, everybody’s a radio station, everybody’s a different print production house, and they are live 24/7 with global reach from the privacy of their own kitchen table. It’s almost like attention deficit disorder has become a communicable disease, and we are all the viruses, and the only way to hack through that noise and hook the hearts is with an anecdote, which is the antidote.
How to get the business to stand out
Living in a land of abundance, people don’t operate in scarcity anymore, because there are so many options to choose from, so every company has immense competition, and the only way to stand out is to be able to effectively use these primal elements and proven frameworks of storytelling to demonstrate what you stand for, why you are different and distinctive, and then how you tell that story. That’s the power of storytelling and how it works. Based on Watts’ cascade theory, the goal is not to find one great influencer and hope that they will influence others, but to find many people who are easily influenced, because it’s the masses with a low threshold to be influenced that will trigger a cascade, which is where a message or a story would be shared virally. First and foremost, Park believes that virality is utter luck, so he cautions to not go for it. Instead, make a really powerful point with even just a handful of great customers that you can embrace and begin with an origin story. When you can reveal yourself in an authentic and vulnerable way, people are now no longer buying from a brand. They’re buying from a business or a person, and humanizing the business will make customers more likely to trust it. Brands don’t do that for you, and this comes with the fact that with the proliferation of technology, people have become more human–oriented. Having previously relied on big brands advertising through the TV, billboards, and the radio and now becoming more enraptured with technology and almost more distanced through phones, people long for that human connection. The lack of it, especially now with COVID, has made everybody separated and only seeing each other virtually, and it’s in these moments where the opportunity to tell the story comes in.
People will want to hear more about the story of the business than the features, functions, and benefits of the product or service itself, so don’t lead with the product sheet. They want to hear about you. Why did you build the product? What can it do for them? Lead with the stories. It could be an origin story, a quest story, a customer story, or a case story. Regardless, a true story well told is what people are looking for, and that’s where storytelling comes in. It can be very simple too. It doesn’t have to be these long, drawn out stories. You can tell an anecdote in under one minute that can have an unbelievable power. The next part is making sure that anecdote is understood companywide. Since consumers are now buying things without actually even going anywhere, the story becomes even more important, because there’s less brand infrastructure. Truth and trust are two of Park’s nine one-word descriptors. "Stories are a vehicle that deliver the truth that creates the trust."
The business owner is the producer or the director. The audience is the hero. If you’re talking to your employees, place them at the center of the story, because it makes you understand who they are, what they care about, and what journey they’re on, so that you, as the producer and director, know what kind of story to create and to connect with their worlds to help them achieve what they want. Do this, and they’ll go out of their way to help you get what you want. Think of the team as the cast in the narrative production of the brand or business. Everyone knows the drama that you live day in and day out, so they are already living in your narrative. But if you as the business owner don’t control that narrative, they will make up their own stories about you, and it’s probably not a story you intended unless you intentionally tell the story.
Proof of the power of stories
The first one is customer sales-centric, Park says. He was in Melbourne, Australia in March 2019 with his wife Michelle, and they were out there with one of her old childhood friends who had moved to Melbourne many years ago. That friend had a boyfriend who was a Swedish sailor, and he was talking about story and storytelling. He had, as a young man sailed from Stockholm. He was 22 years old on a 24-foot sailboat by himself, and he spent 6-8 months at sea to Melbourne all by himself. He got there, and he loved it so much. He remained in Australia and sold high-end German carwashes and serviced them into Australia.
He was asking Park very skeptically how to "story," because he didn’t understand storytelling in business. Park asked him, "Could you take me to a time like Tom Hanks in Castaway when you were at sea, and it seemed like all was lost, and something supernatural happened, like the whale came up and flipped water on you?" He laughed and said, "No, it never happened," and then Park just gave him a long pregnant pause. Then the Swedish man said, "Well, there was that one time I was sailing through the Galapagos Islands, and I came down to a channel I had never sailed before. The sun was starting to go down and starting to get dark. It was early evening. Back then, we didn’t have GPS. We just had a sextant and compass and dead reckoned our way through. I didn’t really want to take on and navigate this water that I didn’t know at dark. So I decided to weigh anchor and hang out in the mouth of this channel, and I would get up early in the morning and go. They next day, I woke up to the sound of dolphins screeching. I went up top on deck, and there were eight dolphins circling around my sailboat and screeching at me. I looked around, and I realized the tide had gone out much further than I had anticipated. In about another 30 minutes, me and my boat would have been impaled on these lava rocks. So, I pulled up anchor and successfully navigated the channel and made it to my destination."
Park then asked him, "Do you think they were warning you?" He goes, "What else were they doing there?" And then this sly grin came over his face, and he says, "Park, I just realized. Every big sale I ever made of a carwash came after I told someone about my sailing adventures. It had nothing to do with business." Park said, "Why do you think that is?" "I have no idea." Park said, "I’ll tell you why. Because in the telling of that personal story, of your courage and your journey at sea, people get to know you. They say, ‘I think I want this guy on my team. He’s industrious. He can get himself out of trouble. He’s willing to take risks. I want a guy like that to have my back if I’m going to spend a lot of money on a German carwash in Australia.’" That is the power of story, a true story well told.
The next case study is an event in which Park was speaking at Social Media Marketing World, the largest gathering of social media marketers in the world in San Diego every year. This was about four or five years ago. Park was invited to do the very first workshop on business and brand storytelling which ticked off the whole event, which Park enjoyed. As he was finishing up, a young man approaches him. Andre Martin Hobbs is his name, and he had this French accent. He said, "I loved your presentation. I want to talk to you about helping brand my business," to which Park replied, "Who are you and what is your business?" He goes, "Well, my business is selling used cars in Quebec, Canada to at-risk buyers," so he sold to people that had poor credit. Park thought to himself, "I don’t know if this is really the kind of brand I want to work with. I work with purpose-driven brands, and I could just picture the car shark out there taking advantage of people that want these cars."
Park was so glad that Andre circled back with him, because once they started working on his brand story, he found out a whole other side to Andre’s brand story. His thing is not about just selling a used car to an at-risk buyer. The purpose of his brand is to help people repair their credit. Andre said to Park, "These are people that have lost their credit, not because it’s their fault. Things have just conspired against them. It could have been the global recession. Maybe they got a divorce. Maybe they had healthcare issues that drained them of their money. Maybe they lost a job. But these are genuinely good people that have had bad luck, and I want to help them repair their credit through the purchase of a car." That fascinated Park. Shortly after, the two sat down, and Park took him through the story cycle system and uncovered all these elements of it. It came down to his brand purpose, which is, "Your vehicle to financial freedom." In Canada, it takes you two years of dutifully paying bills, so this car is going to do that every month for you to repair your credit to where you can level up. Before you can buy a car at Andre’s dealership, you have to go to a two- or three-hour financial planning session where you reveal completely where you are. Financial planners will help you figure out how much you can actually afford to pay on that car and then work with you after the purchase to make sure you do that, and that you’re accountable to it. Today, they are now the #1 car dealer in Canada for at-risk buyers, not because they’re car sharks just selling them anything, but because they are helping them repair their credit. They have a bigger goal and purpose in life. That’s why they are their "Vehicle to financial freedom." That’s a wonderful story. It really shows that there are many hardships at the moment, but many great stories will come out of it.
Park’s parting words were, "As your readers or listeners are becoming better storytellers and working through this, remember that the most potent story you’ll ever tell is the story you tell yourself, so make sure you make it a great one." Park Howell, the world’s most industrious storyteller and author of Brand Bewitchery, shared steps and tips from his brand story cycle to guide you on how to effectively tell your own story. With that, practice what you’ve learned from Park and you share your great business story with the world.
To learn more about Park, you can go to his website. There, he has a lot of free tools and information there for you to use to start crafting and telling compelling brand stories that sell. He’s also got his podcast which is five years old and has over 265 episodes and ranked among the top 10% downloaded shows in the world, and it’s all focused on working with storytellers from around the world to help business leaders of purpose-driven brands understand how to use story in their life. If you’re interested in his book, you can find it on Amazon, both in print and Kindle version.
Cover Photo from Park Howell