Ken Lynch, Marketing, Simon Sinek, storytelling, UNCON2015, unConference

unConference 2015 Session: How To Use Storytelling

By Ken Lynch, Jones & Company@jones_marketing

It seems every few months a new buzzword gains traction in
the business world, gets a few books written about it, is the highlight of
industry events, and then fades away.  Today,
one of the biggest buzzwords in business is “storytelling.”  Marketers are obsessed with storytelling and
its getting lots of attention as a tool for businesses to use to gain a competitive
Not surprisingly, How
To Use Storytelling
was one of the best-attended sessions of MassTLC’s
Innovation2015 unConference.  In this
dynamic session facilitated by Eric
of 30Hands Learning (@southshoreeric), the questions started flying
What is a story?
Do you need permission to tell your story?
Do stories need to be true?
To help ground the conversation, it was quickly pointed out
that storytelling isn’t new, but that it continues to take on new forms,
especially in today’s connected world where social media has gotten us
comfortable having conversations with each other and companies in new, impactful,
and sometimes questionable ways. 
Participants provided several examples of the history and
foundation of storytelling. Greek philosopher Socrates challenged his
contemporaries to ask themselves if what they were about to say is true, good
and useful.  Aristotle divided storytelling
into three categories – Ethos (credibility), Pathos (emotional), and Logos
(logical).  Citing a more recent example,
participants were pointed to a now famous TED
given by Simon Sinek where he introduces the Golden Circle of Why,
How, and What.  Why, says Sinek, should be the core and driving force of every
company’s marketing and business operations – including their storytelling.
A colorful dialog continued with nearly every attendee in
the room providing input on what makes a good story and how to leverage
storytelling to build a brand.  Several examples
provided by participants are captured below:
What Makes a Good
A story is a narrative that gives background and
makes an impact on the audience.  A story
must be told in a way that “connects” with the audience.
A good story should entertain, inform, and
provide utility.  It should affect the
hearts and minds of people and move them to action. 

Stories should address emotional, functional, and financial needs.

·         It is good practice to put others (your customers) in your stories for them to “feel” connected. 
You shouldn’t tell people you are funny, smart,
or that your product is the best, but you can communicate these points through
a story by providing examples of what you’ve done.
Your story must be unique – customers will know
if they’ve heard it before.
Viral stories include a “magical moment” or “moment
of change” that prompts that others to tell your story for you.
Why is Storytelling
It has been proven that people don’t remember
data as much as they do stories, but it seems children today are being taught
information, not stories.  Stories should
have a message (a takeaway) as opposed to just providing data.  It is important to tell your story and
interject data as part of the narrative.
Storytelling can have a tremendous impact on
success.  For example, scientists who
write their findings as a story have greater paper acceptance rates.
Consumers are more likely to purchase from
companies with stories that align with their own.
Business people not only have to understand
their companies’ past, but they must project the future. In this way, stories
can be used for employee engagement and retention.
How Do You Become a
Good Storyteller?
Don’t make your story a sermon, but allow it to
become a dialog.
Make sure your story has personality.  Include a high impact message at the beginning
of story, fill in the details, and end with a clear takeaway.
Customers can tell the difference between being
sold to and being told a story. Know your audience, know when to tell your
story and when to modify your story, and don’t stray far from your objective.
Let pictures tell the story for you.  Using visuals as a backdrop forces you to
tell a story and is a great tool for self-discipline.
Have variations of your story.  Don’t let your 30-second elevator pitch
become a 3-minute presentation.
Don’t over-own or over-tell your story.
Modern Uses and
Examples of Storytelling
Leveraging the discussion points above, the session
concluded with conversation about how one can use storytelling in modern sales
and marketing practices:
Prompt customers to tell their story.  This can be
more effective than giving a pitch or even telling your own story.  You may find that your customers will make
you part of their story, providing an unsolicited endorsement.
Get others to tell your story to create word of
mouth buzz.  It can be as easy as
attaching a video of your story to your email signature.  When it comes back to you from a new
prospect, you know you’ve done something right.
The easiest way to go viral with your story is
to copy an already successful viral idea, but with a different product or new
You can create a storytelling campaign without
creating the content.  How ALS
foundations raised awareness through The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great
Be careful with this one, but a story doesn’t
have to be 100% true.  There are ways of going over the top to engage
and audience in a positive way e.g. Dollar Shave Club advertisements.
Let everyone own your story.  Don’t control it, let people create content
around your context and let it go viral. 
#GivingTuesday, a global day
dedicated to giving back was formed with these principles.
Great products sell themselves.  Have you seen an Uber ad or received a call
from an Uber sales person?  Let your
product tell lots of micro-stories that resonate with a broad audience of
Several other resources were cited throughout the discussion,
including: Center for Story-Based
– a national movement-building organization dedicated to
harnessing the power of narrative for social change; The
Power of Visual Storytelling
, a book that suggests attention is the new
commodity and visual storytelling is the new currency, and Contagious, a book that asks
and answers the question: Why do things catch on?
Much like the the closing of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, this
unConference session challenged us to find inspiration and become leaders
through storytelling.  In Sinek’s parting
“Whether they are individuals or organizations,
we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to.  We follow those who lead not for them, but
for ourselves.  And it’s those who start
with WHY that have the ability to
inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

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