Heard any good stories lately?
Not long ago a man walked into a store here in Lancaster where my wife was working. He told her that he was visiting from Hawaii, but had actually grown up in Lancaster. He proceeded to tell my wife that when he was about 3 or 4 years old, there was a tobacco warehouse just a few blocks away from his home. (At one time Lancaster was a booming tobacco town, with the crop being grown by the Amish outside of the city, and warehouses inside the city). He told my wife that during WWII, the basement of this particular warehouse was used to house German POWs. Once captured, some of those German soldiers were brought to Lancaster and were held in these warehouses, where they were given various tasks related to the processing of the tobacco. This gentleman told my wife that he and his young friends would go up to the windows that led to the basement and offer candy to the POWs who were living and working there.
As a history buff, this sort of thing fascinates me. It’s a part of our local history of which I wasn’t aware, and I would bet that very few other locals are aware of this, either.
In a world filled with sound bites, ad slogans, and 140 character tweets, we seem to forget the importance of stories. But we need to regain the art of storytelling, understanding the importance of stories, as well as the power they wield. Businesses need to tap into these stories as they seek to create content and campaigns for blogs and both traditional and social media outlets.
Here are a few characteristics of stories, particularly within the framework of how we do business.
Stories often surprise us – I love when I find out something new and interesting about a friend or a business. We all have those things that others might not know about us. Sometimes the history of a business or the history behind a location or product might be of great interest to customers.
Stories leave us wanting more – I want to know more about these soldiers. How many of them were there? Where else in Lancaster or in the U.S. were they housed? After the war did they stay here or were they sent home? Also, did the general public realize they were here living in our midst? A good story begs for more. As you tell your story, you may find that your customers ask for more details.
Stories come from multiple perspectives – In this particular case, we heard the story from the perspective of an American remembering back to his Lancaster childhood. But what about that same story from the perspective of the POWs or even the perspective of the tobacco business men or Amish farmers who may have come in contact with them. The story of your business can, and should, be told from your own perspective. But don’t forget the perspectives of your employees, customers, vendors, and others who have been affected by your business in some way.
Stories allow for deeper connections – We talk a lot about how one of the goals of Social Media is relationship building. Well, the way in which we build relationships online or offline is based on how well we get to know one another. Stories are a big part of that. I’ve read a few personal blogs recently made me feel closer to the author because of the details they dared to share. By telling your story, you are becoming the proverbial “open book” and are therefore more approachable. That allows for deeper connections.
Stories can make you vulnerable – I have one friend who works with a non-profit foundation that relates to autism. Jackie’s passion for the organization comes from the fact that her own son has this particular form of autism. I’ve been encouraging her to blog about her experiences – both the frustrations and the joys – on behalf of the foundation. One of her biggest questions is, “How much should I share?”. Obviously she’ll need to set her own boundaries and discover her own comfort level, but she understands that there is an increased level of vulnerability. And vulnerability is a great character quality that is endearing and creates a higher degree of trust. I have no doubt she’ll do well when she starts.
Stories humanize – The beauty of becoming vulnerable through stories is that you can put a human face on things. Jackie, by being vulnerable, is putting a face on autism. When we hear that there are 8-thousand or 5-million or some number of people suffering from a particular disease, we understand that it’s a lot, but then…it’s just a number. By telling stories…our stories, we turn each of those numbers into a name or a face. We can’t identify with numbers, but we can identify with names and faces.
Stories are memorable – My wife could have just met that man in a store, and he would’ve just been another customer. But by telling a small portion of his story, my wife will remember him, when all of the others who come through the doors might just be nameless, faceless individuals who drift off into the streets of Lancaster.
Quiz time: Who is the spokesperson for Quiznos? OK, that might be a trick question, because I’m not even sure they have a spokesperson.
Now, who’s the spokesperson for Subway? I would bet that most of you answered Jared. Why? We remember him because of his story. Subway was smart enough to grab on to Jared’s story and put it at the center of their branding. Jared’s story is prominently featured on the Subway website, even though the campaign is nearly 12 years old. In fact, what makes his story great is that it actually began a few years earlier in 1998 and wasn’t “created” by Subway. It really is Jared’s story. And we remember it.
Stories connect and empower us – When we tell our stories, there is a greater chance that we will find others who share some of our story. Again, one of the reasons why I’ve encouraged my friend Jackie to share her stories of raising a child with autism, is that there was a point when she probably thought she was the only one in her particular situation. But she’s not, and by sharing her story, others who think they’re alone will realize that there are others are dealing with this as well. They’re not alone; someone else understands. That in and of itself can be incredibly comforting and empowering. And it’s a great way for a business to connect with potential customers.
Customers like telling stories – As a consumer, you’ve probably told stories about businesses which you patronize. Some of them might be positive, some might be negative. I could tell you stories about my good experiences with particular businesses, and I could certainly tell you some stories about businesses that would shock you. Your customers are already telling stories, and some might be about you. Hopefully they’re stories with a happy ending! Why not give them a platform to share those stories with others?
Whether you run a business or a non-profit, look for opportunities to tell stories. Tell your story. Let your customers tell their stories. The beauty of stories is that there is a never ending supply of them. You’ll never run out. You can tell them via the printed word, or via audio or video.
How are you using stories to connect better with your customers? Have you found that any sorts of stories are better than others?
- What Rockumentaries Teach Us About Business (inklingmedia.net)
- What We Can Learn from the Amish about Online Communities (inklingmedia.net)
- When Stories and Numbers Collide (waxingunlyrical.com)
- Customizing Your Business: With or Without Nuts (joeystrawn.com)
- Jared from Subway Has Important Marketing Advice For You (buzzdemo.wordpress.com)