Storytelling: Standing Out = Outstanding

Here’s something thrilling: I wrote this on the way back to Atlanta from a software convention in San Francisco.
What did that do to get you excited? Not much?
What if I told you that stories I heard were more compelling than the software, and the software was pretty darn good.
How about now? Want some stories?
Stories rule, however they're told.
Stories rule, however they’re told.
The first story is from Ken Schmidt who was an executive at Harley. One of Ken’s opening points was that nobody tells stories about expectations being met and nobody would get excited if they were told anyway. I dropped my clothes off, picked them up at 5:00 the next day. Shit yeah!” That just doesn’t say much, does it? So what did he proceed to do? Tell an exceptional story.

In 2012, Ken went to Sturgis where 400,000+ Harley owners gather each year and do crap which people apparently don’t even do in Vegas. After that, he went to the Maldive Islands in the middle of nowhere with no connectivity to get away from everything. Then, on the beach of this tiny island, an Indian guy runs up wearing a t-shirt from Sturgis and Ken nearly drops his beverage. He was  one of very few people who owned a Harley in India at the time because they only just opened up a dealership there. Kochhar (I’m probably butchering the spelling. I tried looking him up at their Facebook page but there’s over 620,000 Likes) had flown to the US, rented bikes with some friends, ridden to the festival, and had a trip of a lifetime. There were photos of this entire journey up to actually getting backstage with Lynyrd Skynyrd. They didn’t talk about motorcycles at all, just the experience. He went home and his stories helped build a club with over 150 riders and bikes. Disciples, not customers according to Ken.
Ken Speaks. Image from @caytruman
Another story came from David Frigstad of Frost & Sullivan. He was going to talk about how companies needed to avoid their Kodak Moment (becoming obsolete, not creating memories) by looking far into the future to see possible disruptions. David referenced the Wayne Gretzky quote about skating to where the puck will be, not to where it is. How did the presentation get kicked off? With images of Olympians and a story about himself as a young gymnast. While he was good, each four years the things people were able to accomplish kept accelerating and there was no way he’d be able to keep up. The pace of innovation was too fast. It was a nice lead-in to a very interesting subject.

A further session I went to was from Chris Baggott who founded a company we’d just acquired. He discussed getting customers to talk about themselves in much the same way Ken did. The software Ken’s built is designed to help people create and distribute content – aka stories – online. Another great presenter was Tim Reisterer from Corporate Visions whose entire session was about telling stories in presentations. The use of stories and simple graphics drives interest and keeps the audience focused on your message. He interspersed stories about his family and customers throughout the presentation. This technique keeps the meeting from slipping into a “hammock of inattention”.
The Meeting Hammock. Corporate Visions can help you avoid this.
The Meeting Hammock. Corporate Visions can help you avoid this. (No affiliation)
Of course, it was a meeting about software. Jeremy Barlow, a marketing manager from Vocus, showed us how he’d used our platform along with a partner’s to produce some amazing – actually astounding – returns on his marketing budget. His entire presentation was a story in itself. This is where the themes of this blog come together. First, there’s no way Jeremy could have done what he had if nimble cloud solutions hadn’t started skating to where the puck is today and where it’s going to be in the future. That he could use point-and-click drag-and-drop tools to put his brand in front of the right buyers at the right times would have boggled minds just a couple years ago. Secondly, Jeremy talked about himself and his success enthusiastically to an entire room of customers and prospects. I’d say that’s priceless, but it’s not. It drives real business.

The last story I experienced comes from the opening keynote of the conference, Huddle marketing executive Ashleigh Casner was invited on stage briefly to talk about what she’d accomplished using our application. Marketing executives these days are more often than not challenged by shifting paradigms, channel explosions, and an inability to put their budget where it yields measurable impact. Impact they they need to measure in order keep their jobs. They have a metaphorical sign on their back which says “Kick Me”. Nobody wants that.

As Ashleigh walked on stage, she had an actual sign on her back. It stuck to her from the seat she’d been in and it said “Reserved”. Then she told her story and her success won her an award at the user conference for Metrics That Matter. You think everyone in the room wanted that sign taped to their back? Absolutely.

The session I co-led with a colleague, Peter Bronsted, was after lunch on the final day. That’s a time when people who need to avoid a redeye or weekend flight get out of town. The people who are still in town went to an awards ceremony the night before and were probably struggling to stay awake. It’s a hammock if ever there was one.

Our session was about customer journey mapping which is a graphical way to understand the story of a person who is or may do business with you. The idea is to capture their stories, emotions, and interaction points so that you deliver the best possible experience to them. While it’s interesting, I didn’t expect 60+ people to fill up this spot in the conference and be highly interactive. They did though, because they want to learn how to build stories of their own.

As it turns out, storytelling can be that thing which separates expectations being met and delivers the outstanding.

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