Are you more of an Odysseus or a Scarlett O’Hara? Does your journey mimic that of Frodo’s in “The Lord of the Rings” saga, or is it closer to Luke Skywalker’s in “Star Wars”?
These questions aren’t as trivial as they may seem. Storytelling has connected civilizations for millennia, bringing a sense of adventure into the most mundane voyages. Who wants to read about a guy on a boat with an obsession for a sea creature? All the readers of “Moby Dick,” that’s who.
Weaving tales makes you more memorable and could save your company from languishing in the annals of entrepreneurial history. And so the question becomes: How does your brand story find its happy ending?
A Progressive Policy Institute study shows the rate of startups rose to 2.5 percent in fall 2016, indicating a bounceback in entrepreneurial ventures. Yet those positive numbers are tempered by reports like the Statistic Brain study that noted more than half of companies fail before their five-year anniversaries; fewer than 30 percent even see the 10-year mark.
A sobering fact, but in a world of trendy startups with cutesy names and cool apps, someone should stand out from a sea of startup copycats. The trick? Mirror classic stories to develop your brand story, connect with your audience and provide a product or service they won’t find anywhere else. The result? The “happily ever after” you need to succeed.
Was it a dark and stormy night?
A hook is needed to set apart your startup wheat from the chaff; that means weaving your journey into a classic, unforgettable tale.
Each entrepreneur’s path takes a one-of-a-kind trajectory. By harnessing timeless storytelling strategies, inspire your industry and consumers. Consider those classic frameworks that make the foundation of everything from Aesop’s Fables to “War and Peace.”
Many well-known anecdotes have roots in the mythology of our ancestors, which means a few tried-and-true setups: “Overcoming the monster” is a common one — “War of the Worlds” comes to mind. Then, there’s “rags to riches,” perfectly exemplified by “Great Expectations.” And of course “rebirth,” a traditional way to move a character through life’s epiphanies and come out on top.
Chances are strong your startup’s message could be transformed with one of these storylines.
A true tale about the benefits of zigging and zagging.
My own journey falls into the “voyage and return” category, a series of zigs and zags all its own.
I skipped out of a corporate path to receive my master’s degree in creative writing after discovering the rich history of storytelling while studying literature at the University of Oxford. This deep dive into the literary world — and obsession with tales we tell to connect and build community — took me around the globe, studying with mystic teachers from India to Israel. The storytelling tools I discovered were the missing link for brands struggling to define themselves and build passionate communities around a product or service. After all, it’s the stories we tell that move us into action. And it’s the mythological frameworks of ancient cultures that provide the soul-level stories that stand the test of time.
Seeing this need in the market, I wanted to share it with companies around the world so they could create mission-driven brands. When I launched my own creative agency, I was faced with challenges — hustling against competitors and launching a business solo — but I had the storytellers’ tools to guide me. This transformed the way I created meaningful and powerful content to build strong, passionate communities. Harnessing narratives was an incredible way to take ownership of a story.
Want to capture your own startup saga in words that will transfix and inspire partners, investors and clients? It all starts when you mirror your story with a classic tale and follow a few breadcrumbs:
1. Determine which tale suits you best.
Did you rise above circumstances (“tragedy”) to help others and use the experience as a springboard to change others’ lives through science? Or were you the class clown in college who loved making people laugh and became compelled to create a social media app that generates fun memes (“comedy”)? Consider how you got to where you are today.
Dell is the perfect “rags to riches” example, as are all “I started this business in my garage” tales. Don’t worry about seeming trite; people appreciate storylines they can easily follow. No need to reinvent the wheel.
And the Dells of the world aren’t alone — everyone has a unique story shaped by the context of life. By acknowledging your story, you can tap into the power that exists in your own experiences. No one else has seen the world the way you have; share your experiences to help and empower others. You’re already a hero, but in the sea of mass media, it’s easy to forget we’re equipped with gifts to share. Believe you’re the hero of your story.
2. Find other businesses successfully mirroring the same tale type.
Consider the companies you trust most: Are they already utilizing storytelling elements? Do any of theirs dovetail with yours? What can you learn?
First, you can discern where you are on your path and how to communicate that to others; you may find you’re not alone. Countless others have taken the same path before you, and in connecting with their stories, you can build one that will resonate with an even wider audience.
In order to tell a successful story, make sure the hero is identified, as well as any challenges (company or otherwise). Lastly, a “magic power” — a value proposition — should be identified.
Sunrun, the largest U.S. residential solar company, is a perfect example of “overcoming the monster,” aka beating “Big Electric.” Sunrun offers its solution so consumers can be heroes for family and community. And Tesla is doing something similar with its storytelling about Solar Roof panels, adding a commercial component to save American Samoa through innovation. It’s a palpable representation of Tesla as hero, and the heroism extends to individuals and businesses.
3. Flesh out your storytelling adventure.
You’ll not only set up your company as the star of your corporate journey, but you’ll also include visitors and customers into your tale.
What you need to determine is the following: your characters (target audience); their challenges (pain points); your and their motivations (best outcomes); a setting (connecting the dots); obstacles (what’s getting in prospects’ way of your great solution); the climax (how you’re rescuing individuals, businesses, societies, etc.); and a conclusion (what’s necessary to achieve that happy ending?).
After you flesh these out, construct a story concept. Still not sure which story relates best to your company? Consider tales that captivated you and provided your greater mission in life. Don’t worry if your answer seems silly or overly complex. Get your creative juices flowing, then write.
The mythology of the corporate landscape may be ever-evolving and seem a little tough to break into for startups, but heroes will always be welcome. Your company’s tale is ready to tell.