Have you heard the story of Big Un Limited? It’s a good one. It starts with the cute tale of a father reconnecting with his estranged son on a campervan trip and ends as one of the most incredible corporate scandals in recent memory.
On the van trip Richard and Brandon Evertz took around Australia to reacquaint with each other, Brandon told his father about his idea to develop a new video review service for businesses. Inspired, Richard gave his son $500, and Big Review TV was born.
Within seven years the ASX-listed Big Un Limited had a market capitalization of more than $600 million dollars. Unfortunately for its thousands of investors, there was little substance behind the story and the company spectacularly collapsed earlier this year.
In our experience at Zakazukha, many business owners don’t understand the importance of developing a compelling narrative about their business to help promote it. Richard Evertz certainly did, and that’s how he managed to get a business idea from a start up to a high of almost $5 a share, but with disastrous consequences for shareholders.
Tell a powerful story for good
Here’s a better example of the power of storytelling. A month ago, our copywriter James Perkins walked into the Patagonia store in Burleigh Heads and bought a brand new wetsuit. It cost $450. He could have purchased a major brand alternative for half the price.
Why Patagonia? Because he admired the brand’s story, and was fascinated by the technology used in the rubber suit that will keep him warm in the surf during winter.
It’s neoprene-free and uses 85% Yulex natural rubber with 100% recycled polyester interior lining. In production, it creates around 80% less CO2 than traditional neoprene wetsuits.
It’s great: he can feel like he’s making a difference to the environment while wearing a technologically advanced wetsuit.
Patagonia is a storytelling machine with a sprawling narrative built around founder Yvon Chouinard and the mission he imbued in the company: Build the best product and cause no unnecessary harm.
Patagonia’s brand has become the story, but, as former Patagonia marketing guru Craig Watson told Forbes, “It’s real. It’s not a story. It’s not strategy. It’s a real human thing.”
So what makes a good story?
To answer that question, we can look to Shakespeare. The legendary bard used a consistent structure across his prolific works, which were divided into five acts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.
Shakespeare was a genius, but he didn’t invent this structure. The philosopher Aristotle was perhaps the first person to articulate this style of story arc, and Gustav Freytag expanded his thoughts a few hundred years later – the dramatic arc is now often referred to as Freytag’s triangle.
In 2014, Keith A. Quesenberry from Johns Hopkins University in the US analysed 108 Super Bowl commercials for a study titled What makes a Super Bowl ad super for word-of-mouth buzz? Five-act dramatic form impacts Super Bowl ad ratings.
The results demonstrated that average consumer ratings were higher for commercials that followed a five-act dramatic form, and there was a positive association between the number of acts in commercials and consumer favourability ratings.
“People think it’s all about sex or humour or animals, but what we’ve found is that the underbelly of a great commercial is whether it tells a story or not,” Quesenberry said.
Because commercials today, especially Super Bowl ones, are designed to go viral online, it’s important for them to make highly viewable commercials so that people want to view, like and share them across social media.
As Super Bowl advertising executives know well, a great story is one secret to going viral.
There are many types of narrative
Telling a story with a strong narrative may not be appropriate for every situation – it works for a Super Bowl commercial, but perhaps not to spark action from your staff. Steven Denning, author of the Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, outlines eight narrative platforms for stories that are useful in the business context.
For example, he lists springboard stories for sparking action, branding stories, and knowledge sharing stories as three examples.
“What most firms don’t know when they first embark on employing narrative in their organisation is that there is no single right way to tell a story. Narrative – also known as storytelling – comprises an array of tools, each suitable to a different business purpose,” he explains.
Find your story
Every person and business has an interesting story, it just has to be found and developed. Why do you do what you do? What inspired you to start your business? What is your vision? What sets you and your business apart? Considering those questions is the starting point.
As Simon Sinek has famously explained, understanding your ‘why’ is vital, particularly for innovative, growing firms and entrepreneurs who need to sell their idea.
At Zakazukha, we work with Nev Hyman on his NevHouse project. Nev is a natural storyteller – the media scramble to cover his story. On the strength of his narrative, Nev has won the global Pitch@Palace competition and has made connections with some of the most influential people in the world.
While not everyone is such a natural at storytelling and weaving narratives as Nev, it is a skill that can be learned and developed. Your story can also be beaten into shape. Everyone has a story.
Individuals and businesses have more power than ever to tell their stories, through blogs, websites, email newsletters, social media, as well as traditional media and advertising mediums such as print, radio and television, so use those channels well.
Zakazukha is always here to help you fine tune your story and reap the benefits.