Your startup is most likely selling change; a disruption to the way people do things.
So you need to sell this change well, backed by the power of storytelling.
And it has to sound as good as chocolate tastes, according to master storyteller Michael Margolis, the CEO of Storied.
Michael’s clients include Facebook, Google, and Uber — who all rely on him to sell their disruptive futures.
When he’s not giving his Ted talks, or working with other clients like NASA, American Express and Deloitte, Michael’s helping brands translate radical ideas into cultural acceptance.
And I had the pleasure of speaking to Michael on my podcast recently, where he spoke about how to get your storytelling right:
“Everybody loves chocolate, so therein is the secret to what we’re all doing with storytelling, which is how to tell a love story. When we’re doing something that’s disruptive, it’s innovative, world-changing, it puts people on the defensive. It gets lost in context or lost in translation. And so one of the things I’m always looking at is how to create a receptive field. How do you cook something so that it smells so good? And chocolate, literally does that and maybe in a little bit what we can get into it.“
Michael says this truth is grounded in scientific truth:
“Even the neurobiology of storytelling mimics the neurobiology of chocolate. So there’s some really interesting parallels of what happens to the hormones that are activated, like oxytocin, dopamine and even in chocolate, you’ve got the neurotransmitter called Anandamide.”
Michael says every chocolate tells its own unique story:
“There’s a story of where this comes from, how it’s made, the tasting notes. The whole point of telling a story is a story of the location device like where are we? And story is a transportation vehicle. It takes us places. And the question is, do we want to go there?”
Michael says encouraging people to come on the journey with us, is the challenge we face as entrepreneurs:
“In many ways, that’s what each of us has to do as an entrepreneur or as a leader that’s selling change — draw people into the atomic unit. What’s at the heart and soul of this thing? And bring it to life for people.”
Michael says too many startups get this wrong:
“(It’s) about zooming out and talking about the aspirational and the emotional. And we often take for granted what anybody else most wants or needs to know. And, you know, take Facebook, for instance, we’ve had the privilege of doing a lot of work with many of their heads of product. And, take something like stories as a format — what Snapchat invented and now has become a new format for social. Well, we just kind of take it for granted. But wait a second. Like, what is the role of this new format as a communication format and what are the benefits of it? What different ways are people interacting and connecting with each other through a stories format, then through a typical news feed or messaging or an email?”
Michael says the “stories” format have lots of power many don’t realise:
“Some of the things that we discovered that do work and built a narrative around is that actually the power of stories as a format. If you actually look at it, what it is, is it’s more ephemeral…(it) gives it more power. And also it takes the performative pressure away. Because you’re just like, “We’re just putting it out there.” And what they found was that people who really share lots of stories in this format actually have a greater sense of intimacy and connection with close friends when you’re sharing these. But again, it’s these things that we take for granted. They’re hiding in plain sight. It’s just part of our day to day going.“
Michael compares it to Facebook groups, that are basically digital communities:
“What’s at the heart of this magic or Facebook groups is about the structure and belonging in the digital age, and a whole new way that we find community based on the Internet, no matter whatever your circumstances, day to day, you can find other people like you online. So it’s that process of life. What is the enduring truth at the heart of this? And bringing that forward is often one of the key places we start.”
Name the Change: Telling Your Best Business & Brand Story
So how can we create a story that people connect with?
“The first place to start I often recommend is name the change. How is the world changing? Because when the world changes, we have to change our story to reflect that new world. So you can use change as the way to legitimize whatever promise you’re selling, whatever new product innovation that you have, or think about it in the inverse way. No change, no story. Change literally is the fulcrum. And so name the change because oftentimes we’re swimming in this sea where we don’t see the change. Are there technological changes? Are there economic changes? Are there social or cultural changes? Are there political, legal, governance changes? What are the disruptive forces that are basically creating a new opportunity in the markets? So name the change, because the change is what actually speaks to the inevitability of the future that you’re selling. That’s the connection you have to make for people.”
Michael says you need to show them the ‘promised land’:
“The world is changing and there are new things that we can do now that we couldn’t before. Here’s the promised land. And just describe that. That speaks to people’s desire. Right. And then talk about them, the things that stand in the way of that desire being fulfilled. But too often everybody starts with what’s wrong or broken or what the problem is. And in turn, the story is dead on arrival.”
Michael says there’s a three-step narrative they teach, with data actually being the THIRD part of the equation:
“…We talk about data, but data actually is the third step in the sequence. We’ve all been taught to start with data and conclusions and the story is dead on arrival because the moment you start with the data: “Well, how’d you come up with that data? I don’t know if I agree with that conclusion.” So see, so leading with data used to work great when we lived in a world of certainty where we had built-in trust and authority. But you see these days most of the stories that as an entrepreneur or as a change agent, you’re telling a story that’s challenging the status quo. The existing social order.”
Michael is adamant that starting with the data is where too many get it wrong:
“So oftentimes we start with the data and the conclusions and we end up putting everybody on the defensive because they feel like you’re forcing them into a box. Instead, what we have to do is we have to zoom out, give people context for change, and then we’ve got to give them the emotional content to self identify, ‘Oh, yeah. This matters to me.’ So when we give people context and emotion, right, then people will be begging us for the evidence or the data to support it.
See it, Feel it, Believe it
“And those are the three steps… see it, feel it, believe it. People have to get context and they have to feel something on the emotional side before they can even come close to being able to believe or embrace whatever truth you’re trying to sell.”