The 5 Principles to Using Story as Strategy
Your story is fundamental to the success of your business. When people believe in your story, they believe in your business – helping you win support from the audiences you need to grow.
Whether you’re looking for funding, investment, customers, collaborators, or new team members; the most successful story you can tell is one that makes your audience feel in control of the journey of change you’re asking them to come on with you.
Entrepreneurs looking to use story as their strategy for growth can apply the following 5 principles:
- Your story has to be a better story for your audience.
- Align your story with others.
- Use story patterns we instinctively understand.
- Use an outer journey to bring an inner journey to life.
- Keep the story moving so people feel in control.
Your story has to be a better story for your audience.
When a person is deciding whether to fund, invest in, buy from, collaborate with, or join your company; they will have an instant intuitive hunch based on whether what they’re hearing agrees with the stories they believe in. Our brains are extremely protective of the stories we already believe; quickly finding evidence to support them and dismissing evidence that challenges them. It does this because the stories we believe make us feel in control.
To bring people with you on a journey of change, you have to tell them a story that works with the stories they already believe. For entrepreneurs, looking to use story as a powerful tool for growth, this means knowing who your story is for and understanding the stories they already tell themselves – so you can tell them a story that is better for them, not just for you.
Align your story with others.
People in the entrepreneur ecosystem often talk about the importance of a company being in ‘the right place, at the right time, with the right story’. In fact, many investors view this as the secret of knowing who to back.
Being in the right place at the right time is easy to identify retrospectively – when a company has been successful. The important thing is creating the impression that your company is in the right place at the right time – that’s where the right story comes in.
One approach is to position your innovation as being at an advantageous point in a technology ‘hype cycle’. The second is to find a powerful narrative to align your story with.
Use story patterns we instinctively understand.
Cognitive psychologists such as Larry L. Jacoby have studied the effects of familiarity on our perception of truth – the more familiar information feels the more we are likely to perceive it as true. Entrepreneurs can use this cognitive bias to their advantage by telling the story of their business using familiar story patterns.
Perhaps the most familiar story pattern you can use, is what’s known as the ‘Hero’s Journey’. It was presented as ‘the monomyth’ – the story pattern behind all our most compelling and enduring stories – by mythologist and lecturer Joseph Campbell in his famous book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
While Campbell studied religious, spiritual, mythological and literary classics; this pattern can be observed in everything, from the latest Hollywood blockbusters, to the stories of Clean Growth unicorns. It is a deeply familiar story pattern; perfectly evolved to bring an audience on a journey of change.
Our Lean Story Canvas merges the functionality of Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas with Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Rather than using the 17 stages in the original Hero’s Journey we focus on 9 steps that are particularly key for telling the story of a business. We’ve also adapted the names of these steps to make them more relevant to a customer journey and to take on board criticism of the original being ethnocentric or focusing on a masculine journey – it should be noted that in our canvas we intend the ‘Everyday Hero’ to be a gender-neutral noun in the same way that ‘actor’ was originally gender-neutral. The 9 steps in the Lean Story Canvas can be used to discover the story of your business, diagnose problems in your current story, and create a stronger story to help you win support.
Use an outer journey to bring an inner journey to life.
An effective journey of change doesn’t just bring about an outer world change in actions but also an inner world change in attitudes.
Psychologist Professor Brian Little’s research explores how the projects we engage in affect our personality traits. As he writes, ‘all individuals are essentially scientists erecting and testing their hypotheses about the world and revising them in the light of their experience.’
In other words, testing things through our actions helps to shape our future attitudes and further actions. Taking people on an outer world journey of change can help them decide to fund, invest in, buy from, collaborate with, or join your company today. But taking them on an inner world journey of change can help shift their attitudes so that they show increased loyalty to your business in the future.
There are 7 popular journeys of change you can create with the 9 steps in the Story Canvas. You can use these to help you understand the inner journey you are bringing people on – building loyalty while adding extra familiarity, and therefore perceived truth, to your story.
Keep the story moving so people feel in control.
From new crops and menstrual cups, through to medical technologies and Facebook; studies have shown that the adoption of innovation spreads a complex contagion – multiple sources of exposure to an innovation are often required before an individual adopts the change in behaviour.
Social reinforcement is key to the adoption of innovation.
In order to go mainstream, innovation needs to be reinforced by both ‘people like me’ (showing the technology is relevant) and ‘people not like me’ (showing the technology is becoming widespread). This helps the audience feel more in control when coming on a journey of change with you – derisking the adoption of your innovation in their minds. As more customers use your technology you will need to make the jump from innovators and early adopters to early minority and mainstream majority. To do this you will need to make sure your story still works for a more diverse group of customers as you grow.