Way back in April, I attended a workshop by New Kind’s Jonathan Opp (formerly of Red Hat) called “The Power of Story.” Part lecture and part activity-based, this 2-hour session explained the value of storytelling for businesses and simple exercises to help attendees figure out their company story.
The workshop began with a discussion around why stories are powerful. In short, it came down to two major points.
1. Story is universal to the human experience
We’ve been told stories our whole lives to teach us lessons and to persuade us to care. It’s ingrained in our culture as a way to pass information from one person to the next and to share history from generation to generation. Sometimes it’s written down, sometimes it’s visual, and sometimes it’s only audible through your one uncle who knows the full family history.
Stories turn critics into participants because they give listeners something to identify with and care about. Stories transport people away from their own lives and into the environment of the narrative.
2. Story makes information memorable
Facts explain WHAT, but stories explain WHY. The why is much easier to understand, remember, and hold on to. With the why you can bring your own interpretation to it and carry it with you.
This is probably why, in my high school history class, I could never remember the number of Americans killed in the Civil War. Or in art class, the year Van Gogh painted the Starry Night. However, I will always remember the reason for that war and the emotions the artist was portraying in that painting.
To figure out a company’s story, we needed to know the basics. You may remember these from English class or your favorite movie.
Storytelling framework elements:
- Setting – Location, time, place
- Characters – Heroes (even better if they have flaws, gives an element of interest); villains (doesn’t have to be a person, can be a force of nature, a situation); protagonists; antagonists; mentors (best for business, makes the consumer the hero)
- Journey – Can be external or internal, a change of some sort.
Once these basics are understood, we were given tips on how to take the traditional storytelling world of books and movies and translate them to the story of a business.
The hardest part seems to be taking raw facts and data and turning them into an engaging story, not just a regurgitation of stats and numbers mashed together. To do this, you have to find the emotional connection and humanize it. Instead of telling “what” your business does, try:
- Who is it for
- Who made it and why
- Why it matters
Another key to telling a great business story is to simplify. The more complex the information, the harder it is to remember. This is tricky, but very necessary for attention spans and to make it easier for viewers to absorb and picture in their minds.
These storytelling techniques should be used for more than just an advertisement or campaign – they should tell a company’s greater brand story.
These are things like:
- Universal Truth – Grand problems you’re solving
- Origin Story – Foundation the business is built on
- Mission & Values – Why you exist, passion, how you think, how you’re different
I was very lucky to discover from this class that Red Hat is on point with our storytelling at the higher brand level. Jonathan even used Red Hat as an example in the workshop! Below are Red Hat’s story, history, vision, mission, and values.
They all have those emotional bits to grasp onto and are easy to absorb, thanks to the hard work from people across the company who helped bring these messages to life. It’s rare to find a Red Hatter or Red Hat advocate who doesn’t know our story. These messages feed into everything we produce as a company and are a key reason why people decide to join Red Hat. If you haven’t read them, take a look. Do any of these messages resonate with you?
The Red Hat Story (our universal truth)
Red Hat’s History
Red Hat’s VISION statement:
To be the defining technology company of the 21st century; and through our actions strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing content and technology.
Red Hat’s MISSION statement:
To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.
Red Hat’s core values:
Freedom, Courage, Commitment and Accountability