I’m going to tell you a story that you may have heard before. The people behind Costco, the wholesale retailer headquartered in Washington state, pride themselves on putting customers first. Walter Craig Jelinek replaced co-founder Jim Sinegal in 2012 bringing a few changes with him. He suggested raising the price of the store’s signature hot dog and drink combo that’s been $1.50 since it debuted in 1985. Jelinek recalled a truly memorable response from Sinegal. Jelinek said Sinegal told him “If you raise the effing hot dog, I will kill you. Figure it out.”
This story tells us a lot. I could put together an hour-long PowerPoint presentation about how much Costco values its customers, and it still wouldn’t be as effective as this story. Why? Well, humans communicate through stories. They rush past our current technologies and advancements to a special place in our brains.
Psychologists agree that the power of the story is multi-tiered. They connect us to others through their emotional centers. They help us create cognitive maps and schemes for us to navigate the world. Regardless of whether or not the story is real, it still triggers the part of our brains responsible for imagination. That’s important because the human brain processes imagined experiences the same way it does real experiences. So a well-told story registers in people’s brains in a pretty similar fashion to a memory.
So if you’re trying to expand your brand, personal storytelling can be a remarkably effective tool that you don’t even have to pay for. These stories can tell us several things. So before you begin sharing these stories, you may want to narrow your goals to one of these three.
Sharing your values
I’ll be a bit candid and say that I love the aforementioned story about Costco’s cofounder. I remember being in high school and a friend of mine talking about how he may wind up working at Costco with his father because there were more career opportunities there than at other retailers. That vaguely placed the idea in my head that Costco wasn’t like other companies but the story about Jim Sinegal tells us far more about the values of the people leading the company. It tells us that Sinegal and others are so fiercely protective of their customers that they’re willing to risk open conflict with other leaders over us.
As I said, you can tell your audience about your values all day, but stories can communicate those values in a much more efficient and effective way. Try thinking along the lines of some of those old interview questions you may have answered. Think of times you overcame remarkable difficulty or demonstrated moral fortitude. The story doesn’t even have to include you, in certain cases. Do you remember an important lesson that a parent or family member showed taught you during childhood? These stories can show things about what you value, but that is not all.
Sharing universal values
We all have different backgrounds and upbringings. When it comes to big picture questions like “What is the meaning of life,” I probably got a different answer than you did. And that’s okay! Because despite that we all have things that most of us think are pretty important.
Is a big part of your brand the value of family? Try telling a memorable story about your kids or one of those important parental lessons that I mentioned before. Is community one of your main themes? Try telling a story about people working together through something difficult. Have you ever heard a touching story of people coming together after a natural disaster? Maybe you want to weave that story into a presentation. Are you trying to project trustworthiness? If not, you should consider it.
Trustworthiness is the building block of business. Multiple studies show that having your customers’ trust is more valuable than various factors like having an attractive or very credible brand. That’s because it creates a powerful bond between you and your audience. We spend most of our days wading through a non-stop barrage of advertisements from people who want our money. So if you can reach through the noise and make a connection with a story, you may have a loyal customer or partner on your hands. Here are a few questions you may want to ask beforehand.
Why are you telling the story?
All of your stories should be captivating. But sometimes starting with a captivating story and then explaining to your audience what you’re trying to demonstrate can help make a connection. These stories don’t have to involve you. Consider discussing a time you identified a problem others couldn’t see or discuss the most influential person you’ve ever met. Then reveal the core message that you’re trying to tell people.
How do your vision and the audience connect?
This is one of the more powerful stories you can tell, especially if you’re looking for potential partners. This may require some research. If you’re telling a story at a particular event you may want to research what kind of event are you at. For example, if you’re at an event where tech entrepreneurs are in the audience, you may want to tell a story about the value of innovation. If you’ve ever created, designed, or invented something now is the time to share it. If you’re dealing with an online audience stick with those broad values that we discussed earlier. Most people aren’t anti-family or anti-love. You can win the day by finding a story that demonstrates those values.
Who are you/What do you value?
These two are linked but not exactly the same. “Who are you,” is an attempt to show your audience your values, humanity, and flaws. “What do you value,” is an attempt to discuss how your values guide you in your day-to-day life.
In the first question, you may want to share stories where you can laugh at yourself, an event that had the greatest effect on your life, or a time you handled a crisis in your personal or private life.
When it comes to what you value, you want to hit a balance with your story. Like I mentioned earlier, just telling people that you value certain things isn’t as effective as a story that demonstrates it. You also want to be clear that this is a story about your values. Try tapping into your past again. Think about a lesson you’ve learned that you still live by today or even the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done.
Before you start your story
All of these stories can be effective in expanding your brand. Just remember two things, make sure your story is as accurate as possible. Lying and gossiping are never great for a brand. And finally, make sure whatever you tell is memorable. You have the chance to really leave a massive impression on your audience and further your brand.