Discover your story, when to use it, and how to tell it effectively
I’ve spoken to four entrepreneurs from three different companies about brand story-telling. My objective is to provide you, the entrepreneur, with highlights as to why storytelling is important, a foundation to understand the thought process, and ultimately – inspire you to tell your own story.
First up is Brandon Rich, the founder of Journeymen. In addition to being an entrepreneur and veteran brand builder, Brandon is also an advisor to the Young Leaders of America Initiative (YLAI), a non-profit empowering entrepreneurs to strengthen their capacity to launch and advance their entrepreneurial ideas and effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities.
Kerri & Jeff Feazell are the Co-Owners of Concurrent Productions. This power duo started their company with the sole focus of creating meaningful brand videos for companies with a purpose. They understand the power of video as a medium to communicate passion, and have helped dozens of companies effectively do just that.
Marissa Feinberg is the Founder, Chief Storyteller at Triple Bottom Why. A marketer, digital expert, media whisperer, and seasoned storyteller, Marissa’s clients span from seed-stage companies to Fortune 500 players. She uses her passion for connecting people and ideas to help raise awareness, capital, or both! Previously, Marissa co-founded Green Spaces NY, acquired by MissionHUB, becoming Impact Hub NYC
Why is storytelling so important for a brand?
Well for starters, it’s critical to differentiating your brand. Jeff and Kerri Feazell understand this well.
“As a business that fits into a highly saturated category (video production), we lean heavily on our story and style to distinguish ourselves, and it works out perfectly, because we get to practice what we preach and grow alongside our clients.” says Jeff.
The story should also shape the brand. Not vice versa. The large majority of companies and products are born because they’re solving a problem, identifying a gap in a market, or a combination of the two. As Kerri says, “A brand is something that should emerge authentically from a story.”
A great example of a business born to problem solve was Concurrent Productions themselves. The business was started because Kerri and Jeff noticed a lack of brand videos showing real personal values and beliefs when there was clearly market demand for authenticity. Therefore, they took their skill sets and developed an intimate brand video production process.
Telling a brand’s story can also create something more powerful than a group of customers, it can create a tribe of people who believe in your movement.
Marissa says it best- “Coming from a social entrepreneurship background, I love watching brands that engage mainstream audiences in important issues. For example, sweetgreen aims to inspire healthier communities, and recently partnered with FoodCorps, pledging $1 million to develop ‘a scalable model that works to advance the health of our nation’s 30 million students eating lunch every day.’ Brands that work with communities will engage others in what they believe, building their movements with audiences that resonate.”
Storytelling is also therapeutic in the best way. Being an entrepreneur can be extremely challenging, lonely, and thankless.
“To inspire others to magnify their stories, I had to share my own, and in doing so created a concept called ‘Love your story,'” says Brandon of his tri venn diagram model that challenges you to embrace your differences, live in the moment, and use mental momentum generated to break boundaries. These acts will lead to you loving your own story, and in doing so, yourself.
“I believe those who tell the stories change the world. Love yourself, embrace the process, defy boundaries, and you will be one of the many to change our world with your amazing story.”-Brandon Rich, Journeymen
What are some common mistakes entrepreneurs make?
To put it bluntly – don’t half-ass your story.
From Jeff – “The only wisdom I think we’ve garnered and refined enough to be worth giving to other entrepreneurs is that it’s going to be more work, more involvement, and more headspace than you thought, so just save time and give it 100% immediately.”
Also in the spirit of being time efficient, be wary of spreading yourself too thin in an effort to be everything to everyone.
“Entrepreneurs frequently pitch to potential partners or investors
who share feedback — if entrepreneurs try to please every audience, they can make the mistake of pivoting too far from their vision. It’s important to be open to ideas, but only make changes that align with your mission and goals.” says Marissa.
How does one even get to the ‘why’ in their own story?
Like most meaningful exercises, getting to your ‘why’ is not a simple answer, nor a straightforward path. It involves persistence, a blend of art and science, and more than a touch of introspection.
Kerri says, “Just keep talking. It’s there. You’re an artist. You’re taking risks and you don’t take that road without a purpose.”
Marissa agrees, and for the more linear-minded, adds a formulaic approach as well.
“Most people are just one ‘Why’ or two away from discovering their core message! Simon Sinek popularized the “Why, How, What” structure, but it has been used in academia since the 1970s for storytelling. I encourage people to separate their messaging into the ‘Why, How, What’ structure, a logical formula for sharing new information with audiences that aligns with how our brain is wired to receive information. When you can structure your story, the ‘Why’ stands out, and you can follow it with the ‘How’ and ‘What’ for clarity. The 4Mat learning model also adds ‘If,’– If you engage, this is the transformation that will happen. I love adding ‘If’ to inspire people to see the potential of new organizations and ideas,” says Marissa.
The “Why” has become somewhat of a trend in today’s start-up environment, and rightfully so- it’s a valuable tool that can be a company’s guiding north star, and that’s because it’s really addressing a human element. As Brandon says, “Simply put, to access the WHY, spend more time BEING and less time THINKING. The WHY will surface itself.”
Stories that have left a mark.
Marissa: “Often, shocking stories are inspiring. I will always remember watching a Vagina Monologue-like performance at ABC Carpet & Home by Eve Ensler. Ensler told the story of a young girl who had been raped so many times, during the war in the Congo, that she developed urinary incontinence. Not only did she endure the trauma of rape, but then her classmates teased her for smelling like urine. Ensler said when she met this young girl and went to hug her, the girl was skittish and moved away. Something about hearing this story, performed by an incredible actress, shook me to my core. The storytelling was so strong and visceral that I connected to the trauma of the victim, and I was traumatized by hearing it.
“At that moment, I decided to transition my career from corporate social responsibility to social entrepreneurship. I felt I could make a bigger impact by being closer to the issues.”-Marissa Feinberg, Triple Bottom Why
What are the questions to ask oneself before launching a story out there?
Somewhat of a trick question because storytelling can be, and is an evolving process. Perhaps your core passion and belief doesn’t change, but the way you communicate it externally certainly will, and that’s encouraged.
Marissa says it perfectly: “While there are questions to ask oneself to refine your story, do not wait to get started! Storytelling is part of the evolution of putting your idea out into the world and making it real. When we share, we educate others about our vision, and we support ourselves to evolve. What’s really exciting is that somewhere along the line you decided to create your own path as an entrepreneur. It takes hard work to keep it your own path though, but it can absolutely be worth it.”
Kerri says, “Figure out what you value most. For me, it’s freedom,
creativity, and connection. I want to make that the story of my life. I spent a long time not living that story so I also really have to ask myself: ‘Do my actions align with my values?’
How are you helping people tell their Why?
Marissa: “When I transitioned from entrepreneurship to consulting, I realized I was using a storytelling formula that enabled my work to get traction while staying lean, so I wanted to share it with others. My ‘Triple Bottom Why’ philosophy aligns a person’s ‘Why’ with their organization and audience, and identifying ‘Why’ also highlights values, supporting the triple
bottom line: people, planet, and profit. Bringing together these different elements to form a values-aligned story usually resonates better with audiences than a story without values
While launching his 2nd startup, Brandon started to work with the YLAI and discover so many incredible stories that were making BIG changes in developing worlds.
Brandon: “People like Stephanie Hong, Co-Founder of a Brazilian NGO, that was creating an emergency response app alerting first-aid-qualified volunteers to stabilize victims before an ambulance could arrive. From this experience, I was forever driven to tell other’s stories and use my own brand/personal
social channels to share them.”
Jeff: “Video is the only medium that can convey authentic, visceral emotion, and we use the production process to unearth inner truths that may not yet be a part of their story.
Making a brand video doesn’t have to be a purely demonstrative activity – that’s a waste. It can be exploratory. We want to work with people who are open to discovery.”
Kerri: “By giving entrepreneurs a platform to tell their genuine story, leading with their values, we help shine a light on the moral of the story that every brand needs to get customers to understand, which is: ‘you can trust me.’
Getting started – a special offer from Concurrent Productions:
Kerri and Jeff from Concurrent Productions have graciously offered a 5-day course they developed on creating an amazing brand story video….for free! Use the below code to access the content, and please feel free to reach Kerri and Jeff directly with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
How to access the free course: Visit www.concurrentproductions.com/specialaccess and use code “fullride” (all lowercase) to enter.