Creating new ideas is the first step to innovation, but it is not enough these days. Marketers need to generate excitement and support for their new opportunity. Don’t make the mistake of thinking “the idea will sell it self.” Just the cleverness of the concept and the revenue forecasts are not enough to sway others. Leaders have many investment choices to create growth, so you need to position your investment opportunity properly.
That is where the power of storytelling can help. Effective storytelling captures the hearts and minds of your target audience. It makes your innovations stand out about the rest. That’s why many embrace it as a critical leadership tool. Storytelling is now mainstream in the business world. At Nike, senior executives are called “corporate storytellers.” 3M banned bullet points and replaced them with writing “strategic narratives.” Procter & Gamble hired Hollywood directors to teach its executives storytelling techniques. Business schools have storytelling courses to their curriculum.
Meet Paul Smith. Paul is Director of Consumer & Communications Research at P&G. He has spent a career observing and researching what it takes to connect with, inspire, and motivate a change in human behavior. He is a keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and author of the upcoming book, Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire. Whether it’s the CEO’s speech to the board of directors, or the hallway conversation with your boss, his conclusion is this: the difference is storytelling. Great leaders do it well. Mediocre ones don’t.
Paul lectured in my graduate Capstone course about storytelling. Here is my interpretation how it applies to selling innovative ideas:
- Keep it real: Concrete ideas are more memorable than abstract ones. Tell stories that relate to the audience in a way they can “wrap their head around it.” With innovation, this means conveying not the features of a new concept, but the benefits and value it delivers in terms the everyday person can understand.
- Appeal to emotion: Humans make emotional decisions, so your stories need to touch the heart. With innovation, this means telling a story about how people’s lives will be transformed because of the new concept.
- Use the element of surprise: Stories that have a sudden twist or surprise are memorable. With innovation, that means starting with a story that seems to confirm what your audience believes. Then you surprise them with evidence to the contrary. People remember what they “un-learn” and “re-learn.”
- Recast your audience into the story: Paul says you should put your target audience into the plot of the story. Make them “walk it” with you. Involving them makes it more memorable than just telling them about it. With innovation, this means helping your audience imagine using the new concept, creating it, or perhaps selling it to a customer. Get them to “taste it.”
In addition to teaching leadership by storytelling, Paul’s external training experience includes a partnership with Chip & Dan Heath, authors of the New York Times best-selling book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, where he created their first licensed training program.