The Storytelling Advantage
Part 1: Story Frameworks for Business
Hello my Fringe friends,
I hope you’ve had a great May. The summer season is upon us which means lots of activity, like conferences, trade shows, local events, and a whole lot of in-person interactions.
And whenever we’re interacting with people, especially strangers, it’s important to have our business story straight. Meaning, how do we tell our story in record time and still make it memorable?
That’s the question we’ll attempt to answer in today’s issue. So before you get out to all these in-person business events, trade shows, or conferences, let’s figure out the best way to tell our own stories.
Business story basics
Since the dawn of civilization, humans have used stories to explain the unknown, pass down lessons, and build connections. Our brains are wired to respond to narratives. Regardless of whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, people respond to stories.
44,000 year old cave painting found in Indonesia (visual storytelling)
Why? Because stories keep the human race alive. They allow us to visualize scenarios (life & death), empathize with characters (connect to our tribe), and ultimately, make sense of complex information (even more critical today).
In business, this translates into a more profound understanding of products, services, and the core values of a company. It also makes your key people in front-facing roles more relatable.
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Emotionally charged events are remembered, and stories are the perfect vehicle for creating emotional connections. A narrative that elicits strong emotions—whether joy, surprise, empathy, or even sadness—creates a memorable experience, making your brand more memorable in turn.
Storytelling in business isn't just about communicating to the outside world; it's also about fostering a strong internal culture. Shared narratives can help align team members around a common purpose, instill company values, and boost morale.
But more than anything, the world is noisy. A memorable story is what allows your business to be heard and remembered. It's a way of illustrating your brand's uniqueness, its reason for being, and how it adds value.
Didn’t Dollar Shave Club become well-known because the founder of the company told their company story in a unique and humorous way? They eventually sold to Unilever for $1 billion dollars (Dr. Evil pinky finger) on the strength of this one video:
Not bad for a DTC brand. But how can you replicate its success?
The purpose of story
Before we jump into the frameworks, do you know what the core purpose of a story? It’s this:
To explain how its character(s) transform and change, for good or bad.
That’s it. A story is ultimately about a character’s transformation. And that transformation happens internally first, before we see the external change or transformation.
That internal transformation comes in the form of:
A change in beliefs
A change in their values
A change in perspective
A change in how they see themselves
When an internal change occurs, an external change follows. And the more drastic, or dramatic, or stark the change is, the more memorable the story.
“I lost 215 pounds.”
“I was depressed for years until I changed one thing in my life.”
“I went from below the poverty line to a million dollars when I changed one simple approach to marketing.”
A—B change stories represent incremental change.
A—Z change stories are outliers and are rare.
A—M change stories are ideal testimonials.
This is why the best testimonials show the before and after, which means, showing where they came from, not just where they ended up. Their struggle, doubts, and specific pains are crucial to telling great stories.
But none of those transformations are possible unless people change from the inside first. And sometimes people can’t make that change without your help—not just from a product perspective, but from a content & media perspective.
Sometimes people don’t see what your product is trying to do, unless you explicitly tell them. And what’s the best way to tell them?
Business Story Frameworks
There’s a few frameworks I’d like to share.
Andy Raskin’s Strategic Narrative
Humans are story-driven, as we said earlier. The way we structure more complex stories may not be as intuitive, but we know a good story when we experience one.
It could also mean you’re more aware of the principles and tricks that, say a great movie director or a bestselling novelist use to engage you.
I spoke to Adam Lisagor about this awhile back. He’s the founder of Sandwich, an agency that specializes in creating engaging product marketing videos for tech companies.
They made this video for Descript:
Pretty engaging for an almost 3 minute ad. But what drives this kind of engagement is a sort of, let’s call it an intuition of what’s good, and what’s not good (read: engaging or not engaging).
Here’s Adam talking about his process:
He’s a very intuitive storyteller. But notice what he pays attention to the most: how he feels. Memorable stories are engaging and emotionally-charged. How can you make people really feel something? What emotions could you tap into? Think about these:
But the real secret lies in mixing up the emotional spectrum. Start with horror or outrage, then finish with surprise and joy. Again, the drastic change is everything.
The transformation doesn’t need to be spelled out in every single detail, but it needs to be explicitly implied. Robert McKee, the famous screenwriter once remarked:
What attracts human attention is change. If the temperature around you changes, if the phone rings — that gets your attention. A story begins with a starting event that creates a moment of change.
Again, Intuitive Storytelling is when you know instinctively that a story is good, versus not very good. It’s when it flows effortlessly from you—either because you had practice, or because you just know.
There’s still underlying frameworks to this more magical process, even if people take very distinct roads to get there.
But to become a master storyteller requires an understanding of story basics, especially if it doesn’t come easily. Let’s talk about some frameworks that make story a little more actionable for us non-intuitive types.
Andy Raskin’s Framework
Andy Raskin developed his framework over time. He started out as a coder, and got early career advice to work on his storytelling skills. So he did.
Lenny Rachitsky just interviewed him as well:
Typically, Raskin's strategic narrative framework involves five key components:
A Big, Relevant Change in the World: The narrative should start by pointing out a change in the world. This sets the stage and gives a reason for your audience to care about what you're saying.
High Stakes: Highlight what's at risk if the audience doesn't adapt to the change. This creates urgency and compels the audience to act.
The Promised Land: Paint a picture of what life could be like if the audience successfully adapts to the change. This should be desirable but also achievable, to create not just hope, but a willingness to try.
Show How You Can Help: Explain how your business or product can help the audience reach the before-mentioned "Promised Land". This is where you introduce your offerings, but in the context of helping your audience rather than focusing on features or benefits.
Evidence: Provide proof that you can do what you say, which could come in the form of case studies, customer testimonials, data, or other forms of validation.
Notice that Andy isn’t talking about features and benefits. He’s not even mentioning the product right away. He’s talking about what’s happening in the world right now, and about real-world stakes.
Andy isn’t just selling a product. He’s selling a movement, with a product at the center of it, so you (and the business) can stay relevant in this new world.
You do want to remain relevant, right? As a consumer? As a leader in your company? As an entrepreneur?
Nike is great at selling relevance. Airbnb, too. Let’s see if Andy’s framework can help you, too.
I’ll walk you through an example of how I would apply it to Rep and then later, a fictional shoe company.
Example: Rep AI
A Big, Relevant Change in the World:
The rise of AI, particularly Large Language Models, has ushered in the Conversational Internet. Coding, search, therapy, and shopping are now conversational, significantly changing the way we interact with machines and the digital world.
eCommerce businesses that fail to adapt to this change risk being left behind. The stakes could be higher customer churn rates, reduced engagement, and missed sales opportunities due to a lack of personalized, interactive shopping experiences. Or just a failure to meet customer expectations—which are rising everyday.
The Promised Land:
Imagine a world where shopping online is as simple as having a conversation. Instead of searching, clicking, and scrolling, customers can express themselves using natural language, get personalized recommendations, and navigate eCommerce sites effortlessly.
This future is more engaging, more intuitive, and more natural - it's the new way of shopping.
Show How You Can Help:
Enter the AI Concierge for eCommerce. With the power of behavioral AI and generative AI (featuring ChatGPT), your AI Concierge serves as a personal guide for each and every shopper & customer—transforming their online shopping experience.
Rep understands individual preferences, answers questions, gives product recommendations, and simplifies the buying process. In essence, the AI Concierge unlocks Conversational Shopping for eCommerce.
Here’s where we share testimonials, results, and other forms of proof.
Not a bad start. But let’s try a shoe company.
Example: Sustainable Shoes (Allbirds?)
A Big, Relevant Change in the World:
Increasing awareness about climate change and the environmental impact of the fashion industry is leading consumers to seek out more sustainable options. The rise of conscious consumerism is changing the way people shop for apparel and footwear.
Shoe companies that ignore this shift could alienate a growing segment of eco-conscious consumers, losing market share to more sustainably-focused brands, and be viewed as contributing to environmental harm.
The Promised Land:
Imagine a world where style and sustainability go hand-in-hand. Where every purchase contributes to a healthier planet. A world where customers don't have to choose between looking good and doing good.
Show How You Can Help:
This is where our eco-friendly shoe company “steps” in. We’re committed to offering stylish, high-quality footwear that's ethically made and environmentally friendly.
Every pair of shoes is made from sustainable materials, uses eco-friendly manufacturing processes, and contributes to environmental causes.
Show proof and more proof that you can deliver. Show scientific evidence. Show testimonials. Show pictures of you in the Amazon planting trees. Whatever it takes.
In the next newsletter, I’ll share one more framework, and talk about the difference between Raskin’s Strategic Narrative and C3SG, and when and where to apply them.
If you want more examples, or you want me to apply it to your company, let me know. More on this next week.
With that, I’ll leave you one more Sandwich video featuring Airtable. Enjoy.
Until next week.