- If you're using stories as a way to build a relationship with someone, the natural question is, what kinds of stories should you tell? Well, the answer comes from my obligatory dating analogy, which is that if you're just getting to know someone, you're on a first date, you're just becoming aware of someone, the kinds of stories that you tell will be very different than if you're on a third, fourth, or 10th date. So when you first get to know someone, you talk about things you have in common. Like the weather, this is why people talk about the weather. Or sports. You probably don't talk about your health problems, or your relatives that you don't like.
But when you go on a second date, as you've spent more time together, you might dig into the stories of people you care about, maybe your vulnerabilities, maybe your passions. And then as the relationship progresses, you might then dig into things that are much more personal, much more close, you might even dig into asking questions about their personal life and whether they want to marry you. But you don't do this on the first date. This is the same way that stories build relationships whether you're a business or whether you're making a friend as well as dating.
So I use a diagram that I call the funnel matrix to represent this. That at the top of the funnel of your relationship are the kinds of stories that you tell about shared values. So things that are safe, that are easy to do, if you're just becoming aware of each other. As you get a little bit closer, you can tell stories about the people and the things in your life that you care about. And as you get even more close, you can tell the stories about yourself and the deep stories about who you are and your past. But it's hard to tell those stories if you're just barely getting to know each other.
Now, this isn't quite enough to fuel great brainstorming for story ideas, so I like to divide this funnel into a matrix, into three dimensions vertically, that help you to brainstorm good ideas for stories. And these have to do with timeliness. So you have stories that are extremely timely, they're about things that are happening now. You have stories that are seasonal, things that are happening in a small frame of time but you can plan on, say football season or fashion season or maybe a holiday. And then you have timeless stories that are what we call evergreen.
Stories that you can tell at any time and they won't go away. And your job as a storyteller is to figure out what relationship stage you're at with your audience and to fill in the boxes inside of this matrix. So for example, American Express really cares about small business owners. They want business owners to know that American Express cares about them, so they'd use storytelling online to do this. Now if something happens in the economy, American Express will write a story about what this means for small business owners. So they're using a timely thing about a shared value.
The economy, surviving in business, both Amex and your business care about this, there's something that's based on news right now. General Electric has a website called GE Reports where they tell stories about the employees inside their company who are working on really interesting projects. Now, these are stories about the people that General Electric cares about, and often these are stories that, it doesn't matter if you learn this story now or if you learn it a year from now, they're still interesting. So these are sort of middle of funnel stories about people they care about, but they're evergreen.
GroupOn, on the other hand, is telling stories that are very timely, they happen today, the coupon is over, maybe they're planning on some things that are more seasonal, but what the stories are are about the actual product itself. The story is about the coupon. It's often fiction and it's often funny, but the coupon that expires now, that's the deeper story. It's more of the story behind the sale. So these are different examples of how different types of companies have filled this funnel matrix based on the relationships that they have. As a business owner, even as a friend, you can fill all of these boxes, but each little box becomes its own little haiku that gives you some constraints around which you can be very creative in this one task.
So when you're coming up with the kinds of stories you want to tell to your audience, think about the relationship stage that you're in and then use timeliness as a way to make brainstorming easier. What are stories we can tell about this stage of the relationship right now, what are things we can plan on for later, and what are timeless stories that we can tell at each of these stages.
- The science of great stories
- The elements of effective storytelling
- Building relationships via storytelling
- Selling with storytelling
- Building and engaging audiences
- Using storytelling frameworks like the Ben Franklin method