I’m on record as saying brand storytelling, at least as it’s typically executed, is a bunch of hooey sold by marketers as a means of getting the content business from brands.
Even so, I do rather enjoy telling stories, especially those that help illustrate a point.
For example, I can’t think of a single time when, during the initial consultation with a prospect, I have not shared a research-related story I read in college, about why even amongst the brightest groups of people on earth, there are individuals who consistently rise above everyone else.
Decades ago researchers studied a group of scientist at the Rand Corporation to get at the answer, believing the institution—home to some of the brightest minds on earth—would provide the ideal sample.
What they found was surprising and unforgettable: The individuals at the top weren’t more intelligent than their peers. They were better connected. When they encountered a problem, their vast network could and would provide them with an answer faster than everyone else. This meant they were able to assimilate ideas sooner and better than teammates, and do so consistently.
I read this study many years later, as a sophomore in college, but to this very day I use the example to make a very important point when talking to prospects, colleagues, friends and family members.
“You’re only as strong as your network. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room; you must strive to be the most connected person among your peers.”
This quote always comes up when business owners ask me “What one thing would you do, right now, if your were in my position?”
I always say “Grow your network as far and as wide as possible.”
- It can protect you from reckless, haphazard decision-making.
- You expand exponentially the pool of knowledge you’re able to pull from.
- Connectedness makes you and your business “desirable,” largely because people want to know and be around people who know people.
- It creates a level of all-important familiarity to other businesses and vendors, many of whom won’t do business with you if you’re not vetted.
- It makes you more interesting. The more people you know, the more stories you have to share and the more interesting you become to others. (That’s the real value of storytelling, by the way—using the stories of others to add meaning to your brand.)
This line of thinking is all the more important for the online world, where, all too often folks rely only upon online connections and phone calls, which are not near as strong as in-person connections.
Now that you know why I recommend building your network, here’s how I recommend you go about making it a reality for your business:
1. Press the flesh. Join local organizations and associations that make it possible for you to interact with people in the overall community, not just the business community. Become an active, visible participant. What you do will naturally come up, and because you’re part of the group, the people you now know are more likely to think of you if they or someone they know needs your services.
2. Think beyond the business. The online world is so immersive it can be exhausting. That’s why it’s imperative you get away from the spreadsheets and work on you, the person. Take a walk, join a gym, volunteer at a local organization. The people you meet can and will enrich your life and make you a better businessperson.
3. Read widely. The world will be just fine if you didn’t read the latest marketing, SEO or social media blog for a few days. Visit the local library and pick up a few books, some with titles outside of business. The most important elements needed to move your company forward will come from disparate sources. Reading widely makes it easier to uncover tactics other business owners won’t be aware of.
4. Get adopted by many mentors. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t choose mentors; they choose you. Single out several people in your area who you admire and would love to learn from. (Do not limit it to businesspeople.) Reach out to them with an offer of buying them coffee or lunch with no strings attached. These initial interactions can become monthly meetings.
5. Develop a reputation for being a good listener. With each new interaction, strive to be interested, not interesting. Show a sincere interest in whomever you’re talking to and the information they’re sharing while working to be seen as the person who’s “easy to be around.” You’ll be amazed at how often you’re a party to conversations you might never have been a part of but that are immensely helpful.
I worry often that digital marketing is “training” us all to be insular experts of our domains, leading us to close ourselves off to the vast outside world.
Your business cannot afford such a course of action. Go ahead, become an expert, but realize that the experts all around you are a tremendous pool of talent who can help propel your business to new heights.
I’m reminded of a quote from historian Richard Brookhiser: “Perhaps the wise leader should strive to have [experts] on tap and not be one himself.”
Allow that to soak in.
Are you ready to start networking with purpose?