Storytelling: The (Marketing) Tie That Binds



Who’s the storyteller in your family?  We all have at least one.  Growing up, my dad’s mom, “Grammie,” was the storyteller in our family.  She worked as a waitress at Howard Johnson’s on the PA Turnpike for over 35 years.  A widow at a young age, with a limited education and three small boys to raise, she saw her life of service at the restaurant as a true adventure.  I loved going to her house and hearing tales about the customers and how they touched her world.  She could make any situation sound outrageously funny!

My husband’s father is a retired general surgeon and he can entertain for hours about his patients.  His best stories are about the characters he would encounter on emergency room  rotation.  The ER is a great laboratory of humanity and the predicaments they can create.

Dick Rabil, SliceWorks president, is quite a storyteller too.  He can remember amazing details of conversations he’s had with clients, friends and family from 15 years ago and longer.  And you can quiz him about any Tar Heels basketball game, or any college basketball team for that matter, from 1960 onwards. (And probably prior, as well)  He remembers the winning shots, who fouled-out, the controversial calls by refs.  His detailed recall ability simply amazes me.  I’m lucky to remember your name 30 seconds after you’ve introduced yourself!

Every Association has a story to tell and a history that’s full of successes and lessons learned through failure.  What makes these stories so compelling are the ways people’s lives are touched and changed for the better.  Last week Dick and I traveled to Denver, Colorado to participate in the International Builder’s Exchange Executives (IBEE) yearly conference.  We had been invited to speak to them about membership and the changes brought on by technology and boomer retirement that is making recruitment for associations everywhere such a challenge.

We sat at the table all through the conference and heard many important themes that relate to the challenges associations are facing as they try to tell their stories.  Here are some often-repeated demands the attendees mentioned:

  • Struggling to find good partnerships to grow their business
  • Looking for ways to collaborate and pool resources
  • Learning to build relationships on a foundation of trust
  • Expanding training and education programs to add value
  • Embracing change as an opportunity to lead the way

Our presentation addressed several of these issues.  First, we  spoke to the attendees about the importance of developing a mindset that embraces change as a first step to building an effective growth strategy. We then watched a portion of Simon Sinek’s TED talk from his book, Start with WHY, which led to a discussion about making that emotional connection with your audience. Clearly communicating WHY you do what you do is an integral part of telling your organization’s story in a more compelling way.

Next, we broke into discussion groups and began the real work of examining the foundation of their organizations and WHY they do what they do. It was exciting to feel the energy in the room kick up a notch as the light bulbs started going off.

We found out that it’s much easier to talk about WHAT you do than WHY you do it.  But we also realized that when you express clearly what you believe, members are inspired to believe too. Inspired members make ideal members.

In the final part of the presentation we talked about Gen Y and how much they love storytelling.  They’re just as eager to promote someone else’s story as they are their own.  How can you tap into that storytelling potential?

Our conclusion—social proof, captured through video and written testimonials, are the best kinds of referrals.  Because we all love a good story!

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