Elon Musk and Tesla are exceptional at telling their company's evolving story. Over 2 million people have watched his debut of the Powerwall on Youtube, for example. Like a lot of people, I self identified with his vision years before I was able to actually buy a Tesla. (Red, in case you're curious.) It's an exceptional car not only because of the engineering but also because of the statement it makes about uncompromising performance and American ingenuity. The story and the product mutually amplify value.

Can you tell a story like Tesla even when your product or service is just starting out? Absolutely. All you need to do is make one powerful shift in how you tell your story. This shift frees your company to relate more authentically and opens the door to customer advocacy.

Shifting your storytelling

You don't have to be Elon Musk to make this shift. For example, last night, I spoke at an executive conference organized by Emory University. One of the attendees came up to me and identified herself as a senior leader. She said, "Storytelling is a big deal in leadership development now. We spend countless hours trying to get it right--and you owned that room. How did you train for that?" I admitted to her that while I've had some speaking coaching (See: 6 Ways Awesome Speaker Own The Room), I am not a professional speaker. I am grateful my story-sharing stance is what carried that room.

Her comments were similar to those of a startup CEO I met with earlier in the week at Atlanta Tech Village. "I don't think my web site is doing a good job telling my story," he was sharing. I heard those very words in Austin a week earlier at Capital Factory. "We're not telling our story the right way," the founder shared.

As leaders, we easily agonize over whether or not we are "telling" our story well. The truth is, the shift that powerful story tellers like Elon Musk make is simple. It's the shift from story telling to story sharing. I wish that sounded more exciting--it's really just that simple. Let's dive in and look a little deeper at how profound a shift this actually is.

Celebrate your heroes

Each story, including your company's, has a few basic elements:

  • the hero (the person who changes),
  • the plot (the actions that create change),
  • the setting (where the action happens), and
  • the ending (the resulting change).

When you tell stories, a lot of times the emphasis is on the telling. The emphasis should be on the story. Okay, that may seem obvious, but go with me here. Your story has a hero--and that hero is almost always your customer, not you.

You've probably heard this before too. It's easy to misunderstand, in the constant firehose telling you to "tell your story," that it is not your story you are telling. The most powerful stance, the one Elon Musk uses, is to share a story. He is volunteering to guide us on a previously mythical journey to energy independence paired with performance.

Which story are you trying to help your customers complete?

Think of your plot as the sales funnel--which of course, has many potential branches. The setting is often your industry, and marketers don't have to pay much attention to this classic story element. The ending, for a marketer sharing a story, is the moment of truth--do they become a paying customer or remain on an unfulfilled quest?

The power stance for story sharing

As you design content marketing, message strategy, web pages, speeches, white papers, trade show experiences and articles, the power stance that forces change is to shift your perspective from promoting your story to facilitating their story, as your hero.

Your role is the narrator, the facilitator or the guide. You're not telling. You're sharing a story from a position of knowledge. You're Yoda.

Crafting the quest

To relate to your hero--your customer--on your web pages, at your events, and in your brand position, all you have to do is take off the cape of telling the story. Drape that cape over your customer. You don't get to tell the story. They do. You get to craft the quest path.

Your industry leadership advantage

This means you have to an expert in the path, which is why so many marketers like to take an "industry leadership" or thought leadership position, like Tesla does.

Do you want that Ludicrous fast or just faster than everyone else? Do you want that with extra long battery life or just better than anyone else? No one doubts that Elon knows more about portable power than anyone else--and he's using that expertise and experience to tantalize us into becoming his hero. That's what your company can do too, when you share a story instead of tell it to your customers. Create heroes one customer at a time by sharing a story they can't wait to experience for themselves.

Published on: Oct 9, 2015