I Killed A Rabid Fox With A Croquet Mallet, written by Nicolas Boillot, the CEO of HB Agency, is subtitled Making Your Business Stories Compelling And Memorable, and that’s exactly what the book outlines. Stories, and the importance of storytelling in business and marketing.
In my other life, I write fiction, so I’ve read quite a lot of books and articles on story structure and writing. This book takes storytelling theory and lessons, distills them and shows you how you can use them to benefit your business. You want to create a narrative in the minds of your customers, and this book shows you how.
I’ve been thumbing through the book (not literally, I got a PDF copy), and there’s a lot of cool stuff in here (including the story that inspired the title. Spoilers: The author says he truly did kill a rabid fox with a croquet mallet). It’s full of case studies, “from a small Canadian folk band, to a medium-sized environmental consulting group, our examples help you to see that it’s not such a stretch to get from here to there, using your own best stories as the catalyst. You can do it, and this book will show you how.”
The author was kind enough to allow us to post an excerpt. Here’s part of chapter one:
WHAT’S A STORY?
Search online or ask friends and colleagues, “What’s in a story?” and each friend, each source, will give you a different answer.
In HB Agency’s PR practice, when we reach out to journalists, they often ask right away if we’re calling about a first, best or only. In other words, they want to know if our scoop will provide them with knowledge about a product, service or even an event that no one has ever heard about. Or something that’s more impressive than anything else. If we can’t say “yes” (and most of the time we can’t), they ask, “Why would my audience care?”
Novelist Jim Hines says he was taught that a story shows us “interesting people in interesting places solving interesting problems in interesting ways.” He goes on to ask, “What qualifies as interesting, anyway?” And, “How can you tell if your stuff will be interesting to others?”
Great past and contemporary storytellers will refer to Shakespeare as the master of all storytellers, yet after in-depth study, none of them can devise any sort of recipe for telling a great story based on Shakespeare. Some Shakespearean scholars claim that he relied on surprise and incongruity for much of his storytelling – that those elements, surprise and incongruity, keep us hooked as his plots unfold.
Surprise and incongruity, what am I supposed to do with that?
Roughly 400 years after Shakespeare, Robert McKee, consultant to the film industry and mentor to screenwriters, novelists and playwrights, often says “story happens when there’s a gap between expectation and result.” That’s a little more helpful than “surprise and incongruity.” In fact, that nugget is so helpful that it bears repeating:
STORY HAPPENS WHEN THERE’S A GAP BETWEEN EXPECTATION AND RESULT.
Let’s dig deeper.
Suppose you run into an old friend at a business meeting and you say, “Hey, have I got a story for you!” She perks up, and you start off:
“I went to work late yesterday evening to finish up a project, and my business partner was already in his office. I could tell by the light under the door. Wow, I thought, he’s not usually in that late. I knocked on the door, he told me to come in, and then he had this situation going on which made me want to help him right away…”
Very quickly, you notice that your old friend has that sleepy look in her eye that you recognize from somewhere. Oh, that’s it: the same look a two-year-old gets when her mother reads Goodnight Moon.
“I went to work late yesterday evening and my business partner was in his office. I knocked on the door, walked in, and noticed that things weren’t right. I had had some suspicion about this because he’s not usually in his office. He was actually lying on the floor…”
She perks up. What? Lying on the floor? Try once more:
“I went to work late last night and found my business partner lying on the floor naked with scratch marks all over his body. I heard a noise and looked up to see an orangutan in the corner, glaring at me while chewing one of its fingernails…”
Your colleague interrupts you. “Whoooa…” she says, “slow down. I want to hear it from the beginning… so you’re walking into the office and… did you even notice anything on your way in?”
You didn’t even have to get loud or intense.
The widening gap between expectation and result, and/or the surprise and incongruity that Shakespeare relies on, absorbs us into the story. At this point you might be thinking: Makes sense. But my company doesn’t have stories about naked business partners recently mauled by orangutans!
NEWS FLASH: YOU HAVE STORIES, MANY OF THEM COMPELLING.
Your stories exist. They’re told and repeated every day:
• By directors, to management
• By management, to employees
• By salespeople, to customers
• By customers, to prospects
Some people might not even think of them as stories, but you have them in droves and they survive and propagate, with or without your assistance. Unfortunately, they’re most often forgotten, wasted or poorly used.
LEVERAGE – MAKING MORE FROM WHAT YOU’VE GOT.
Remember your first experience of leverage. Maybe you had to move a rock and someone showed you how you could put your weight on one end of a stick, use a log or a boulder as a fulcrum, and move a heavy object on the other end. You didn’t have to change your weight or your strength. You didn’t have to buy any additional equipment. But suddenly you could leverage your own weight to move something much bigger.
Stories are like that. You’ve got them and you’ve already paid for them. They can do the heavy lifting for you and your business. The question is how to make the most of them, to leverage them, in order to move your audiences the way you want.
NEWS FLASH – YOU ABSORB OTHER BUSINESSES’ STORIES EVERY DAY.
From billboards to the Internet, businesses compete to inform, interact, transact and create strong relationships with prospects and customers. L.L.Bean rose to fame through its ironclad satisfaction guarantee:
“Guaranteed to Last. Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at anytime if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.”
When we were in college, students boasted about returning an item they had abused over several months or years and getting a new one for free. Such stories spread quickly. We believe L.L.Bean banked on the fact that most people who heard these stories had one reaction: That person’s abusing the system. But what an amazing company to have such a return policy!
The return policy doesn’t make the story interesting – it’s the story about someone abusing the system that captures our attention. Did L.L.Bean executives plan on such stories becoming the catalyst to its phenomenal growth and longevity? Maybe they knew that some bargain-hunters and system abusers would be the first to spread tales about the return policy. If so, they must also have known that such tales would reach and influence millions of shoppers who would be more scrupulous about their returns.
OUTSIDE BUSINESS, WE RECOGNIZE STORIES EVERYWHERE.
Great stories live in movies, theatres, magazine pages, YouTube, books, company websites and, most of all, in our minds.
Great stories stick out and stick around. We retell them. We reread them. We watch them repeated. We share them over and over again. In fact, we like them so much that we rely on other people to point out, you’ve told me that one already. To which we answer, “I know. But Joe hasn’t heard it – I’ll tell it again.” Sometimes we even say, “I know, but I like telling it.”
COMPELLING AND MEMORABLE
These terms will crop up repeatedly throughout this book. Most people talk about stories and describe them as good, great, cool, fun, etc. Qualifiers like these are completely subjective. And while almost everything qualifies as “subjective” to some degree, using the words compelling and memorable is more helpful to helping us understand what makes a story valuable for your business.
Compelling: This means that the story grabs your attention. You are compelled to listen, read, and watch. We’re not naïve enough to think that many business stories will provide edge-of-your-seat gripping intensity… But compelling, yes. Even captivating. The right business stories grab the audience’s attention, just like the right salesperson hooks a prospect.
But who’s the “you” when we say grab your attention? It’s not you! You’re the storyteller. While your story should seem compelling to you, it’s more important to make it compelling for your audience.
Remember that – we’ll be talking about audience later.
Memorable: As business owners and employees, we attribute special meaning to some of our stories. They color the fabric of our time together, the ups and downs of our business life, the solidarity of being “in it together.” They often provide reasons for getting up each day and going to work – reasons we tell friends and loved ones on a regular basis. This book is about stories designed especially for your professional communities, inside and outside your business, and we want them memorable for two primary reasons.
• First, we need our audiences, especially our customers and prospects, to maintain great reasons to work with us. In a fiercely competitive landscape, it’s tough to get a new customer. Keeping that customer happy is even tougher. What we call brand loyalty involves getting customers to remember compelling stories about our business and their interactions with it. For our internal audiences, the same reasoning applies: Memorable stories solidify an employee’s reasons to go back to work, to talk to other potentially good employees about the company, and to value the memories he or she makes in the workplace.
• Second, one of the best ways to market ourselves is when other people market for us – in other words, word of mouth marketing. If our audiences remember the great stories about our business, they will much more easily share them with their friends. In a time when the networked world makes sharing easier than ever, it pays to have plenty of good stories to share.
Tell us your business’s story in the comments!