Storytelling is one of the top super powers of modern brands and leaders. The greatest artists, brands, and business people have a few things in common, and one top trait is epic storytelling ability. Likewise, any successful investor and founder will tell you the power of effective storytelling in fundraising and building brands, especially in the early days. The stronger a person’s ability to tell stories that connect, the more we trust them, root for them, and want to do business with them.
But many don’t know where to start, how to draw out great stories for their business, or what to do to help their teams in this area.
Storytelling is both art and science, and it is a muscle that modern leaders and organizations must strengthen. Storytelling is more than getting the word out, it’s about getting through and being felt.
Center your community
At the core of our being, and as receivers of messages, we want to belong and to be seen, heard, and loved. That is why your stakeholders as a community should be centered in any communications strategy. You have things you need and want to say as a leader or brand, but you will connect more meanintfully if your approach filters first for respecting and connecting with who will receive your message.
In helping global brands and leaders build their most powerful communications, there is one specific exercise I’ve built that brings forward empathy for stakeholders and creates high communications impact: The ‘Love Letter’ Framework. It creates powerful messaging while building a strategic storytelling muscle and a communications compass at the same time.
How ‘Love Letters’ became a framework:
I started building this when we needed to turn around the Cinnabon business. I was a new president, and we had much to do but few resources. Telling the story of where we had been, where we were, and where we were going next was critical for external marketing and internal culture and energy. In addition, centering our stakeholders meant being the biggest fan of our fans and extended brand family. It was key in building community and energizing the business.
I was early on social media (especially compared to other leaders of brands at the time), and it was before the ‘pay to play era’, so I starting tweeting and posting little love letters to our fans, customers, franchisees, and employees. I was blown away by the joy, energy, reciprocity, and business impact. Telling the best story was much easier when we focused on a specific person or group and then spoke to them from a place of deep empathy, gratitude, and admiration.
I also needed to motivate incredibly loyal, but frustrated franchisees and employees. They needed to feel respected and seen in order to reinvest time, money, and energy at a challenging time. I fell in love with their stories and had deep gratitude for what they had done for the business and how they showed up every day. I needed to be sure they heard and felt that love, respect, and gratitude before asking anything of them in return. It was at the beginning, middle, and end of any company communication.
This Love Letter framework is the resulting series of exercises to create a foundation of content that becomes the pillar of storytelling for any brand-building approach, creative brief, and communications strategy.
I have used it to help new venture firms fundraise, founders build a scrappy PR strategy, and to help leaders more effectively drive change inside their organizations.
Any team’s efforts will be more powerful and any agency you pay to help you build your brand will be multiples more effective if you do this exercise first. It is the act of putting the heart and art of the business into words.
Love Letter Framework: write a love letter to each of these groups.
Customers & Community: a love letter to your key stakeholders, what they go through, and the impact they have on your company and the world at large
Founder and Origin Story: a love letter to your roots and beginning
Brand, Business, Product: a love letter about what you make and what you stand for
Customers and Community - this is focused on your customers, but also includes your key stakeholders like critical vendors and partners.
Why do you care about them? What is going on in their lives these days?
What are their need states connected to your business?
Why is making their life better with your business good for them, communities, society?
What do they have in common? How are they different?
What weighs most on their hearts and minds?
What do they do (value they bring) in the world?
What do they bring to your brand ecosystem?
Founder and Origin Story
Who are the humans behind the beginning of the business?
What are the vulnerable parts of your story and journey?
Why did it all get started?
How have you changed as a result?
What pieces of your personal and professional journey most clearly articulate “why” this business came to be?
Why should people feel good about the pepole behind the business?
What are your values?
Brand, Business, Product
What do you make or sell? Why?
How is it made or provided that is special?
Are there any exceptional standards that you hope to get credit for?
Why is it effective and valued by customers?
What is the mission of the company?
What does the brand stand for?
What is the culture (really)?
How is the business structured and run that is unique?
Answer these questions in the form of a love letter to that group of stakeholders or to that part of the story, full of admiration, gratitude, respect, perspective, and empathy. The resulting words can help you evolve mission and values, become thought leadership or press pieces, and help all involved in your business (marketers, agencies, etc.) be more connected to the heart and spirit that make the brand.
Separately, going deep on the customer and community love letter (and revisiting it each year) has helped me drive product innovation and business model changes that radically changed the company for the better. When you think deeply about what matters to your customers and how that has changed over time, you may learn a few ways to better serve them.
This exercise isn’t just a helpful way to mine and craft content. It also helps form a communications compass. Where can pieces of our story live? Who cares about certain elements of our business and how can you map this content to its appropriate medium or storytelling approach?
Not everyone cares about every aspect of your story. Instead of just blasting your messages out to the company, industry, gen pop, or into the metaverse, talking to people about what they care about where they are likely to read it is much more effective.
This Love Letter exercise helps you think about the enablers and partners to the pieces of your business, not just the product category of your business, and can help highlight the specific places (audiences, publications, people) where pieces of your story may resonate.
For example, if in your founder and origin story there is a unique element - like being a single mom, a big life challenge, a particular group, or an experience in a country that was formative in the business, that element of your story can open up interest in your business from journalists, publications, and other media outlets connected to your origin story. Each of these three loveletters calls out specific areas of the story that can stand on its own and be shared with those who care.
Just marketing your product is not enough to optimize connection and community. Telling your personal story and that of your stakeholders is one of many ways to help that to happen. Showing you deeply understand the lives and needs of your customers and talking about that in areas where they are likely to see it is another way. That could be an op ed, advocacy work, or simply sharing experiences and testimonials from your customers.
Art and heart matter
Any good marketer knows that touching hearts drives the most powerful connections with the greatest chance of turning into relationships and transactions. And this Love Letter storytelling exercise is about doing just that. But you can’t “science” your way into hearts. You have to “art” your way into hearts.
Art is one of the best inspirations for communications and brand-building. Artists of any kind are powerful storytellers and who I look to for inspiration for building brands and crafting powerful communication. They are not bound by traditional written mediums, and their life is about is communicating, creatively.
A Study in Storytelling: FEWOCiOUS
Look no farther than one of the great storytellers and artists of our time, Fewocious. Who, at 18 years old, just closed an epic Sotheby’s auction for over $2.8Million USD (745 ETH at the time of close) for his sculpture and lot of creations, “Mr. Misunderstood”. Whether you are in a Clubhouse room or Twitter, or if you’ve simply seen his art or videos, you cannot help but be moved to tears by his journey and story. Begin your journey down a Fewocious rabbit hole with this video.
I first heard him in a Clubhouse room promoting his pieces and NFTs that represented tumultuous years in his adolescence as a budding artist and beautiful human on a journey. (Thank you Farokh Sarmad, Amir Soleymani, ThankYouX, and several others for amplifying his story so early).
Each of his pieces and his approach to talking about them feel like a love letter to that moment in time, despite the involved pain. He invites you to join in that story of growth, learning, pain, and love.
You find yourself instantly rooting for Victor, wanting to spend all the money you can on his art, leveraging your social capital to celebrate and spread the word about whatever he is doing, and generally you are just happy to know his story and his art. He is a living example of world-class storytelling.
Find your inspiration for the art of storytelling and use that as a filter to write Love Letters to key stakeholders, including to those in your company who make it what it is today. It will help you frame, see, and tell your story and have more impact as a result.