• Sarah Hegland

Seven Books to Sharpen Your Storytelling Game

Looking for inspiration on your business’s storytelling? Here are some excellent books that I often recommend to people:

Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller

Who is the hero in your company’s story? You or your customer? Most businesses portray themselves as the hero, and this is where Donald Miller thinks they go wrong. Your customer should be the hero, and your business should be the guide to the hero (think Obi-Wan Kenobi as the guide to Luke Skywalker). Miller offers simple ways to offer yourself as a guide who has a plan to help the hero on his/her journey.

They Ask You Answer by Marcus Sheridan

How do you be a guide? You offer lots of free, valuable content that demonstrates that you understand people’s problems and you know how to help solve them. Sheridan ran a pool-installation business that was about to go under during the 2009 recession. Stressed about his future, he suddenly got the idea to “Just answer people’s questions, Marcus.” He wrote down all the questions he’d been getting from customers over the years, and began writing up blog posts and making videos that answered those questions. Within a year, the company’s website was receiving considerably more traffic from people who were searching for answers to their questions, and sales increased steadily as people began seeing the company as trustworthy experts in the pool business.

Sheridan offers great guidance on the value of producing genuinely helpful content, and offers five key content areas that are worth focusing on:

  • Cost

  • Problems

  • Comparisons

  • ‘Best of’ lists, and

  • Reviews

The Seven Graces of Marketing by Lynn Serafinn

This book helped me clarify the differences between conventional and holistic marketing. Serafinn lists the ‘7 deadly sins’ of conventional marketing--disconnection, persuasion, invasion, distraction, deception, scarcity, and competition--and contrasts them with the ‘7 graces’: connection, inspiration, invitation, directness, transparency, abundance, and collaboration. The book is a breath of fresh air and clarity in the marketing world. One of my case studies looks at Serafinn’s website.

Fizz by Ted Wright

How do stories get around? Why and how do people recommend brands to their friends? Ted Wright's agency, Fizz, has run word of mouth marketing campaigns for everyone from Pabst Blue Ribbon and AT&T to the local private school in his community, and he tells riveting stories about how they work. I read this book in a day, it was so fun. Ten percent of the population, he says, are genuine influencers--they love trying new things, they love sharing things with their friends, and they're intrinsically motivated to talk about their passions. Find the influencers who want to hear about your story; make sure your story is relevant, interesting, and authentic; and let word of mouth take its course.

Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins by Mark Schaefer

Technology is rocking the world of business and marketing, and this book shows you what's changed and what's stayed the same (hint: there are eternal human truths!). It also helped me understand that 96% of marketers have no idea what they're doing: they're just repeating what's worked before, in other contexts, and hoping it will work again. Schaefer points out why the traditional 'sales funnel' is dead, and how consumers are now in charge of your products and services. Navigating this brave new world requires a set of skills that aren't usually taught in marketing school: creativity, listening, humbleness, empathy, and kindness. In the end, "the most human company wins."

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect by John C. Maxwell

What can marketers learn from a speaker and pastor who’s been studying how to connect with audiences for fifty years? John C. Maxwell sees connecting to people as a skill anyone can learn, and he’s reflective and articulate about his own learning journey. I actually found this book more helpful than many classic marketing books. These are three questions he says your audience is always asking:

  1. Do you care for me?

  2. Can you help me?

  3. Can I trust you?

Great communicators, he says, have ways of answering ‘yes’ to all three questions. Maxwell’s unusual in the amount of time he spends focused on other people--listening to them, caring for them, and expecting great things of them. His background as a pastor brings a welcome dose of compassion and an attitude of service that many marketing books lack.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek’s talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action is the third-most-watched TED talk on the planet. He wrote a book on the subject that goes into much more detail, but feel free to just watch the TED talk. I’m always thinking about the intentions behind the marketing and communications stories I’m writing, and Sinek does a great job of explaining why that’s important.

I hope these are helpful to you, and may we all tell great and empowering stories. I’m always looking for new books to read, so leave a comment or send me a note if you have any suggestions!