Storytelling for Startups

Seth Erickson

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You can also watch this interview on my YouTube Channel

Table of Contents

  1. Why story?
  2. What is a story?
  3. How to tell a story?

*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.


Arek Dvornechuck: Guest is Seth Erickson. And Seth is the founder of Storify, which is an agency that is focused on helping brands attract their dream clients through the power of storytelling. And so his storytelling methods has led to massive success for small and large companies, and including one client that generated 4.3 million during covid. Just by sending out a cold email campaign. So Seth, also wrote the best selling book, How to Hack Humans where he describes his methods. I've listened to the audiobook right here and so Seth, would love to share some of these tips with us today.

Hello Seth, Thanks for joining us today.

Seth Erickson: Yeah, thanks for having me, man.

Arek Dvornechuck: So okay, so at Storify, Your mission is to reduce the massive startup failure rate, and instead help them create a positive change in the world by empowering these brands with the right tools so that they,they can communicate more effectively. Right? Because we all know that most startups fail.

Why story?

Arek Dvornechuck: So I just wanted to start with this since the title of our episode is Storytelling for Startups.

My first question is why story? Why story, and why Stories is, the best medium to go for when you are working on startup.

Seth Erickson: Sure. So there's there's two reasons for that. One I can attack from the anthropology standpoint, which is that we've always told stories. We were telling stories before we were painting on the inside of caves before we had an alphabet. We had to pass information from one human to the other to make sure that the next generation learned what the generation before them learned, and that kept the human race alive. So that's one aspect.

The other aspect that, that I like to talk about, and you've, you know, gotten to check out the book is the neuroscience part of it, right? So how does the brain accept and receive and process information? And from everything that we've seen through all the studies it says that that story is the main way. So that kind of goes back to the fact that like humans have always told stories. And yeah, we've evolved and changed in certain ways, but we still kind of have that. Pathway of understanding each other through the stories that we tell. And there's a reason that, you know, Hollywood is a multi-billion dollar industry. There's a reason, you know, book sales are, are in the multi-billions of dollars. And that's because people love stories. But beyond just loving stories, it's how the brain, and I'm kind of repeating myself here, I apologize, but it's how the brain accepts and receives information.

So that's why storytelling is important, because at the end of the day. You always have to deal with these squishy meat bags called humans. And the way that humans interact with one another is through, through either the written word or sounds. And so if you can figure out what the best communication method is and then apply that, you're gonna have a better chance of getting your customers to understand why they should buy your product or service over competitors why they should care about your product or service, et cetera.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right. And basically your work is based on this simple premise, right? You, you came up with this analogy. So the brain is the computer and the motions around the operating system and stories are the programs. And so storytelling is the language to write these programs, right? That's the whole, Yeah, that's the whole premise that you work is built on. And that's why you titled the book How to Hack humans. Right. So if we have the right tools you know, meaning story telling, if you know how to do it the right way, we can, we can hack humans, right? So it's not only about talking about your product, it's also, it is more about focusing on, on the customer and their problems.

Seth Erickson: Mm-hmm.

Arek Dvornechuck: And talking about benefits or how they feel after After, you know, using your service or using your product and so on. So we've talked about neuroscience a bit, and you dive deeper into, you know, different things and how it works, in the first part of your book. But just to sum up for our listeners some of my key takeaways, right? So the brain doesn't, when we hear facts and figures, we don't really remember much, right? So because it only activates two parts of the brain. But on the other hand, when we tell a story, you know, it activates seven parts. So, you know, it's more engaging. We are actually experiencing this story when someone tells us a story we've kind of like, we feel it. We, we, we are there with them when, when they are telling this story. So There are other concepts here. I'm not gonna go into details, but you guys can check it out. I've listened to audiobook. This, this book is available on, in, in different formats.

What is a story?

Arek Dvornechuck: I just wanted to focus on what is a story and then maybe we can talk about how to tell a story. Right? So, so basically you are using The Heroes Journey by Joseph Campbell, right?.

Seth Erickson: Mm-hmm. Yeah. It's the most widely used story told across different races, generations by people who have never met each other. They keep using essentially the same pattern as what a story really boils down to. It's a pattern that we understand and we go, Okay, I get it.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right? So there are, there are 17 stages, but you basically simplify that and, and, and, and. So we should focus on, basically there are, there are three parts problem, solution, and transformation. So can we talk a bit about that you know, how to actually write this blueprint, how to actually, you know write down our stories so that we can later use it, you know, to write messaging for our website, for example, or, or email.

Seth Erickson: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So, so I boiled it down to problem, solution and transformation, because those are kind of like the three main points that a story needs to hit. There's, there's other aspects that a story can have that can help develop the story further, but when you're, when you have limited space or limited time, you need to tighten that story up and kind of get to the point, right?

It's like movies that start out in the first 30 minutes, like nothing's happening. The character's just kind of wandering around and you're like, Why am I watching this? You know, . So in storytelling, we have the concept of the well, at least in screenwriting, they have the concept of the inciting incident, and so the inciting incident maps perfectly to what problem does your customer have?

That's the inciting incident for them to want to come to you and figure out, should I, I have a problem, I need somebody to fix it. And, and then they're trying to figure out is this the right person for the to fix the problem? So and if you don't have an inciting incident, again, you don't have a story. So, With the problem. You want to talk about what the problem is and, and show your customer that you understand that they have that problem. You understand it at a deep level. And then you can explain why that problem may be even bigger than they realize. I call that kind of sticking your finger in the wound.

And so by expanding the problem and showing them that the problem is bigger, that gives the opportunity to raise the emotional stakes in the story cuz people. Oh, this person totally gets it. Like they, they, I, I have this problem and it sounds like they know what my problem is. And if I think you understand my problem and you're telling me you have a fix, which is the solution, then I'm more likely to go, Okay, I'm gonna hire you to fix this problem instead of these other people who may be talking about how amazing they are and how cutting edge they are and how wonderful their customer service is.

So when you explain your that you understand your customer's problem at a deep level, it builds that emotion. And one of the interesting things about emotion is, is that it one pushes it pushes a memory from short term memory into long term memory. So that means it's gonna stick with you longer.

And number two, emotion is actually what inspires us to take action. If we don't have any emotion and we don't feel one way or the other about something, we don't take any action cuz we're. Not motivated to do so. Mm-hmm. So that's why with the problem, expanding on that problem, bringing in, you know, the emotion to it where a person's like, Yes, I really feel this pain, Can you help me?

And then setting yourself up as the solution to that problem is really helpful. Now So some might be like, well that's, you know, that's kind of negative or whatever, right? So there's some negative emotions there in, in like that pain. But the transformation aspect is where you bring in the positive emotions and it's like you could have all these things.

Your life could look like this, things could be better in these ways, and that's what's gonna happen on the other side of this thing. So, you know, a lot of people have heard in marketing, nobody wants. once a drill, they want a hole. And that's, that's kind of the, the same idea where, what is it on the other side of a person purchasing this drill that they're gonna get?

Right? Well, they're gonna get a hole, but can you take that further? What is the hole for? Are they hanging a picture of their family? Are, you know, are they putting up uh, bookshelves like. Understanding your customer at that level and bringing that in and saying, And by the way, you're gonna get XYZ benefit really tells the full story from beginning of like, Yes, I'm sorry. Things suck. We understand that here's our solution, and when you have that solution, you're gonna be able to do XYZ things. And so that is a simplistic version of a story, but again, You know, if you're in an email or you're running an ad, or even on a website, nobody wants to read a thousand, you know, words of of copy to understand Yeah. What it is you're doing and why they should care.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right. No, that, that, that's a great explanation. So. I have also some key takeaways from, from this part. So so basically just to sum up for our listeners, we start with the problem and here we can do some market research, right? We need to get to know the customer on man many levels.

I just wanted to follow up what you have just mentioned that, you know, this is one of the key mistakes that people make. They talk too much about the. How great they are. They are instead of, you know, focusing model on the customer and their problems instead, and as you already mentioned, you know, it, it is a bit negative, right?

Because it's, it's usually about solving a problem, but then we can also, you know just pose it with something positive. So it's before and after, right? So it's about transformation. So so we could have a section like say on our website about value proposition, but we also should have a section. The problems we are solving, right? Or the pain they go through so that they can understand, as you already mentioned they can feel that we understand them mm-hmm and that will like kind of convince them to go with us instead of our competitors who just talk about themselves you wanted to follow up on this?

Seth Erickson: Well, I, I, I always point out to people. Companies often will say, you know, like I said, we're cutting edge. We're this, we're that, we're, you know, we have the best customer service. Our products are are quality. Right? But who in their right mind goes to a company and thinks, I don't want good customer service.

I don't want a cutting edge company. I don't want good quality products. Right. So you're, you're talking about stuff that the customer already expects you to have in the first place. Right. like, like if, like you're a design agency, you like, nobody's gonna go, I, I really want to hire you because you're only so, so at design.

Right? So you telling them that you're amazing at design, they're like, I'm coming to you because I assume you're good at. So what else are you, are you doing that's gonna help me get to my goal and do you understand my goal in the first place? That's that. I just wanted to add that additional point.

Arek Dvornechuck: No, that's great. That's great. And that's super relevant to, to our listeners who are either, you know, business owners like the, you know, the people you work with, but also creative. Just like myself, who, you know, provide these services to, to, to business owners and to startups. So no, that's a great example for, for creators and some of, some of my other notes from this section.

So we really need to dig down and understand their problems and, and, because sometimes when you think about a problem it's not really is it our problem or is it, is it their problem? We need to really make sure that this is actually their problem. You know, maybe there are other problems that we don't even know about.

Right? Because as you mentioned in the book, you know, there are companies who, who think that their product or service so solve some kind of a pro problem, but in reality customers buy this product or service for, for a different reason or for, you know, to solve a different, Kind of a problem, not necessarily something they, they, they, they think about.

So we really need to understand our customers. So for that we can, you know conduct some market research and understand also what are kind of, So there are a few elements to a story, right? We start with a problem. Then we need to figure out what, what, how they want to feel, how they feel now, how they want to feel, what kind of action they need to. What's their ultimate, ultimate goal? And we also need to think about what kind of a mentor we need to be and, and hear your advice to use archetypes to mm-hmm use archetype framework to position our brand. And also we need to position our brand, or, you know, if it's a personal brand ourself as the solution, Establish authority.

Credibility and so on. So here we can show testimonials logos of the companies we work with, for example, and, and things like that. And then we call them to action, right? And and also we can show like before and after and, and talk about this transformation. So if you take this action, if the hero takes this action, this is what you're gonna get.

This is how you know your life is going to improve or how you're gonna feel afterwards, right? So in the third section, you talk about how to tell a story, right? So we basically go just, just to explain to our listeners. So we basically go from, from a story to messaging, messaging and to website, right?

So first we just write down all these pieces. And then we either need to hire a copywriter or, you know, we can do it ourselves, but actually we need to turn it into actual messaging, right? So, and for this you give us some, like vehicles we can use fs, proverbs, analogies, parables, idioms and other devices to, you know, to tell those pieces of story and, and to like kind of put this together and write the actual copy, the actual messaging that we can use on our web, on our website, or in email campaign and stuff like that. Mm-hmm.

How to tell a story?

So can you talk to us a bit about that How to tell a story?

Seth Erickson: Yeah. So so yeah, what you, what you're referring to is kind of the process that we run clients through, which is, first we wanna help facilitate the story and help them.

What is the story you're trying to trying to tell? And then, yeah, from there we'll take, we'll take that basic outline of a story and create a, a more robust story, I guess from that. And then we wanna move it to your website. And then the reason we, we wanna move it to your website is because your website acts as Grand Central Station.

So whether you're running ads or you're going out speaking, or you're cold calling or emailing or whatever form of marketing you're doing, If somebody hears about you, or even if a friend goes, You should check these guys out. What are they gonna do? They're gonna go to your website, and then they're gonna, they're gonna research you.

And so having your story a well defined story told on your website is gonna help communicate the information that the, the the reader or the researcher needs to understand in a way that will help them, hopefully make a decision to hire you. But like I said all, all roads lead back to Rome because everybody's gonna go.

I saw this cool ad, who are these guys? Or I heard this person on a podcast. Who is this person? I need, I want to find out more about 'em. So they're gonna do that research. And I think Google said something like, and this is back in like 2008, they, they did this study and it was like 83% or 82% of people do research on a company before they hire ' em.

And where they gonna do that research? Well, they're gonna Google you, then they're gonna go to your website. So, so that's the process of, of under. Where your story should be put. It doesn't mean that you can't tell your story in an email campaign or an ad or whatever, but you need to have like your central story and then that story can have subplots, right?

Like you can tell a story about a specific product or a specific service or or a customer or yourself or whatever. But you know, there's the core story and then there's the supporting story from there. right?

Arek Dvornechuck: Okay. So, And also in, in the, in the audiobook, you give us like specific templates that we can actually use. Right. To, to write because it takes a few draft. It's not something that, you know, you're gonna just do it at one at the first time. It's something that you need to, you know make a one draft and then another, and another and improve, improve that story. And you have a few tips for us here.

Some of them, some of the key tips for conclusions would be to make sure that the story is about the hero are not about us, don't have too many plots, so keep it. And use simple language, kind of like Hemingway style. no jargon, no, no sophisticated words. And break it down, right? So it's easy to read and easy to understand. Any other tips for conclusions?

Seth Erickson: No, I mean, I, I, I think those are all pretty good. I guess, you know, I put 'em in the book, so . Yeah. I still. And which by the way, the the book I've asked Audible to attach the PDF because they're in the in the written format.

There's a link to go download a template that you can actually kind of plug and play. It's like madlibs if you will, where you just kind of put in what words you want, where, so it's a lot easier. But yeah, I mean, The basic idea is with the story, we're gonna connect point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on, right?

So that somebody can just digest that information and go, I get it. Right? And, you know, advice like understanding, you know, what, what type of brand archetype you are is really key. Although I rarely see people use brand archetypes. Everybody kind of falls into corporate speak even though there's so many companies, so many brands.

They all have unique people who work in them and run them, and yet everybody tries to sound the same and say the same thing. And that to me is, is kind of. It's kind of sad. Like I, I really wish people would, would step out more from the corporate speak and have a more authentic voice and say, you know, we, we are this type of company, so we're gonna tell our story in this way.

Or we're this other type of company, we're gonna tell our story in another way. And that's , an area where I think brand archetypes quite often are used for visual design to say, what is our style? But they're not thinking, well, what is our voice? Right? And and so I know some branding people definitely follow that, but the clients don't always allow them to kind of like fully explore that because mm-hmm.

You know, whether, you know, let's say you have. you know, your dad tells you a story, Your best friend tells you a story. Your child tells you a story. They're all gonna tell that story differently, even if it's the same story. And so there's a lot of opportunity for people to kind of break, break from the bland , mm-hmm. And use those stories to, to be more exciting, be more adventurous, try different things, and, and really catch people's attention in a different way that than what most people do today.

Arek Dvornechuck: Mm-hmm. So, so try to be different and, and use archetypes for that. Although I, I, I see some new brands they're pretty good at using the, you know, archetypes. But as you mentioned, you know, there is, you know, on top potential there. And we should explore those archetypes small, but clients, you know, sometimes clients are more conservative.

Seth Erickson: Mm-hmm.

Arek Dvornechuck: But that, that's definitely a good way of, you know, differentiating ourself and, you know, making something unique and, and, and different than, than, than other stories that we, we hear or see on, on, on the websites, right? So as we are approaching the, the end of our episode, of course, I'm gonna link to your book for you guys to check it out. Seth really explains, you know, all those things and concepts in, in detail. And it's really easy to to understand and he gives us some examples in, in even templates that we can use right away. But how do you want to people to connect with you on social media?

Seth Erickson: Yeah, I mean, LinkedIn is the best way to find me. Okay. I, I do some stuff on Facebook and some stuff on Instagram, but I'm not on, I'm not as active on those channels as I am on LinkedIn. So if you want to connect with me, send me a message that's probably the best way to, to find me and mean. And obviously you can go to the website and you know, connect with me that way. But LinkedIn will get you directly to me.

Arek Dvornechuck: great. And the website is

Seth Erickson: Yeah. And if you go to then that'll take you to a landing page where your audience can download the first chapter of the book for free if they wanna check that out.

Arek Dvornechuck: Okay. That's awesome. Okay, so I'm gonna link to that. That's awesome. Thanks for doing this And thanks for taking the time to come on our show today.

Seth Erickson: Yeah, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you.

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