Social media has fundamentally changed the way people expect to get information. Gone are the days when senior executives could "preach their gospel" from the corporate altar and expect people to fall in line and hang on their every word. In today's interconnected, over-networked world, an employee or customer is just as likely to rely upon a friend for trusted information as various senior executives.

So, how does one break through, or maybe better said, break into, the inner sanctum of a customer’s emotions? It all begins with establishing credibility, empathy and trust. And, powerful storytelling is the new secret weapon in this communications challenge.

Start With 'Net Impact'

We are firm believers in starting with the end in mind. What is it that you want people on the receiving end of your communications to believe, feel and ultimately do? We call this "net impact." In the context of a media interview, it can most easily be measured by the headline. With a large internal presentation, it might be what people are talking about around the water cooler after your speech. What message did they really take away? All too often, we find senior executives bury the net impact statement, or what journalists refer to as the "lead," in favor of some crafty attempt at being clever. We say, "Put your message out there in the most clear and articulate way possible." And, don't be afraid to repeat it early and often.

'The X Factor'

Sharing relevant stories that connect with the audience is the best way to achieve this, because storytelling matches the expectations people have in this new, networked world. The best stories have the right amount of rational or fact-based information, combined with enough emotion to really connect with the minds and hearts of the audience. We call this intersection of rational and emotional content "The X Factor." It is where the best communications occur. Watch this commercial for Google Chrome and see what we mean: Dear Sophie

Sophie A screen capture from Google's "Dear Sophie" ad, which perfectly illustrates what we call The X Factor, or the intersection of rational and emotional content.

 

Effective Messaging to Achieve The X Factor

While storytelling can appear to be unstructured and free flowing, it doesn't have to be. We believe that strategic messaging can underpin great stories and help dramatically increase the likelihood of effective communication. The simple framework we use is: Environment, Need and Solution.

The environment message is where you go to establish credibility with the audience. We often refer to it as the "30,000 foot view of the world" in which your employees, customers or other key constituents are living and working. By connecting at this level, you demonstrate your credibility. You give people a reason to want to listen to what you have to say.

Next, is the "need" message. It establishes your empathy with the audience. It can be as simple as clearly stating that, based on what we have just discussed as the overall operating environment, here is my understanding of your most prominent needs. You may have heard this referred to as the customer's "pain points." The need message leaves the audience truly believing that you care about them. It also reinforces the notion that you understand their world and that you are an expert to whom they should listen.

Now, you are ready to deliver a relevant "solution" message. You have earned the right to enter their hearts and minds with how you can help them. Far too often, our communications begin and end with our solution. We forget to first establish credibility and empathy. We fail to build trust. And, while this message architecture can seem very linear and sequential, the reality is that in the course of effective storytelling, the three messages get intermingled to form a very effective and often beautiful fabric of communication. We like to think that it all begins with a white canvas. You can paint black and white stick figures on that canvas to create a one-dimensional, self-serving picture, or you can use every color in the palette to paint a rich contextual picture of your net impact goal.

I often share with executives that my mother is legally blind. "if she is listening to an interview with you on the radio, can she “see” the picture in your words? Can she feel your story?

In closing, we often tell our clients that the best storytellers are also the best story collectors. The next time you are meeting with customers or mingling with employees, listen for their best stories. You never know when you might have the opportunity to share a story, and, in so doing, build strong emotional connection that will resonate throughout the whole of both your business and personal relationships.