By Harsh Pamnani
In today’s competitive business world, the personal brand of its leader is one of the most valuable assets of an organization. For instance, Steve Jobs being a household name brings a lot of free attention to Apple. People may or may not have used Apple products, but they use the example of Steve Jobs to inspire others. Professors in business schools talk about him in their classes, numerous start-up forums use his quotes for marketing their events, and many entrepreneurs mention his journey in their speeches. When the personal brand of an entrepreneur becomes so popular, many people aspire to buy products of his organization and desire to work there.
Now, the question comes is why people are attracted so much towards the names of some entrepreneurs without knowing them? The answer is because people have heard numerous stories about them. These stories highlight entrepreneurs’ strengths, establish their reputation, build trust, and cover unique attributes that contributed to their success. These stories are not only listened to; they are also communicated further. As a matter of fact, word of mouth is the most potent medium of brand building.
You might be thinking do entrepreneurs make thoughtful efforts to share their stories? The answer is yes; some do. For instance, in 2004, Steve Jobs called Walter Issacson, former managing editor of Time magazine. It turned out that Steve Jobs wanted his biography to be written by Walter Issacson. Walter Issacson disagreed then. In 2009, Steve Jobs’s wife Laurene Powell Jobs told Walter Issacson about Steve Jobs’ cancer. Looking at the situation, Walter Issacson agreed to write the biography. Steve Jobs passed away on 5 October 2011. His biography was published 19 days later. Since then, it has been read by millions of people. Over time, it has become one of the most famous biographies in the world.
Like Steve Jobs, stories of many other famous entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, etc., have played an instrumental role in creating their brands in the minds of the masses. So, it would not be wrong to say that storytellers such as journalists and biographers play an essential role in building the personal brands of entrepreneurs. You might be thinking that an entrepreneur’s story already exists, so what value storytellers add by just telling it? Well, a lot goes behind the scenes. A storyteller adds immense value to an entrepreneur’s story by:
Adapting language according to audience’s preference: If an entrepreneur wants his story to resonate with his audience, he needs to care about the language that works with them. If the target audience is casual readers, then everyday and playful language could work better. However, if the target audience is corporate professionals or academicians, formal language could work better. Further, an entrepreneur might use some jargons in his day-to-day life and work. A storyteller can simplify the jargons for the masses and adapt the language according to the target audience’s taste.
Asking relevant questions to an entrepreneur: To represent the mind of an entrepreneur, a storyteller has to interview an entrepreneur. Before the interview, a storyteller thoroughly researches an entrepreneur’s background, his business, and the related industry. This preparation helps a storyteller ask the right questions and encourages deeper dialogue with an entrepreneur. Attentive listening takes a lot of energy, and thorough interviews can be exhausting. So, many storytellers schedule multiple appointments with entrepreneurs. If the entrepreneur finds that the storyteller is asking sensible questions and taking a genuine interest in his journey, getting more appointments is not a problem. For instance, Walter Issacson conducted more than 40 interviews with Steve Jobs over 2 years.
Defining the story’s scope: People read stories of entrepreneurs because they’re in search of some powerful and fundamental lessons from the journey of a successful person. Due to confidentiality reasons, an entrepreneur might not be comfortable in sharing everything about his life. At the same time, an entrepreneur might share too much or some complex parts of his journey. Along with interviewing an entrepreneur, a storyteller might interview many other people who have been part of the entrepreneur’s journey. Including irrelevant details or missing useful information in the story may end up boring the audience. Good storytellers evaluate the authenticity and usefulness of the available information and define the story’s scope. For instance, some stories start from childhood and cover an entrepreneur’s entire life, and some stories focus on the particular period of an entrepreneur’s career.
Identifying and positioning the characters: The heart of any story centers on characters. A storyteller understands how many characters can be highlighted in a story and accordingly sets the stage for them. To understand characters, a storyteller usually researches around questions like – Who are the main characters in the story? What makes them important for the story? What is their background? Who wants what from whom? What is their role in the story – hero, villain, mentor, or something else? How these characters changed as the story progressed? And so on. Beyond entrepreneur, a storyteller could also interview multiple characters to understand their point of view. For instance, to write Steve Jobs’ biography, Walter Issacson interviewed over 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues of Steve Jobs.
Presenting information in an engaging way: Pulling a coherent storyline out of a mountain of primary and secondary research is no small feat. While moving from start to end, a story crosses through many events, including exciting twists, turns, peaks, and valleys. To pull the audience into the story and make them wonder what will happen next, a storyteller compellingly organizes these events. Wherever required, a storyteller uses analogies and metaphors to set the context. To manage the audience’s interest, a storyteller includes interesting dialogues in the middle of narration. To balance the intellectually rigorous parts of a story, a storyteller sometimes includes some interesting facts and humor. When a story starts to drag, a storyteller adds emotional color to black and white words and presents the dry information entertainingly.
Interestingly, India has many remarkable entrepreneurs who have created numerous household brands. But perhaps, many loyal customers of these brands don’t know who made these brands and how? Many employees feel proud of their organizations, but perhaps, they don’t know how a visionary entrepreneur created that organization from scratch. Stories are not only required to educate customers and employees; they are also required to inspire an entrepreneur’s future generation. The next generation born with a silver spoon should know all the hard work their previous generation did to create something from nothing. Therefore, the way entrepreneurs collaborate with marketers to tell the world about their products, they should also collaborate with storytellers to tell the world about themselves.
The writer is the author of the book ‘Booming Brands.’ (Views expressed are personal and don’t necessarily represent any company’s opinions.)