What’s Your Story?

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What’s your story?

What do these stories have in common?

At the dawn of the computer revolution, IBM needed an operating system for it’s new desktop computers. This was right around the time that Bill Gates had dropped out of Harvard, and he and Paul Allen started to build the nascent Microsoft. Gates heard about the opportunity to bid on the IBM contract, except for one small detail: Microsoft had not yet built an operating system. So what did he do? Gates went out and found an operating system for sale – DOS – bought it, and then licensed it to IBM. (Interesting extra fact: There are more computers running Windows today than there are cars on the planet.)

Or consider the small animation studio that started up in West Los Angeles the 1980s. Business was OK, nothing special. They needed a big client. After a few years the founders figured they had a better chance of catching the big fish named Disney if they were at least in closer proximity to the giant studio, so they moved their entire business (such as it was) over the hill to Burbank and set up shop. Within a few years, they had met enough people from the studio that Disney decided to give them a shot, and now, 25 years later, Disney is still their biggest customer.

Among other things, both businesses have a great story to tell. People love hearing stories. Stories engage. Stories connect.

What are the movies? Movies are stories. What makes for a great book? A great story. What makes for a memorable summer campfire? You bet, a good story.

What’s your story? Have a good one and people will remember you and your business. Don’t and they won’t.

This lesson was reinforced to me yet again last week when I attended the Microsoft Worldwide Partners Conference (WPC) in Toronto.

For starters, among the many fascinating workshops that were offered and that I attended was my favorite, entitled “Creating Stories that Bring Home the Bacon.” In it, the presenter (Julie Simpson) shared why thinking about, crafting, and being able to succinctly share your business story is such a compelling way to grow your business.

Think about it: Sure, you could create an ad or tweet or commercial or whatever that trumpets why people should buy your product or service. Companies do that every day. All day. Ad naseum. But really, with all of the clutter and noise out there today, how much do you think they get heard? How many rise above the din?

Right, not many.

According to Ms. Simpson, what works far better is to tell a S.T.O.R.Y. – Sell Them an Outcome so they Remember You. For the small businessperson, this means crafting a tale about your business that would hook people, something they would find interesting and relatable about your business. Doing that will draw folks in, humanize your business, and create a connection.

And this is not just true for small business. It’s true for all businesses. Take Microsoft for example. One of the most fascinating parts of attending the WPC was seeing just how different Microsoft is today than even, say, five years ago. As my own paper USA TODAY put it, these days Microsoft is “cool again.”

It’s an amazing story.

I have worked with Microsoft on and off for over a decade. Rather than the big business that it obviously is, these days it seems like a new business, a fresh business, not that unlike like the startup Bill Gates created all those years ago that took bold risks.

As the story goes, new CEO Satya Nadella has not only reinvigorated the business and its employees but helped set a new direction that moved the tech giant away from its bread-and-butter desktop software towards a bold new cloud-based future. Not an easy task. It is a big bet and significant pivot. And it seems to paying off in spades, with the company creating loads of great products that people love.

Notice that I haven’t even told you yet what those products are. But I bet you want to know, don’t you?

That’s the power of a great story.

What’s yours?