The 2 words that will elevate your business storytelling
The news is not just about the facts.
Sure, who, what, where, when, why, and how are all important questions to answer, whether you’re launching a new product, announcing a new partnership, showing off a recent award, or letting the world know you’ll be at an upcoming tech show.
But those announcements are not the story. They are not the news.
Don’t get me wrong: Facts matter. They’re the skeleton of any business story, the structure you build a narrative on.
But to actually create the story, you can’t just list the facts. You have to seek out the bigger picture, fill in context, answer one simple question:
Why business storytelling should always start with “so what?”
The “so what?” test, as it’s come to be called, is an exercise in understanding what matters to your audience. When describing a product, too many companies simply list features – the facts. The best, however, use the “so what?” test to uncover and convey why those features matter to their customers.
The same applies when you’re telling a technology story in the media or on your own blog and social channels. Filmmaker, journalist, and author Nora Ephron learned this lesson in her high school journalism class. She realized the news is not just about the facts, it’s about what the facts mean.
Why are they significant? What’s the point?
How to create a story from the facts
Think back to Steve Jobs unveiling the first iPod. The big stat Jobs emphasized wasn’t the 5 GB of storage (the fact), it was the 1,000 songs you could carry in your pocket (what the fact meant).
When Jobs presented the first iPhone, his keynote was filled with the phone’s specs, but he also took plenty of time to put them in context.
His presentation alternated between what was currently called a smartphone and what the new iPhone was capable of. Instead of the “baby internet,” it had the real internet. Instead of a fixed keyboard and styluses, the iPhone could change the user interface based on the app and you could control it with your fingers. Instead of something complex and difficult to use, the iPhone was simple and intuitive. That back and forth between old and new offered context that revealed just how much of a leap forward Apple’s first phone was.
For another example, consider Elon Musk introducing Tesla’s electric semi truck.
He runs through all the facts: 0-60 speed, how it handles a 5 percent grade, its drag coefficient, and its mileage range on each charge.
But throughout, he compares the Tesla semi to its diesel counterpart – and to a supercar – to show how far ahead it actually is. That context of what’s currently possible and available adds meaning to all the stats.
If you just state the facts and assume readers will understand their significance like you do, you leave open the door for misunderstanding or just plain apathy.
You have to broadcast to readers from your headlines and first sentences why they should care and why the facts they’re absorbing have weight and significance.
The questions that will lead you to your business story
Let’s look at a few scenarios in which “so what?” can help you take your story to a higher plane.
1. You have a new product or service.
- What customer needs does it fulfill?
- How does it compare to similar products or services?
- What are its superlatives – is it the first? Fastest? Best?
- What big picture trends does it connect with?
2. You just entered a new partnership.
- What does the partnership mean for your industry and customers?
- Why was it necessary?
- What does it improve?
3. You won an award.
- Why is the award notable?
- Who else has won in the past?
- What does it mean for your company at this stage of your growth?
4. You’re attending a tech show.
- What new products are you introducing?
- What products will you demo?
- Why should reporters stop by your booth instead of hundreds or thousands of others?
These are the kinds of questions we help clients answer every day. In the end, the facts are the easy part. How to convey those facts in a compelling narrative is always the challenge and is different for every company.
Some stories, after all, are better than others. Some resonate more with your customers. Some resonate more with the media. But a story will always resonate more than facts alone.
Take a look back at your last press release. Think about your next announcement. What’s the meaning behind it? Why does it matter to your audience?
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