Modern storytelling: What consultants can learn from cowboys

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Modern storytelling: What consultants can learn from cowboys

September 30, 2020

Cowboys und Storrytelling
Official press foto from the US-series „The Cowboy Way

Do you have a soft spot for westerns? Do you like cowboys? Do you fight every day as a strategy consultant or auditor for your clients’ attention to put across your USP?

Even if you answered “Yes” to only one of the three questions, you should still check out the Super Bowl spot “Cat Herders“. Bill Clinton once called it his favorite commercial.

Subsequently you will understand even better why storytelling is a key marketing tool in the ‘content is king’ era.

And this is also true in B2B for high-margin products and services.

Cat Herders” is the award-winning commercial for Electronic Data Systems (EDS), an IT outsourcing consultancy. Alluding to the management idiom “It’s like herding cats“, it describes the (successful) attempt to control the uncontrollable.

In the gigantic Western metaphor, cowboys are forcing thousands of cats through the prairies of Montana.
The happy ending is “EDS.solved” underlined by the slogan “Managing complexities in the digital economy“.

In short: A powerful story!

Storytelling as a strategy against the attention span of a goldfish in an ‘always on’ world

According to neuroscientists, our brain does not differentiate much between reality and fiction. Since the Stone Age, we have shared ‘best practices’ in the form of stories – for example, how to shoot a mammoth together or where there is clean water.

Hence storytelling probably is the oldest ‘soft skill’ of mankind.

This helps in a world of total stimulus satiation: Between 10,000 and 13,0000 commercial messages per day are cracking down on decision makers. And this with ever shorter attention spans.
According to Microsoft, this is now only eight seconds – that of a goldfish is nine seconds.

Storytelling enables experience rather than understanding. It skilfully contributes to winning the race for attention. It helps to be heard and understood – just like at the campfire. Those who rely on emotions in exciting narratives instead of dry facts or hypotheses differentiate themselves from the competition.

“Being able to tell stories well, contributes […] to maintaining power in the long run.”

… is what organizational psychologist Dacher Keltner claims.

This makes it doubly interesting for professional services players. They all have the same problem: abstraction.
In the (supposed) compulsion to address as many of a client’s needs as possible, one thing falls by the wayside. Namely, making the ‘added value’ tangible.

Brutally phrased:

If your client does not understand ad hoc in a pitch or whilst reading your study exactly how your services help their company, you will not succumb to the mammoth.

So please: Do better forget the fairy tale that a B2B audience does not respond to stories!

People remain people – even in business. They love comprehensible stories. This is what advertising legend Harrison McCann called “truth well told” when he founded his agency in 1911. It is successfully using this claim till today.

Why it needs a hero: Whether cowboy, superman, restructuring consultant or auditor!

Captivating stories almost always follow the same principle: the “Heroes’ Journey“. Inspired by the depth psychologist Jung, US professor Joseph Campbell researched this pattern as the first.

His book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” was published already back in 1949.

Christopher Vogler described the relevance for successful entertainment in “The Writer’s Journey“. Since then, the heroes’ journey has been the dramaturgical building principle for successful Hollywood films – whether “Star Wars” or “Pretty Woman” or “Finding Nemo”.

The same applies to storytelling. Imagine it as a four-step process:

  1. Your client is the hero of his/her personal story.
  2. Declare his/her pain points as your common enemy.
  3. Take on the role of the brave, supportive hero who shows the main character how to overcome the enemy.
  4. Accompany the hero through his journey full of obstacles and defeat the enemy together at the happy ending.

The bottom line:

In the majority of marketing messages, the product/consulting service embodies the role of the hero and cries out for admiration.
But good stories work differently!
People identify themselves with people, not with products. So redistribute the roles and make your client the hero!

Six golden rules for a little drama – at least in storytelling

1. Understand your target group to be understood

Only those who really know their audience will write successful pitch decks, studies or LinkedIn posts. It is important to know what your audience knows – or doesn’t know.
Those who understand their clients’ expectations can convince through stories.

2. So smart you might be: Keep it simple

Especially strategy consultancies or auditing firms have an immeasurable knowledge base. So far, so good! The art, however, is to concentrate the messages on the essentials. Less is more – and ideally on a quickly comprehensible level.
Clients do not give away brownie points for the hundredth slide.

3. Data of relevance – no more, no less

For good storytelling, it’s never the thousandth data point at the back of the backup that counts, but the most relevant ones. A study – just as the pitch to the CEO or the supervisory board – only includes data that support the hypothesis and stringently substantiates the solution approach.

4. The more concrete, the more effective

Quotes, case studies and testimonials – especially in videos or podcasts – play a decisive role. Let clients, multipliers and influencers as well as your own consultants tell the stories.
As aptly said: “the proof is in the pudding“. Is there anything more convincing than happy clients explaining how you have successfully transformed their company?

5. Skip the typcial consultant language: Speak like a human being!

As Daniel Kahneman proves in his bestseller “Thinking, Fast and Slow“:
We always make our decisions first emotionally and only then justify them rationally. So speak/write like a human being even in business.

Even the hardest pitch in front of a DAX-board is ultimately a situation where one person tells a story to another one.

It is the true – and sometimes emotional – story that decide for (or against) a service provider. Consultant ‘speech’, acronyms and ‘Denglish’ are only disturbing.

6. Last but not least: Define empathy as the framing for the bigger picture

Especially in times of crisis it is important to build up closeness and authenticity. This works a lot better with strong stories than with facts.
Use empathy – the sensitive understanding of your clients – as one of the most powerful levers of communication.
Especially when ♯socialdistancing and the cancellation of all physical events makes it difficult to maintain emotional bonds.

Now good luck with “tell to sell” – whether you are a strategy consultant, an auditor or a headhunter

In the end, what counts are the highest possible rates of lead generation and conversions. And you achieve these faster and more sustainably with a story. Personal, authentic brand stories by people for people create a sense of connection.

So be courageous:
Tell the right stories, tell them right and in the right place.

Let’s have a phone call about this!

At Brand Strategists, we never forget: This is your story – and you are the hero of this script.
Together we will make your abstract consulting services and complex messages tangible.

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