The Sunbelt New Mexico Blog

Stories We Tell (About Our Brands)

A recent article at First Round discusses the importance of a good story. Narrative is one of the most relatable ways to communicate your identity and value—as a business, as a leader, as a person—to customers, employees, or investors. That communication establishes connection and builds genuine trust and excitement.

The article goes into lots of juicy detail. Here is quick summary, with some reflections, of key takeaways and actionable tips.

Pass the “Bar Test”

Would someone get your point and pay attention to you if you were telling your story at a bar? Your message should be concise and interesting enough that your audience sustains engagement, even in the face of distraction (be it the temptation to check emails about the next meeting or order another round). Nicole Kahn, formerly Senior Director of IDEO’s Design for Change Studio, says a compelling story should include these key elements:

  • A through-line that connects the dots
  • Anecdotal descriptions that draw the listener into the story
  • Moments of reflection that give your audience cues to linger on a particular thought or feeling

Language like “At this point, we often hear questions like X” or “And here I think Y is so important” can help guide your audience to the points you want them to consider.

Be Persuasive

Persuasion is strongest through clear messaging.

“Because they’ll remember random parts, you want to construct a message that — when sampled at any point — reinforces your argument and remains persuasive,” says product leader for Google Chrome Tyler Odean. “Keep it to the highlight reel and stick to a very short, simple message that you repeat in different ways again and again. When there are fewer things to remember, your audience is more likely to remember what matters.”

The Failure Story

There has been a lot written on the topic of leveraging the power of failure lately. Read more here.

Story as Culture

Molly Graham, former Culture and Employment Branding Manager for Facebook, suggests writing your own story—and sharing it with your team—to focus on what your stand for and reinforcing people’s association between you and those values.

“It can be four sentences or one paragraph or 3 values. But it needs to make it clear what you are and what you aren’t as a company,” says Graham. It also needs to give you language that you can re-use again and again in the press, in hiring, in product announcements, and at all-hands meetings to reinforce what your company is about, who you want to attract, and why you’re doing what you do.

Perspectives on Position

“Brand positioning” tells the story of what you’re building, why, and for whom.  Lean Branding author Laura Busche defines brand as “the unique story that consumers recall when they think of you.” She continues, “This story associates your product with your customers’ personal stories, a particular personality, what you promise to solve, and your position relative to your competitors. All human aspirations are opportunities for brands to build relationships.”

That last line might sound a little intense, but this opportunism need not be calloused. Listening to the stories of customers’ aspirations can help your business sincerely respond to their goals. Storytelling goes both ways. Good listeners make better storytellers because they have learned more about their customers’ (also, just generally human) experience.

Startup adviser Gibson Biddle recommends you gather and compare as many perspectives as possible to “capture and articulate” what others value about your company. Specifically:

  • What is it?
  • How does it improve customers’ lives?
  • What is its personality?

If the team lands on a different set of descriptions than you’d hope, try to answer why. Also try to answer the question, “What word do you want customers to associate with your brand?” Innovative? Healthy? Reliable? Efficient? Whatever it is, consider what your business will have to do over the next ten years in order to “own” that word.

Hero’s Journey

Pixar veteran and Apple Manager Oren Jacob reminds us that great stories have structure—a beginning, middle, and end. “The best meetings are the ones where the [stakeholders] in the room want to take this journey with you. To ensure this, you have to hit all the stops they’re anticipating. Lay out the map for them at the beginning: ‘I am going to talk about engagement; I am going to talk about monetization; I am going to talk about our team and features and potential competitors,’” Jacob says.

Motivational Failure

Some clichés endure for good reasons. Cat posters exhorting us to “hang” in there adorably/annoyingly acknowledge a universal truth: you’re going to mess up.

Own it. Learn from it. Use it to grow and teach others.

A recent First Round article highlights the importance of stories. What is a compelling example of a time you failed, persevered, and prevailed? As a leader, how can you share that experience with your team in a way that encourages courage?

Communicating vulnerability can make you more relatable and can instill your team with the confidence to take risks. Don Faul, CEO of Athos and former Pinterest Head of Operations, suggests crafting language around failure and inspiration carefully in advance. It’s important, he says, to make sure the story leaves the listener with a sense of potential. Faul also recommends experimenting on one or two trusted colleagues and tweaking your story based on their response. “It gives you a chance to strike your own balance between vulnerability and confidence,” he says.

This is an important point. Keep in mind the value in these stories is to help build confidence from a feeling of empathy, not to wallow in doubt! In another article, Senior Gametime Strategist and Fast Company writer Jackie Berkery suggests “vulnerability in moderation.”

The benefits of vulnerability get sidelined when your team hears you doubt your own management skills. Most of the time, your team needs someone who can inspire confidence, display composure and consistency, and lead by example. While there’s still ample room for showing empathy, owning your mistakes, and developing an approachable, open management style, expressing doubt in your abilities as a manager is not an effective strategy.

If “motivational failure” seems like an oxymoron, the NY Times recently published a piece with helpful examples. Researchers from Northwestern University compared two cohorts of young scientists. The groups were statistically identical except that one  had narrowly succeeded in a attaining a National Institutes of Health grant whereas the other had narrowly failed. Ten years later, the initially less successful group had gone on to more impactful careers. After controlling for various factors, the research team concluded that the higher performing group’s later success was causally connected to its initial setbacks.

The same article also suggests keeping a “failure résumé. Despite seeming a bit daunting, such a record can be a powerful tool to track your lessons and progress. It can also,  somewhat ironically, help to build confidence. Dr. Melanie Stephan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School and the first to popularize the failure résumé says, “Sometimes I look back on them and see how much I’ve actually struggled to be where I am. That’s a powerful reminder that I deserve to be here.”

Millennial Money

New Mexico is moving up in the ranks of states for millennials to live, according to WalletHub—all the way from last place to second to last place! The penultimate spot does not tell the whole story, though.

Albuquerque is a pretty great place millennials, in fact. The low cost of living, proximity to gorgeous outdoor scenery and recreation, and rich culture contribute to a high quality of life. The burgeoning film and tech industries are creating jobs and contributing to the “cool factor,” and supportive economic policies make it an opportune place to run a business.

According to Albuquerque Economic Development,

The region has a favorable ratio of residents in the key working age group of 20-34 years. Current estimates show that 19 percent of the population is in this key age bracket, compared to the national average of 18 percent. Albuquerque’s 20-34-year-old category is also projected to expand by a greater rate than the national average.

This matters, even if you eschew avocado toast and Instagram, because millennials are a crucial market. They are projected to become the largest generation this year and currently represent 21% of all discretionary spending in the United States.

CNBC summarizes a recent report by Coldwell Banker Global Luxury and WealthEngine that studied some of the economic and life choices of “millennial millionaires”—of whom there are apparently about 618,000.

The population of wealthy young people is growing, the report finds. And they’re getting richer: “By 2030, millennials will hold five times as much wealth as they have today, and are expected to inherit over $68 trillion from their predecessors in the Great Transfer of Wealth.”  The “Great Wealth Transfer” refers to the trillions of dollars that will be passed down to millennials from their baby boomer parents, who are considered the wealthiest generation in history.

The same study also found that millennials are choosing to live in more affordable markets and second-tier cities where it’s easier to get ahead financially. As we’ve reported, Albuquerque ranks in the top 10 affordable cities and top 5 for building wealth.

So factor millennial spending power into Albuquerque’s phenomenal economic growth potential. If you’re a millennial thinking about where to move,  take that WalletHub report with a grain of salt. And read about opportunities to own an ABQ business here.