As the Chief Creative Officer for Salesforce, I’m responsible for overseeing our brand, wherever it appears — across our different web properties, in advertising campaigns, at massive events like Dreamforce, and everywhere in between. And to build a great brand, you must first have a great story to tell.
One of the most important aspects of my job is telling stories — our Salesforce story, our employees’ stories, and the stories of our amazingly innovative customers. I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. Most of us are; storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. From the way you talk to your spouse about your day at work to how you report performance metrics back to your boss, you tell a story. You make decisions about which details are important, which to leave out, and package it all up into a beginning, middle, and end.
As a storyteller for a corporation, I’m not just trying to elicit an emotional response with the stories we tell (although that’s certainly important). I also use data to inform choices around user experience, design, and response rates. I want the work we create to generate clicks, which become leads, which eventually, through the hard work of our salespeople, become customers.
But in order to drive those clicks to meet those new potential customers, there needs to be a story — and it needs to be a good story. I want to inspire people — to get them to imagine and understand that there’s a better way with Salesforce. In my years as a storyteller, I’ve learned that you can’t inspire people without three key ingredients.
This may be obvious, but it’s actually pretty difficult to do unless you’re paying close attention to your craft. Start by asking yourself, ‘Why should anyone care?’ If you’re going to put something out there — if you’re going to take the time to sit down and write a story, or create a film — don’t bore people. When you’re telling a story, remember that people want to hear something profound, and they want to be moved.
People who talk about their own low points and what they did to change, and how they got to a certain place — those are the stories that we all want to hear. If you’re telling a story about how a business has transformed its customer service, you’ve got to talk about when the customer service was terrible. There’s nothing perfect about any of our lives or our businesses. We’re all trying to be better. If we’re not, or if we’re trying to pretend that everything is already perfect and we’re in denial, we won’t be in business much longer.
For any story, no matter what it is, you have to be honest. When people ask me what I believe makes a good manager, I can start with all of the things I do that inspire my employees to push themselves to innovate and think bigger than ever. And yes, that’s certainly interesting to a degree. But with some vulnerability, I can make that story much more powerful by talking about mistakes I’ve made along the way, or misconceptions about what makes a good manager that I’ve since corrected about myself. You have to reach the extremes of the theme that you want to tell — that’s when you can pull somebody in. People can smell inauthenticity a mile away, but they believe you when your story is real, and it’s honest.
Of course, these tips are much more widely than just brand or corporate storytelling. I believe that what makes stories compelling is agnostic of the topic — whether you’re talking about a company, or an individual, or an idea. Stories are what make people interesting. Stories are why we will matter in the world long after we’re gone. When you’re thinking about telling a story, remember the power that stories can have, as well as the formula for how to tell a great one.
The “What I’ve Learned” series features interviews with top Salesforce executives on what they’ve learned about business, success, and life. Keep your eyes peeled for more insights from top Salesforce executives, coming soon on the Salesforce Blog. In the meantime, check out Zissimos's first post, What I've Learned About Innovation.