Tech companies like Uber, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Salesforce have mastered the art of story, catapulting their brands into market leaders that no competitors have come close to touching. Here’s what you can learn from them.

Ben Horowitz, one of the investors in Airbnb, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, says that storytelling is the most underrated skill in business.

But so what, right? Why should we care about stories in business? Horowitz has an answer to that too. He believes that a great product is the foundation of a good company, but it’s a compelling story that puts that company into motion.

We’ve built Digital Kungfu around the idea that not only does every company have a story to share, but that it’s critical for them to be sharing it if they want to generate leads and own their target market.

We are all slaves to story

I launched The Matt Brown Show two years ago because I wanted to learn from South Africa’s great entrepreneurs and business minds. After more than 150 podcast episodes, the biggest lesson has been that we are all slaves to story.

The narratives that brands and people tell themselves and the people around them are what determine success or failure. More importantly, the real value of a brand isn’t what we tell people it is, but rather what people tell each other it is, and the only way you get people talking about you to each other is through a compelling story.

On a personal level, I believe that the only thing that stops you from having what you want in business and in life is the story you keep telling yourself about why you can’t have it. Changing your inner narrative really will change your life.

The same is true within the B2B environment. Tech companies like Uber, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Salesforce have mastered the art of story, catapulting their brands into market leaders that no competitors have come close to touching – and yet many tech companies, while great at technology, struggle with sharing their stories.

Why Uber, AWS and Salesforce own their markets

Story is all about owning the problem of your target customers because when you market the problem better than your competitors, they will only accredit you with the solution. Get your story right, and your customers will not only buy into what you’re offering, they won’t be able to remember their lives in the absence of your solution as your story becomes their story.

The reality is that you have to market different. When you’re similar to everybody else, the market simply won’t care about what you do and what you have to offer. You’ll be invisible and always feed off the scraps of the available market potential, which is what too many businesses do.

Companies that are different gobble up all the economics of their market. Uber, AWS and Salesforce own the markets that they play in because they marketed a different problem, one that their customers didn’t even know they had yet. Once the story was told and people bought into it however, these giants were accredited with the solution to the problem. This is category design in action.

Today, Uber is valued at $120 billion, a valuation eight times higher than their nearest competitor Lyft, which is valued at $15 billion. The businesses that win today are the ones that market the problem best and the best way to market anything is through the power of story.


The storytelling differentiator

Our niche is the technology space. As a team we have a background in tech, and we’ve found that we make the biggest impact when we work with technology companies. We believe that this is because we understand story and adopt an agile marketing approach in delivering the story to end customers. The reality is that every tech company has a great story to tell – it is always their biggest differentiator – but their ability to tell their story is where the gap is.

We recently launched Microsoft’s Head Start initiative in South Africa. It’s a program designed specifically for tech startups to help them scale, and offers support in the areas of technology, partnerships, mentorships and a global network. Microsoft’s challenge was that there are a number of brands also vying for the attention of the startups in their space.

Talking product and service didn’t differentiate them – customers no longer pay attention to features and benefits. They want to know that you understand them, their needs, challenges and pain. And the only way to do that is to paint a picture of them transforming into the hero of the story as a result of using your technology solutions.

Using storytelling, we didn’t just deliver one single idea or message on one medium, which is what traditional advertising does. Instead, we created a campaign that delivered multiple ideas, using multiple messages on several mediums in an informative, educational and entertaining way. Ultimately, a story is just a sequence of events that leads to something and that’s what makes complicated products easily understandable, relatable and memorable.

3 steps to getting started on your story

People like to buy from people they know, like and trust. The irony is that most businesses do not have a face – someone at the helm of the business that is defining a new vision for their customers and helping them to make that vision a reality. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Steve Jobs and Apple are great examples of CEOs who used stories to convey the value of their products and services to their customers.

The problem is that we can’t all be Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, and so your story needs to live and breathe for customers. This is not a nice to have, it’s a must have.

So, how do you get started? First, start with a storytelling framework. We have developed our own storytelling IP specifically for technology businesses, but there are several approaches one can use. Importantly, a story driven campaign is not the same as an advertising campaign. Advertising on its own can never move a market the way you need it to. Only a story can do that, because we are all hard wired for them. It is scientifically proven, that when we hear a story, we can’t help but pay attention.

Once you have your story fundamentals in place you need to identify creative opportunities for execution. One execution is not enough. When we take a Lightning Strike campaign to market, we use at least 120 executions, across multiple mediums and content formats to convey the story we want to tell. Don’t expect a single idea or advert to generate leads. Stories are built upon, step by step, entrenching the idea that you are the owner of the customers problem. This doesn’t require huge billboards, but consistent messaging on platforms where your target audience consume content.

Finally, our data shows that by combining storytelling, agile marketing and branded content together businesses can produce up 40% more leads for their business. How would that work for your business?