The Olympics are over but the images from the games are lingering in my mind. I watched a little bit of everything -- from water polo and climbing, to track and swimming, to bike racing and gymnastics. The picture that takes up the most my 2020 Olympics memory, however, isn’t anything that happened at one of the events. It’s a picture of Suni Lee’s front yard where the homemade balance beam that she practiced on as a child could be found.
I confess to being a little bit biased towards Suni because she’s from my home state of Minnesota. However, there were two women from my state on the women’s gymnastics team and I don’t feel the same connection to Grace MacCallum than I do to Suni. Why? It’s not because of her gold medal. It’s because I know Suni’s story.
NBC is brilliant in how they weave personal stories of the athletes into their event coverage. I have no doubt that this is strategic. While we can get an emotional reaction from watching the action that takes place in a competition, it’s the story that pulls us in and connects us with the individuals who are involved, and the most powerful pull comes when we hear the stories of how they overcame obstacles in life and in their athletic careers.
When it comes to women’s gymnastics, there’s no shortage of stories of adversity. While Suni Lee had to participate in a competition immediately after her dad had a debilitating accident, Grace MacCallum has had to overcome an injury that could have ended her gymnastics career when she was 13. New stories unfolded in real time during the Olympics as Simone Biles withdrew from team competition then re-entered and won medals in individual events.
If you asked me what technical skills set each gymnast apart from the others, I wouldn’t be able to answer. I don’t know a double-pike backward flip from a “twisty.” Sure, I oohed and awed at the amazing physical feats that were performed but I can’t pull those images up in my mind, and I can’t conjure up the emotion that I felt when I saw the athlete perform, whether it was flawless or a miss. But I can see the wheelchair ramp that goes up to Suni’s family home and I can vicariously feel the elation and pride that her family exhibited as they watched her compete in Tokyo from St. Paul, Minnesota.
When it comes to being memorable, you need to have a story and that’s the lesson for those of us who work to attract attention and turn interest into action in the world of Sales and Marketing. Without our stories, we struggle to communicate how we’re different from all the other companies who seemingly offer the same thing.
We think that technical superiority is going to be our best differentiator for landing a new client, or that a video of the cool machinery on our manufacturing floor is going to convince job candidates to apply for our open positions. That may be important information at some point in the conversation, but it’s not what will make us stick out in the minds of the people we want to reach, and it’s not likely to get someone to decide that today’s the day that they take action to solve a festering problem.
Only stories can do that and that’s why they’re your competitive advantage.
What this looks like in practice is simple. It’s the stories of how your product or service solved a problem for your customer. It’s the stories of why your people think that you’re a great employer.
The way you get these stories is to ask. People are more willing to share their experience than you might think. And when you help them organize their thoughts and words in a way that they can’t do themselves, they’re so pleased with the result and often can’t believe that this came from them. They’re happy to share and being shareable allows your message to travel to people you couldn’t otherwise reach.
The takeaway lesson from the storytelling that was woven throughout the Olympics coverage is that while technical expertise might get you to the event, it’s your story that makes you memorable. It’s about the journey as much as it’s about the prize.
Talking to people to get their story and them help them to tell it is my favorite thing to do. Contact me to find out how I can help you tell the stories that will communicate your competitive advantage.