Have you every heard someone telling a story that really captivated you, or maybe changed the way you think on a certain topic? Storytelling can be a powerful tool we use in connecting to each other.
Today we are going to be looking at how we can use storytelling effectively to improve our relationships, our career, and our brand. We are talking to Seth Erickson, who is an author, founder and CEO of the Storify agency, where they help brands tell their best story.
Seth’s recently released book titled How To Hack Humans dives into the specifics of how humans respond emotionally to storytelling. You can checkout the first chapter of the book for free at https://www.storifyagency.com/befun.
This podcast is produced by BeFun BeKind Podcasts. If you’re interested in starting or growing a podcast like this one visit Befunbekind.com to start your journey.
Brent: Today we are going to be talking about how storytelling can be a huge part of relationship building, especially as it relates to your career. That can be in leadership positions, that can be in marketing, that can be in running a company. We are going to be talking to Seth Erickson, who is an author, founder, CEO of the Storify agency, where they help brands tell their best story.
Seth Erickson. This is going to be a fun conversation. You’ve got some books coming out. I know you’ve got your own agency and want to get into all that, but first of all, I just want to know a little bit more about you. Tell us your story.
Seth Erickson: So where to start, I guess origin story.
I for a long time ran a design agency and we, did a lot of design won a bunch of awards and I was getting dissatisfied with that because I went to design school and they were like, design is amazing. It changes the world, but I didn’t see it actually. Helping push my client’s business forward or move the needle.
Like they were happy with the work and they loved working with us, but I was like, yeah, but, I want you to have a better life. I want the things that I do to matter in your life and improve that. And around 2015 this dissatisfaction grew and a friend of mine pointed out to me, he goes, man, you’re a storyteller.
That’s your thing? And I was like no, I’m a designer. I design things. And. So he gave me this book called a story wars by Jonah Sachs. And the book basically started breaking down storytelling and why it was so useful. And I was like this is fascinating. This makes a ton of sense.
From there. I started going, I want to learn more about the storytelling thing, and I basically bought just about every book I could get my hands on, on audible. Audible was very happy with me that year. I. And so I just read and read and read and read. And what I started noticing was, here and there these storybooks, not all of them, but some of them, they started talking about neuroscience and I was like I like brain stuff.
That’s cool. And so then I started reading research papers on the topic and, ones that were connected specifically to what happens with story. How does it affect us? What goes on in the brain and all that stuff. And so I read several hundred papers. They’re all boring, but I kinda took that information and distilled it down and started going, okay.
I have a better picture of what’s going on. So the agency then switched from just being a design agency to more of a branding storytelling agency. And we started realizing too that By having these different conversations. Our clients were seeing us in a different light and we were able to start doing things for them that were actually causing their business to grow or to improve everything from, cold email campaigns to getting more sales to anything that would move the needle financially. Once we started applying story, the customers, even ones that had never heard of these companies before started raising their hand and saying, yeah, I’m interested in learning more about what you have. And so that was the transition.
It took me several years to put it all together because I think the first thing. To that guy who said, you’re a storyteller, as I was like, great. How do you make money doing that? In my mind, storytellers were directors and screenwriters in Hollywood or people who wrote books, and I was like I’m never going to do any of that.
Little did I know? That’s that’s how I got here. There’s not really a degree and storytelling, right? You can’t just go, oh, I’m going to go get a degree in storytelling. It’s one of those things that you have to research and figure it out for yourself and then just start testing and applying things. That worked really well. Now I need to do this for more people, so that’s how I ended up here.
Brent: That’s awesome. Yeah. I think storytelling and marketing go hand in hand. And if you look at brands and if you look at how we connect to brands, we’re not necessarily connecting to a logo.
We’re not necessarily connecting to a commercial or a graphic, or really even connecting to a celebrity. I think a lot of times people think they hire celebrities so we can connect to them. But you’re so right on there with the story thing, we connect to stories with brands and really as individual people, if you talk about branding yourself that works for everyone, right?
We all have a brand, especially in this digital ecosystem that we are in now, every single person out there has a brand, and learning how to tell your story in a succinct way, in a powerful way is just a really cool thing to understand. Now, I think it’s something that we could probably all do a little bit better.
Yeah, I am 100% on board with the storytelling and marketing. They’re run they’re together.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. What I found is that everybody knows what a story is but they don’t realize that all of us, we’re all storytellers. That’s just what we do naturally. And it’s one of those things that we kinda overlook like breathing, because we just do it and it happens. And we don’t think about. Can I get better at this thing? Can I improve my skill? Can I tell a better story? Most people just tell okay stories or they tell stories in the wrong way and it’s part of my job is to educate people on the, on this and help them understand that they have a story and that they can tell it, but they need to tell it in the right way, because as powerful as storytelling is, it is not a silver bullet, right?
If you tell the wrong story to the wrong people, then your story is going to fall flat, right? If you start talking about, a topic that nobody cares about and you’re telling a story, that they don’t relate to that topic, then they’re just going to nod their head and say, okay, thanks.
But if you can tell it in the right way, you can even bypass that. It’s just really understanding the mechanics, the what’s in the recipe. How does it all work together and then applying it effectively?
Brent: Yeah. So what does a good storytelling exercise? Does anything come to mind as something that we could pass along to, I don’t know, the people we’re around or pass along to ourselves, just to understand better as an exercise we could implement in our own life. Anything come to mind?
Seth Erickson: Oh yeah, definitely. So the quickest, one of the easiest stories that you can tell is problem solution where most people try to put the solution first it’s order of operations, right?
You got to start with the problem and then you work towards the solution. So that’s a very simplistic view of storytelling. The most popular formula or format or pattern for storytelling is to understand the hero’s journey. Understand. The ups and the downs and how you as the company are really the mentor that steps in and says, I understand this problem, and I’m going to help you, the customer, as the hero, overcome that problem.
Most companies flip it around and they try to be the hero, you see this all the time. If it was different, there wouldn’t be anything to say about that. Using the hero’s journey understanding the conflict between the hero and the villain, right?
The villain is the problem in the customer’s life. Understanding what kind of transformation that the hero is looking for to overcome the villain or the problem, understanding how they feel in that situation. Because it’s not just what they think it’s also what they feel and what’s happening to them.
Positioning yourself like I said, as the mentor that understands the problem at a deep level, because you’re an expert. So understanding the problem at a deep level and explaining to your customer that you understand that problem at a deep level, and then, painting a picture for them to say if you work with me or you go with my solution, your life could look like this as opposed to something else.
One of the big things is understanding what type of mentor you are, right? Obi wan Kenobi is a very different type of mentor. He’s more stoic, in his older age, compared to Yoda and his older age and he’s, cantankerous and a little wily. And and so understanding what kind of mentor you are also helps your communication and what kind of experience you create for people.
So those are just some of the ingredients that you can put into a story and kind of apply it right now, just by sitting down and thinking about these things and going, okay, what kind of story do I want to tell?
Brent: That’s a good point. I think also something that maybe we don’t connect right off the bat is that this is all relationship development as well. And I think if you are in the marketing space, you maybe understand that. But if you’re not specifically in the marketing space, you are building relationship journey all through the process with your customer. And if you, again, going back to relating this to the normal person, if you are building a persona, if you’re building a community online, or just building a following in general, you have to build a relationship with the people that you are coming to. And to do that storytelling is, or should be, or can be a huge part of that. So the hero’s journey that you said, I think is an excellent way to think through how to get that message across in a way that motivates the person that you’re talking to, to get involved with what you’re doing can take action on what you’re doing.
Seth Erickson: One of the things that I think is important to add onto what you just said is you need emotion.
If you don’t have any emotion, if people don’t feel any way about the story you’re telling, then they’re not going to take action. They’re just going to be like, Okay, whatever, right? They have to feel something to take action. There’s an example that I talk about in the book about a neuroscientist who had a patient who had a damaged amygdala, and because of the amygdala was damaged, he was not able to make decisions.
He would literally go to the store and stand in the milk section for 30 minutes, because he didn’t feel one way or the other about products. And he couldn’t make a decision because of that. And so I just wanted to add that little piece on there that your stories should have some level of emotion to it.
It doesn’t have to be hype-y and super negative and crazy and everything, but it does need it enough to get people to take that action.
Brent: Yeah, absolutely. Emotions definitely have to be involved. And that actually is a good segway into what I wanted to talk about next, which is the storytelling visual experience.
And I think you could maybe approach that more than one way. Obviously, if you have a visual, being on TV. If this is a commercial or you’re putting something out on Instagram, there could very much be an actual visual element to the story that you’re creating, but in podcasting, which is what we’re doing right now, it’s audio based.
A lot of times when you’re just having a conversation with people, it is not an actual visual element, but I think there’s still a lot to be said for a storytelling visual experience. And I’d love to just understand how you would come about that. Crafting that visual and people’s mind and helping them get on board with the emotions that you want people to develop from a visual
Seth Erickson: perspective. Yeah. Visually speaking that, people say things like a picture’s worth a thousand words, and if you can connect the visuals to an idea or an emotion then. That kind of triggers will trigger that emotion. It was funny. I was talking with with another gentleman and he said how would you do this for a gas station?
And I said you have to think about what what emotions people have that are attached to gas stations. What it’s just gas. And I said, where did you ever grow up in a household where you got to take the car out for the first time? What did your parents tell you?
Don’t bring the gas tank back empty. So now we’re connecting that, that memory to that basic idea, but that would be something that you could turn into a commercial, right? That would be something that you could use a visual medium for having pictures of people experiencing emotions is another way to trigger emotions.
It’s one of the things that, that happens in our brain. We have the synopsis that, that basically allow us to have empathy, although not everybody uses that but they do exist. So if you see somebody, hurt, crying, sad, happy our brain sees that and recognize it in the visual sense.
And that’s another way to tie that emotional piece in there.
Brent: That’s a good point. I wonder if there’s a specific emotion that does better than others? I don’t know. I have some standup comedy people in my life and they have said as part of their craft they use a lot of awkward based emotions. Everyone does something different. It could have just been that this particular person, but they said that was a big part of their storytelling experiences that people can really relate to just the awkward moments in their life. A lot of people respond really powerfully to confrontation. And they use that. And so I’m curious in what you do and from a marketing perspective and from a relationship building perspective, actually, are there certain emotions that you think really go deeper and connecting with people than others?
Seth Erickson: I think like you said, I think humor is really important.
I think in business, it makes companies stand out because some people use humor, but very few do. Look at any email that you get, like hardly anybody says anything funny in there, right? And so you can use humor to stand out. Like I said before, you can use. To say, I get what you’re going through and I understand you, right?
That is an emotion that you can use to, to connect with people. But in general, stories are just easy to digest and easy to understand and get to the point. And so that helps you connect, if you’re, again, if you’re doing it in the right way. But yeah, I think that.
A lot of different emotions that work in. It’s if you could just trigger any of them, which most advertising, like there are good ads and they’re good emails and there’s good marketing here and there, but there’s not a lot of it that really stands out because it doesn’t trigger that emotion.
It’s just I’ve already seen this before. Emotions are triggered, right? Like I’ve seen this concept over and over again. It’s, or I’ve heard businesses talk to me this way over and over again. And so there’s nothing that’s going on there but yeah humor to me is a big one.
Makes people smile. Feel good. And then they attach that feeling to your brand or your company as opposed to the boring dear, sir, Madam kind of, corporate speak. So
Brent: Yeah, there was a commercial a few years ago. I don’t remember how long it’s been. Maybe. Four or five years ago that came out, Coke did the commercial.
It was this guy riding in a bus or a subway. I think it was a subway. Who’s riding in a subway. And apparently they had hired someone that had just a really contagious laugh. And this guy is acting, of course, he’s pretending he’s looking at something on his phone and just starts laughing.
Can’t stop laughing. And the people around him in his immediate vicinity start laughing and they can’t stop laughing because that guy was laughing and then the people around them start laughing because it was just a illustration of what you just described, how contagious laughter is and how contagious smiling and how contagious humor is.
After a little bit, when the bus stopped or where the subway stopped, everyone was laughing and in a good mood and they were connecting and relating to each other. And that was Coke. So they’re all about experience.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. Yeah. Coke quite often is invoking that those positive feelings around community friends, family, like a lot of their advertising kind of focuses on that.
Whereas Pepsi kind of juxtaposes and is very. Youth oriented. They’re like, we’re the cool kids. We got, this thing and that thing going on, but Coke is always reminding people like, have a Coke with your friend, have a Coke at your Christmas party, the world’s a better place when we’re all together and happy and enjoying Coca-Cola right.
Brent: Yeah. The sugar-free option though. They say sugar’s bad for you. Yeah I don’t know. Who knows about that stuff.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. I think it just depends on your, maybe your metabolism or where you are in life.
Brent: That’s so true. Absolutely. And actually, you mentioned something in your book that is also a neat illustration of this.
You talk about someone is listening to a commercial. I don’t remember which one it is. Someone was listening to a commercial and at the end of it, they said, I hated that commercial. That was the worst commercial, and then you asked them what the commercial was about and they told you immediately who it was.
And that was a cool illustration of I don’t know, hate would be the emotion there or not, but sort of discussed their frustration at the commercial that can even be an emotion that sticks with people and that they remember.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. Yeah. Emotion is what helps push things into long-term memory as well, besides just the action taking component.
So yeah they turned to me and said that was the dumbest commercial I’ve ever seen. And I said, what was the name of the company? And they said, Workday. And I said, exactly like this is exactly what I’ve been talking about. And it’s like the old adage was it something like, even negative press is still good press, right?
Because people remember that and and smart marketers will we’ll use that to spend that for in their favor. So yeah, emotions are incredible. Powerful is I think the gist of all that.
Brent: Yeah, that’s a good illustration as well. Even bad advertisement can still work in your favor. And I don’t know, don’t quote me verbatim on this, becaude it has been a while since I’ve heard this and I don’t even know the specific specifics of it, but there was some sort of local election where this guy had just gotten out of prison and he decided that he was going to run for whatever the local office was, had zero publicity, but no one else had any publicity either.
Apparently, but whatever this guy had done to get in prison, he had gotten some publicity for that. And so people ahead his name on their mind. They didn’t know how they didn’t know how or where they remembered him from. And he won the election because even though he is, even though his publicity was negative.
He had some publicity versus the other people not having any.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. Speaking of bad advertising, I’m sure you’ve seen the bad lawyer ads, like the Texas hammer and stuff. And they’re like the cheesiest ads ever, or the Eagle or again so there’s actually.
These two guys that help make those commercials. And they’ve made them for a bunch of people all over the country, when people see them, they’re like, that is so stupid. I should totally hire that guy. It’s like, how does that work? But yeah, they’re just over the top. They’re cheesy.
They are designed To invoke an emotion in people. And it’s either, yeah, it’s either a laugh laughter or they think it’s serious, but really it’s a parody of, what a lawyer would normally do. So it stands out and it’s different in the way that, they tell that story.
Brent: That’s a good point. Yeah, no emotions are. Emotions are really powerful ways that we relate and connect to each other. I think that a lot of us underestimate the power of just what communicating through emotions can do. So that is all an excellent point. Something else I wanted to talk about, and this is an extension maybe of storytelling and marketing a bit.
I want to connect the dots to storytelling and leadership just a bit because we have a lot of people that tune in from a leadership perspective on this. And I think there is something there for that. I think there’s something to be said there. Just because again, it’s about relationship building and from a personal standpoint, we’ve talked a lot about corporate marketing and branding from that perspective.
I want to hone in a little bit on the individual aspects of this and from a leadership perspective, how you can use storytelling in your favor. And so from a personal perspective, is there anything specific or anything that, that you’ve noticed incorporated storytelling either in their personal brand or from a leadership perspective.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. There definitely is. So to answer that this actually branches off into another area that I think you, you would find interesting, but the key with telling a personal story, besides the other elements that I mentioned in there, Is really to say, at the end of it, have a, and this is what I learned, right?
You have to be Promethius, bringing fire, right? You’re like, I went through this experience and here’s what I gained here’s what I’m going to teach you here. Here’s how I’m going to help you. Here’s how I’m going to educate you, make your life better. Because I went through this experience, but lots of times people just tell the story about themselves. And then that’s the end of the story. Like this thing happened, that thing happened, this other thing happened. And now here we are. And that’s that’s not really it doesn’t really benefit anybody in, in, in that it’s I can learn, some facts.
About you, right? You’re this old you’ve been in business this long. What not, but so even in like when people have like about pages on their website I’m always like, yeah. Make it about the customer. Like I did all these things so that I could help you. That’s how I look at that.
In, in leadership having a strong vision is a story. This is where we’re going, everybody. This is what we’re striving towards, that, It’s a future state that we’re all working towards, but that is a story that, you would tell inside of your organization to help people move forward and know what they should be doing every day.
Story is just steeped into everything. It’s like, where do we start with this conversation? I’m sure you’ve noticed that people that can hold an audience’s attention are good storytellers, right? Comedians tell stories and they hold the audience’s attention.
They’re waiting for that punchline. They’re waiting for that aha moment. That thing that’s, gonna make everybody laugh. And I think strong leaders who develop that skill. Can, connect with their employees. They can build them up through storytelling. They can, by casting a vision that inspires people.
Yeah, I see a lot of what what leaders can do with storytelling and how they use it to be very positive and and very useful for motivating, your team and the people that you work.
Brent: When you said incorporating lessons learned from the story, especially if it is a personal story.
I think vulnerability can be a powerful thing in there as well. And that may be what you were alluding to. I think that can be super powerful in connecting with people. And one, again, the relationship building process, which is really what a lot of us are set out to do to do in branding and in marketing in general is building relationship to some degree.
I think a lot of people maybe either don’t connect the dots on the vulnerability or maybe struggle with it. I think it’s something people can just struggle with in general.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. To be authentic, you have to be. You have to be your true self and none of us are perfect, right? Like we’ve all made a million mistakes.
I’ve talked to the team and I said, sometimes I just feel like I’m failing uphill. Like I, I I’ve done the wrong thing and succeeded, I’ve done the right thing and failed and and I’m. Trying to learn to get better. And and I, I’ll sit down and talk with the team and say, I thought this was the right play.
It was a bad play. I messed up. I made a mistake. And as a leader, like owning that, and I’m sure. That you don’t see yourself as perfect and that you also make mistakes and that you’re also human and that’s relatable, like you said to what you’re doing. And and that, and so I think the vulnerability has to be kept in balance a little bit because.
Some people have had some really bad things happen in their life. Like you maybe don’t want to go all the way into the soft underbelly of I was abused as a child and all this stuff, but maybe that works for you, and the audience that you’re working with. But I think.
It’s just if you’re going to be authentic, then you have to talk about the good and the bad and the facts of life. So
Brent: Actually. I think as an example of that, I think I’ve seen some companies come out, and I don’t know if something happened, pr blunder to some degree. And they were really vulnerable and they came out and said, Hey, you know, we messed up this is what happened. Here’s how we’re fixing it. And here’s how we want to relate to you and bring you in this story and listen to you and how we go further and help fix it.
I think there’s probably a dozen examples of that, that people that have really used that they’ve come out really well.
Seth Erickson: Jack in the box had a, I think they had an E coli outbreak in their burgers, like in the nineties and actually more recently we’ve had Chipotle, they had the same kind of problem where they were, it was either.
He called or something got into their food and they came back and they said, okay, we’re going to change our procedures because this is creating a problem. It’s making people sick. We don’t obviously want to make people sick. And so here’s how we’re gonna change our food prep procedures. Here’s how we’re going to change our food storage procedures.
This is how we are going to rectify the problem. Instead of just. Doing what some companies do, which is just gushing and apologizing and saying, oh, we’re sorry. We’re sorry. They said, no, this is the action we’re taking. We’re doing something about this. Or what other companies do, which is, they just act like it’s not a problem.
They don’t say anything about it until, there’s enough backlash that their feet are finally held to the fire. I think , was very proactive. Jack in the box also came back and said, yeah, we’re going to change, the way. Doing food handling and, and then they put out a bunch of really funny Jack in the box commercials.
So yeah it’s, it’s, I think, it goes into personal responsibility. There’s not many people who do. Or take responsibility for their mistakes these days. And there, it seems like there’s not as many companies, like you said, there’s maybe a dozen, how many other things have just been ignored.
It’s Yeah, it’ll be fine.
Brent: I think that’s a growth area for all of us to some degree. I think we can all do better in that area. That’s a good point. So I do want to get into your book a little bit and your agency as well Storify Agency. So take just a bit and kind of talk about both of those and what the book’s about, how it relates into everything.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. The book is it’s interesting. I think you’ve gotten a taste of it, but It’s really set up in three chapters or three chapters, three acts because I’m a big movie fanatic.
And so a lot of what I did with my book was actually inspired by my love of movies. So the first act is really understanding the neuroscience and some psychology of why story matters? How it affects us. And I started with that because I didn’t want people to just be like, oh, this is another business book about this guy’s opinion.
He thinks stories are cool because he’s a storyteller. And I’m like, no let’s go with the science so that it’s not just me saying a bunch of stuff and you going okay. The second part t hen starts to dive into. Okay, so you get it. That story’s really powerful. It affects human beings.
How do we tell a good story? What are the ingredients, right? Like how do we, how do you go do that? And I give lots of examples on that. And then the third act is actually putting that into practice. Like how can. Start applying this to my business, right? Like I’ve read a bunch of business books where they talk about a lot of theory.
And then at the end of the. You have to buy my program. My course, you have to hire me to get, get my insights and I just go through and I talk about here’s how you write an email. Here’s how you put copy together. Here’s how do this, do that. Here’s how you tell you know, a story, right?
I tried. Just give people enough information that they’re like, oh, I can go do this tomorrow. One of the other interesting things about the book is that the book has a soundtrack. Every chapter has a song that goes with it. And that song either is has the same message. That’s the chapter or captures the feel of the chapter and that is linked to a playlist on Spotify and YouTube.
So you can listen to them. The playlist, while you read the book, because the playlist is about as long as the book is, or you can listen to it at another time and go, oh, that’s that song from that chapter or whatever. And I’ve had, different people do it different ways.
So there’s a kind of a fun tidbit about the book that I’ve never heard anybody else do. So
Brent: That is interesting. Now I’ve never heard that done before. That is really intriguing though, because I have thought just very recently, obviously with podcasting you’re involved with a little bit of music from the intros and outros and a supportive aspect.
And I’ve had some episodes recently that the normal music that I would use. I was just stepping back and saying, you know what, this just does not fit this conversation. And so to that point, it really can make a difference that the music that you use, that’s cool. That is exciting now.
I’m looking forward to reading it as well when it comes out. I was already looking forward to it and now I’m even more excited to look into it and I’ve already read a little bit of it. I know I got a pre-release a little bit. I’m looking forward to it. Hey, how can we get the book?
How can our listeners either contact you or contact your agency or get involved, follow you, maybe, or buy the book or kind of what’s a good path for that.
Seth Erickson: Yeah. So if you’d like to check out the book it’s available on Amazon, it’s a. Available as a pre-order right now, but I think this podcast will probably come out after that.
So you can get in Kindel paperback and hardcover. If you’d like to, engage me or my team, you can go to StorifyAgency.com. That’s S T O R I F Y agency.com. And for listeners of the show, if you go to. Be fun. There’s the first chapters available so that you guys can download it for free and check it out and see if it’s your cup of tea or not.
Brent: That’s awesome. Appreciate you doing that. Definitely encourage people to go check that out. This has just been a cool conversation. I enjoy talking about this just in general, but really have enjoyed talking about it from this perspective.
So thank you so much for coming on Seth. I enjoyed it very much.
Seth Erickson: Thanks for having me.