Ep. 246 - Susan Lindner, Cultural Anthropologist, Founder of Emerging Media, and Author of Innovation Storytellers on Storytelling for New Innovators

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By Brian Ardinger, Founder of Inside Outside Innovation podcast, and The Inside Outside Innovation Summit. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Susan Lindner, cultural anthropologist, founder of Emerging Media, and author of the upcoming book, Innovation Storytellers. Susan, and I talk about the importance of storytelling to the new innovator and what companies can do to have their stories resonate and spread in today's changing media landscape. Let's get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.

Interview Transcript with Susan Lindner, Cultural Anthropologist, Founder of Emerging Media, and Author of Innovation Storytellers

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. We have Susan Lindner. She is a cultural anthropologist, disruptor and founder of Emerging Media, which is a brand marketing and PR agency. And we're very excited to have Susan on the show. Welcome.

Susan Lindner: Thank you so much, Brian.

Brian Ardinger: I am so excited to have you on the show. I want to get you on because a lot of your work is really focused around this concept of storytelling. And it's so important. And so maybe we'll start off with why is storytelling so important to innovators and entrepreneurs?

Susan Lindner: It's so critical. And 20 years of working in tech and innovation has taught me this as the golden rule. Stanford has been very helpful to us. They have shown that a story and statistics together are 22 times more memorable than just statistics alone. And that is because the human brain is wired to receive story, not Excel spreadsheets. Not even bullet points.

So, it's critical. If you want someone to remember that fantastic innovation that you're pitching, that you actually wrap it in a story with a hero, with a plot, with a conclusion. That if you want funders, investors, stakeholders, to remember it, you had better wrap that incredible data, in a story that people can take with them and actually act on it.

Brian Ardinger: That makes perfect sense. And obviously we've seen a lot of companies that have done good at that. Telling stories that work. And others that have flamed out because they couldn't really communicate effectively with what they're doing. What's the process of developing a story? Especially at that early stage, when you're trying to get somebody to notice your new creation?

Susan Lindner: For Innovation storytelling, which is different than every other kind of storytelling, right? We're not talking about soap. Or maybe you're innovating soap, fantastic, give me a call, happy to help with a new, the next thing that will be soap. Great. But Innovation storytelling takes a different look. And so, I'm an anthropologist by training, but I was also a religion major in college. And I was fascinated by how the profits moved the word around the world.

How did they get the word to move? How did they get all the early adopters? How did they get people to convert in the midst of great danger and peril? Right? Every considerable, social, racial, economic, lions eating you alive. Who got these people to adopt an idea that was not even provable right, in the empirical sense?

And yet people did it. How did they do it? And so, I looked at the prophets, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, and tried to create the framework to understand how do you move a message around the world? How did the prophets do it? And it turns out there's five clear steps that all of the profits employ. So, step number one is history.

You'll notice that Jesus didn't say that Judaism was wrong. Right. He certainly saw himself as a Jew called himself a rabbi. He was referred to as a rabbi, as a teacher. So, you take, what is historical about what came before us and say, this is the foundation of what the story is built upon. We all come from a common shared history.

That makes us a group, right. That makes us a try step one. It is the same reason why we employ the term email to describe transatlantic electronic correspondence that goes through a tube under an ocean and arrives in my computer. Right? It's why we call it an inbox. Cause there used to be one sitting on your desk.

It's why we use the save icon. Or it used to be a floppy disk. My kids have never seen a floppy desk. They don't even know what it is. I was cleaning out my house actually, found a floppy disk and showed it to my son. Twentytwo years old, goes to the Rochester Institute of Technology and looks at me and said, why did you 3d print a copy of the save icon from work? Because that's what I'm doing in my spare time, Brian. I'm printing a copy of the save icon.

Brian Ardinger: You can bring those back along with the AOL CDs.

Susan Lindner: Which, you know, some archeologist is going to have to explain one day. So, step one is the history, right? It makes it really easy to understand where we all came from. Cause that's how we transitioned into change.

Step two, what are our values and our purpose? So, the prophets were really good about describing the shared values, not just the place we come from, but the value surrounding that Innovation and our purpose. What is it that's really driving us today? That may be a little bit different than what was driving us historically.

So, you know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Could be one of those, like it's always been done that way. That's one of those things. So, as we shift out from what was to what could be, what are the values and the purpose. Can we get that really clear for the listener? Step three is the message, right? This is when we burn all boats.

This is when we say we're taking what works and we're leaving what doesn't. So, we're going from an eye for an eye to turn the other cheek. That's the shift we're making. And the next is finding those early adopters. So, we know that we only need about 13.3% of the market, right? Our innovators and our early adopters who are going to go forward and go, I'm going to take a risk.

I'm going to take a chance on this Innovation. So, who are those people who now that we have the message, will carry it forward? And it's not always the cheerleader in the room. In fact, better when it's the biggest skeptic. I said, gosh, I never thought that could be, but now I'm standing outside of the Apple store for three days before the iPhone comes out.

And the last is viral language. Step five is using viral language. So, we really want to look at the things that you learned in English class. Alliteration, tagline designer. We want to think about rhetoric that actually moves people. And does it incorporate emotion? We know that the way a story sticks is actually by activating brain chemicals, adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, fear, anger, lust. Name all of the seven deadly sins. Right?

If we can actually generate emotion, the story now has a biological marker, a physiological marker that says it's in my body and I can take it with me. And that's how stories are powerful. I was just giving a talk and I was asking people to remember the first time they saw Bambi. And you realize that in the very first scene Bambi's mom dies it's because Walt Disney was so fricking brilliant that virtually every one of the heroes in a Disney story is an orphan or lost their mom. Because that is the biggest fear of a child period.

And when you engage them in the beginning of that story, with fear, a giant rush of adrenaline. And then you introduce them to Thumper and frolicking in the forest. And everything's fine again. Now you get the Serotonin hit in the body and all of these things allow us to not just tell the story, but to take it with us. And that's what makes a story go viral. That's what makes a story successful.

Brian Ardinger: It's interesting. I work with startups. You work with startups and helping startups understand how to tell that story. And focusing, like you said, on that pain point that can get the audience to resonate with that. And then the startup solution becomes the hero to that story and moving it forward.

The question I have is so working with startups, oftentimes the story changes or the narrative changes because they're trying to figure things out. They don't know exactly where they're going to go. And unlike an existing corporation that can tell their story based on the fact that this has already happened. And here's how we're going to tell the story to, to make it fit the narrative. How do you work with startups and in that early-stage process, when they're trying to figure out what stories to tell and how to tell them, what are some suggestions or advice that you'd have for that?

Susan Lindner: Recognize that from the beginning. Right. And, you know, I think the biggest myth around storytelling in business is that there's only one. So just like your product roadmap and just like your product development, guess what, your stories are in a lab too. Storytellers need to have a great deal of flexibility about how we tell that story.

So, here's a story that doesn't really change that often. And that's the founder story. It gets richer over time, but it has to be one. And I think every person in the company must be able to tell the founder's story. And so how is it that I started here? I had this great idea, or this idea came to me or other people came to me with an idea, and I grew it.

That entrepreneur story is one that we start off with first because it provides inspiration for so many other stories. Step two is a customer or what some storytellers call the value story. So, the question you want to ask to tell a customer story is by asking the customer, how is my life better now that the product or service is in it?

How has my life changed? And you'll notice I use the word not how is my company changed, but how has my life changed? So, number one. I want to know if you save time, save money became more productive. But that is the baseline of any B2B product in the world. Right. I hire an accountant, so I don't have to become a CPA. That has just now saved me time, save me money and made me more effective, more efficient.

Right? So that's a baseline. Ask yourself tougher questions. Like what are they doing with all of the time, money, and productivity they've obtained through you? Ask them the questions now that you've saved all this money, what are you investing it in? Is art, have you helped your customer to increase their product roadmap?

Have you helped them to expand into Europe or Asia as a result of not doing redundant tests? Maybe you've reduced head count, maybe you've increased head count. Right? All of those things that are a consequence of this save time, save money, make you more productive. And then the last is, you know, don't forget that private side, right?

Do I get to use my vacation without being called 30 times a day? Because the system broke. So, I would ask all those questions about how is my life made better now that your product or service is in it. And one other thing I want to add to this, because this is where all my lovely startups go wrong. And Brian probably yours do, but all the Star Wars fans out there, the hero of the story is what you must first identify.

And I will tell you unequivocally that the hero of your story is never the technology. So, the fire extinguisher doesn't save the day, the firefighter, the homeowner does, the neighbor does. So, if you are thinking about Star Wars, the hero is not the lightsaber, it's Luke Skywalker. Don't ever forget that it's a human with human emotions and human frailties and failure.

Even the entrepreneur story, we failed a million times, then we built it. It finally worked and then it failed again. So, never make the technology, the product or service, the hero of the story. It is always the user, the recipient, the end user whomever.

Brian Ardinger: So, let's say you've crafted your story. You kind of have a good narrative and that. We're now living in an age where proliferation of new media fragmented attention spans. How should a company be evaluating and prioritizing how, when, and where to tell those stories?

Susan Lindner: So, we know that a user generated story is 50% more effective than one told by the corporation itself. The first thing I'll ask you to do is have you created a space where customers can share, do you have a customer advisory board?

Do you have a Slack channel? Is there an intranet or a place even publicly, perhaps a LinkedIn group, a Facebook group, et cetera, where people can share their experiences with you? Why is that? Because as an anthropologist, I can tell you it's one of the most ancient mechanisms in the human brain to want to tell the rest of your tribe members don't eat that, eat this. That mushroom will make you crazy. This mushroom will kill you. Right?

We have a natural human instinct to want to report back to the group about whether or not something works or doesn't work. So, step one is setting up a space where people can communicate back to you. And if you want to do that privately at first, that might also make your customers feel good.

And then think about how you can translate that into marketing messages. So, you asked about the timing and the place. I would ask you to think about, we set up for all of our clients, a News Bureau. So, we look at the next six months of what's going to be happening in the startup's life. Don't even bother planning for longer than that from a marketing standpoint, because everything will change. As you said, Brian.

What are the six most exciting things that are going to be happening between this month and six months from now? Right? And then say, what do I need to plan? How can I extract information from the customer that might participate in that press release that announcement? Where can I place it? So, it'll have maximum impact.

Do I want to talk to a reporter? Do I want to be an event or a conference where it can get shared virally? Do I want to set up social media mechanisms or maybe even a contest? Next time you're launching a new product. Did you even think about asking your community to name it for you? Right.

I think Boaty McBoatface was the one that wound up working in England at one point. Might want to put some Innovation with constraints often works better than Innovation without constraints. Just a reminder. Yeah. So, think about how you can engage your customers to have a more potent impact on your marketing.

Brian Ardinger: Well, and just even asking your customers to amplify that message, it goes a long way. You know, that call to action. Sometimes your customers don't necessarily know that you want to have them amplify it. And having those conversations with the customer segment often goes a long way as well.

Susan Lindner: Yeah, because there's a big difference between sharing something and liking something, right?

Brian Ardinger: Absolutely.

Susan Lindner: The customer is investing of themselves and their own personal brand. Every time they get shared.

Brian Ardinger: So, the last core topic I want to talk about is how do you think that pandemic has affected storytelling? What are you seeing out there as far as trends or changes and how do you see that impacting storytelling moving forward?

Susan Lindner: : Brene Brown said that maybe stories are just data with assault. And so, I'd love to remind your listeners to remember that empathy comes first when you're doing great storytelling. The first rule of great storytelling is listening. So, before you decide to put on another story, think about what your listeners truly need first.

And I would argue that empathy is a huge part of that. There's not one person who hasn't been impacted by this pandemic. And even if you're one of the 0.3% of the world's wealthiest people, who watch their portfolios increase exponentially. Chances are there are other people in their lives who've been dramatically impacted.

So, listen, first. Approach anyone that you're telling the story to with empathy, by asking them what their experience has been. And then being vulnerable. So, sharing what's been challenging. And then even though it's been rough, here's what we've been able to do. Because humans connect at vulnerability. Humans don't connect necessarily a triumph. Right.

We still think about the miracle hockey team because of how grueling and how challenging it was and the opposition that they faced. The story isn't Hey, they won. It's all of the things that led up to them winning and what they overcame to get there that make us appreciate the triumph so much more.

And so, without the vulnerability, without the failure, without the exhaustion and frankly, even people close to us passing, that we don't appreciate the victory and where we are now and the possibilities that exist for us without acknowledging the pain.

Brian Ardinger: Who's out there doing this well. Do you have any case studies or examples of companies that are kind of embracing the storytelling format and are doing really well around this?

Susan Lindner: There are so many companies that I admire around great storytelling. You know, I think of one that comes to mind quickly is Wrigley's Spearmint Gum. I don't know if you've seen the tinfoil drawings on the wrappers Inside. It's of a young couple. And It kind of tells their story of their entire relationship, their romance based on the foil inside of the gum.

And how that relationship evolved and fell apart and came back together. Like it's a whole love story told on gum wrappers. I also think there's some really great B2B stories. I think that RSA the security company, that actually used Christian Slater to talk about, he was the villain in the story. And he talked about, or I think it was RSA in combination with HP, the printer, the copier company and printing company.

And was talking about how easy it is to steal information, if it's not properly locked down and if you don't have the right equipment. And so, it's a seven-minute commercial. You can watch it, almost a short film. And Christian Slater is the villain and stealing all of your critical data off copiers and printers. And it's phenomenal.

And the last one I love is Chanel. So, Chanel tells the entrepreneur story of the hardworking woman who worked her way up from seamstress all the way up to haute couture and how she got there. And why she never took no for an answer when it came to great design. And there are I think 23 chapters, although chapter number five is my favorite. If you only want to look at one, look at Chanel storytelling chapter five, and you will see the entire story of the House of Chanel told in black and white beauty. That's phenomenal.

Brian Ardinger: I just interviewed somebody from Innovation Norway, and they were talking about how they were leveraging the Will Ferrell Super Bowl ad from GM that talked about how Will Ferrell was going to go take on Norway for their electric vehicles and such.

And so, the University of Norway and Innovation Norway, and a couple of others have kind of taken that message and spun it to amplify what's going on in Norway, when it comes to the Innovation front.

Susan Lindner: She's a client of mine.

Brian Ardinger: It was interesting to hear what they're doing, taking a story and then playing it off against another story that was resonating within the public and that, and so.

Susan Lindner: Yes, we call that story jacking. So just like there's news jacking, right? You see a news story breaking. You're like, I'm going to call a reporter about why our story is even better than the guy who just came out with a story, right? It's how competitors leap on each other.

But story jacking is actually doing the same thing as taking that story and saying here's why it matters. And that works perfectly to Innovation Norway's point. That's great. Yeah. So thanks for the awesome story. If you don't have a story of your own, right.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: Well, Susan, thank you for sharing your story and all the insights here on Inside Outside Innovation today. I appreciate you coming on the show and looking forward to continued stories in the years to come and thank you very much for being here.

Susan Lindner: Well, thank you. It's an honor. This is one of my top 10 favorite podcasts of all times. I'm grateful to be a guest. Grateful, grateful.

Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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