How to Transform an "Interesting" Story into a Powerful Strategic Story in Just Two Moves

Posted by Elizabeth Brown on 24/08/2018 1:02:22 PM

I’d just received an email from Andy Hamilton, CEO of The Icehouse, asking if I’d take a look at making an already very interesting business-brand Story more powerful. 

“Do I do that?
You bet. 

And would I be able to do it with William Pike?
Try holding me back Andy!”

He’d recently met a young New Zealand explorer on a ship in the Kermadecs. William Pike was developing his business running “a nationwide youth development programme that’s about growing young explorers in more than 70 schools…outcomes are increased resilience, confidence and connectedness”.  Andy thought he needed some help.

William Pike Challenge Award School Group Elizabeth Brown Powerful Strategic Story


Whilst William was clear about his business strategy, Andy wrote “my observation was he is missing his storytelling and missing his ‘why’ in how he tells his story. I think it is all there – he just hasn’t the ability to unpack it right now – do you do this?”

I help business owners find their unique Strategic Story and the kind of story-powered magic that boosts engagement. But my initial curiosity was piqued by being a bit of an explorer myself! I clicked up William’s website and scrolled through.  It certainly looked as though Andy had hit the nail on the head about the missing piece.  But there was more too.  

Interesting Is Not Enough (even mindboggling isn’t)

If you haven’t heard of William, he is the young guy whose leg was amputated when he got caught on Ruapehu in the 2007 eruption. He was just 22 at the time. 

After scaling the mountain, he and a mate were sleeping in Dome Hut just 500m (500m!) away from the crater lake.  In the freezing dark of night, William was pinned beneath a massive deluge of flying rocks and crater water, his legs and body crushed, deep hypothermia inevitable. He miraculously survived, minus his lower right leg.

He returned to mountaineering (including Mt Scott in Antarctica!) and school teaching, eventually giving up teaching to devote himself to The William Pike Challenge Award (WPCA) programme and speaking engagements.

Now, you’d think that would be enough of a Story today, wouldn’t you.  But no. “Interesting” (mindboggling even) doesn’t necessarily mean “effective” in a business-brand Story.   

The reason you want a Story is so you can do really effective Storytelling.

So far William’s audience would be interested. Fascinated even. But not engaged and not moved. Moved leads to action. Business ultimately needs action. I kept scrolling.

Learn more: Business Coaching with The Icehouse


The Why starts to connect, but still doesn’t make it engaging

It was all there as to the sequence of events that led to William doing what he does and his business vision he came to.  But Why?  This was the first big piece to plug in. 

  • Why that particular vision? (kids’ development)
  • And Why that particular course of action? (the WPCA Programme)  

Not ‘why’ as in logical/strategic reason, but Why as in what was his personal a-ha and driver?

  • With that Why, there’s real reason for others to come on board with William.
  • Without it, he’s another well meaning and very entertaining guy with a jolly good “what happened to me, what I did, what I do nowstory out there, doing a really good thing in the world … but so are many others. 
  • Tough but true. Same in any business. Same in yours and mine.

William’s Why lies in the MEANING he gave to that big event in his life, the turning point where he RESOLVED to do what he’s now doing. That’s the human connector. That’s where the audience/tribe starts to emotionally lean in to you, eager to know what comes next. By this point in William’s Story they’re now on the way to being Moved.

‘Why Should I Care’ is what makes the Story engaging

But William's Story so far was still just an entertaining sequence of “I did, we do, our vision” statements. “We” statements like these are way too short on the type of story-powered magic that boosts engagement – especially in today’s very changed customer-brand environment.

No matter how interesting your “I/me/my/us” story is, it’s still all about you.

William Pike Challenge Award School Group Elizabeth Brown Powerful Strategic Story 2

William’s business story became an engaging story, a powerful story, when the second missing piece was plugged:  Why should people care?

People can too easily walk away going “What a great guy, what a great story” but not engaging with what they’re being asked to DO – sign up the school, join the Challenge, finance growth, whatever.  Big risk. They’ve been entertained, but not moved. They’ve connected but the impact’s not lasting enough to get action. 

The solution? Help people shift their own perception of their status quo and realise for themselves exactly what’s at stake for them. This meant doing a deep dive with William to find his second missing piece. Using timeless epic story structure that engages all of us, regardless of age or culture, we found his DNA’s equivalent of Luke taking up his mission in the original Star Wars and saving the galaxy:

  • What William had come to realize the Year 7-9 kids (“the galaxy”) were struggling against (“the force”) in the dramatically changing world they’re heading into
  • What was at stake for them (“win/lose”) and their teachers and parents
  • What his new future for them looks like (“the happy-ever-after”)
  • Great big obstacles currently in the way of getting there (“evil monsters”) so why the kids need William’s help
  • How his WPCA programme (“lightsaber”) features vanquish those obstacles and get the kids to the new future like nobody else can
  • Proof that William can make it all come true (kids’ storytelling videos).

All that was left was to put it all together with what William was already talking about, and there he had it: his Storytelling transformed from a 5 to a 10, in just two big moves.  Curious to see how it turned out?  Click here for the William Pike Challenge Award website and download the Discovery Pack


You And Your Business-Brand Story – 3 Things To Look Out For

  1. Which of the 4 types of Story is right for you? This is important. ‘Doing’ your brand has changed up hugely as the world has changed and rapid growth goes hand-in-hand with story-driven differentiation.  A Strategic Story was right for William Pike and his Challenge Award but click here to self-check ‘Which Approach Is Right For You Now?’ 

  2. Have you got your Why sorted, aka purpose? If you have, are you sure it’s your real Why? The bi-product (this is huge) of working through your Why is a massive amplification of belief, confidence and motivation to do what you do. This is where I see owners/founders/leaders kicking into what they suddenly realize they are capable of, lit up when they finally hit on who and what they actually are at their very core, aka the ‘real you’ or their real Why

  3. Is your Story and your Storytelling all about you or genuinely all about something beyond you? If it’s “all about them” check that it’s what your audience/tribe say is good for them, not what you think is. Big difference to watch out for here.

If you’re in doubt, shoot your Story through to me – I’ll give you a quick assessment of where you can make an instant difference in its engagement, and get it right back to you.

Resources worth checking out:

This blog is written by Elizabeth Brown, Chief Strategic Story Finder at Elizabeth Brown Co and business coach at The Icehouse. She writes on how to build a unique and powerful strategic story that boosts engagement with your audience/tribe and opens them up to taking early action.


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Topics: Brand & Marketing, Coaching