13 items found for ""
- Best Storytelling Framework: From Mystery to Epiphany to Your Brand Story
I'll never forget how clueless I felt sitting in that Seattle bar with three business people who were generously brainstorming ideas for my new storytelling business. One was an executive at a global marketing firm, one worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and was about to go on a global tour with Melinda, and the other was an experienced marketer at Microsoft. I left TV in 2019 to start my business with eyes wide open that there was A TON I didn't know about business. Seventeen years as a news anchor/reporter helped me sharpen my storytelling skills, but the TV broadcasting world is its own weird, little bubble. That's not to say other broadcasters were clueless about business. But I felt like a high school freshman sitting at a table with a bunch of Harvard Business School professors. The Microsoft marketing guy said, "You need a good framework. I love frameworks!" I took a sip and nodded as if I knew what he was talking about. I didn't. The three of them proceeded to talk about favorite frameworks they use in business. I felt a sudden longing for a teleprompter. I had a follow up meeting with the Microsoft marketer in an attempt to better understand the framework concept. I wish I could say it clicked for me right then, but in reality it took many more business books, podcasts, and conversations with mentors. The framework epiphany came from a business concept around something in my wheelhouse, storytelling. Through relationships with a few other people at Microsoft, I got to meet Steve Clayton, who at that time was Microsoft's Chief Storyteller (he's now Microsoft's VP of Global Affairs). I got to have a pint with the very down-to-earth British man at a pub in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood. I studied everything I could find of Steve's online, including this TEDx Talk on Storytelling. At last, a framework that easily resonated with me: The Hero's Journey. Now I started to see The Hero's Journey pop up in other business conversations. Shane Meeker, Procter and Gamble's Chief Storyteller, was gracious to do a few zoom calls to help teach me. Guess what, he has a TEDx Talk on The Hero's Journey as well. I found Donald Miller's Story Brand content with more use of The Hero's Journey framework. And then I started to use it. At first I used the framework to help craft the story outline for brand videos. It worked. The clients were happy and felt like it positioned their brand perfectly to reach ideal customers. It allowed them to tell their story in a way that focused on the customer and to authentically share their story in that context. Then I started to use it in workshops. What seemed elementary and obvious to me was creating epiphany moments for seasoned business people. The "aha" moments I saw with each team led me to call the workshops "Instant Clarity Sessions." We saw it lead to deeper messaging clarity and team alignment with CMA Global, a team of clinical psychologists who help companies navigate complex people issues. We saw it lead to product innovation and new sales collateral with Gasket and Seal Fabricators, a manufacturing company that...you guessed it...makes gaskets and seals for other manufacturers. We saw it help solar panel experts at EFS Energy understand and apply the story framework to three very unique target audiences. You don't tell a different story to different audiences, but you do tell your story differently to maximize their engagement. We used the Instant Clarity framework to help the National Alliance on Mental Illness create content targeted to a specific audience; employee engagement committees at large St. Louis employers. What is the Instant Clarity framework? Glad you asked! It's the best storytelling framework we've found. Check out the infographic below. (Reach out if interested in a similar infographic for your business objectives)
- Outside the Box Strategic Storytelling
This may seem like a simple video, but this is an example of outside the box strategic storytelling. One of the benefits of being a morning news anchor was the opportunity to give air time to friends and people I knew doing big things! While it was fun to do, strategic storytelling was at the root of it. I couldn't just put anything on air. This was a great example. The military records holiday greetings and then makes them available to local tv stations where those service members are from. You've likely seen them on your local news. I had been texting with my good friend, Brandon Dubuisson, who was on a deployment to the Middle East as a C-17 pilot. We were both "working" that Thanksgiving Day, so I told him to send me a cell phone video with him and another pilot who were stationed at JBLM in the Seattle area. This was not the US Military sanctioned greeting, but it checked all the boxes for both the Military and for our local Seattle news coverage at KIRO 7. Both Brandon and I knew that our bosses would be totally fine with us doing this "outside the box" collaboration. And my co-anchor, Michelle Millman (a great strategic storyteller herself), was fully onboard. That's what I love to do professionally. Think outside the box on how to use strategic storytelling to create win-win-win scenarios.
- Beware of Bogey Impact, Empty Impressions
A TV news coworker of mine was once celebrated for adding tens of thousands of facebook followers. Our social media consultants touted the achievements to the corporate TV news big wigs. They used it as proof for their effectiveness in consulting. That coworker of mine was very humble and very authentic. So much so, that coworker was quick to point out that almost all of the new followers were from another country and outside our target demographic. We were a local TV news station that made its money selling advertising to companies trying to reach people in key demographics in our region. The thousands of followers who lived outside our area, let alone outside our continent, did nothing for our TV news station's strategic goals. I recently saw a similar situation in business. Solar power company, EFS Energy, worked with Story on Purpose to get clarity and alignment on telling its authentic story to ideal residential homeowners. Together we identified that EFS can best serve middle-income homeowners who are likely in their 40s or 50s with plans to own their home long-term. And we helped create content specifically targeted to that audience. Meanwhile, a digital marketing company (who shall remain nameless), was touting results to EFS of a social media campaign with thousands of impressions. The problem was that many of those impressions were with 18-28 year olds who were not likely to own a home or benefit from what EFS Energy offers. EFS recognized the issue and promptly fired that company. Beware of "bogey impact" or results that do little or nothing to further your strategic goals. I've heard a similar story from many business owners. Would you rather have a thousand likes and impressions on social media from random people or 10 social media engagements from people who could directly benefit from your product or service and have capacity to buy? Here's how you turbocharge your marketing, recruiting, and sales story. Get razor sharp on WHO you need to reach. Then reverse engineer the story to make them the hero, address their known challenges, and how you help them overcome the challenges to achieve their desired outcome. Here are some of the Instant Clarity results from EFS Energy working with Story on Purpose: Homeowners dealing with rising energy costs use EFS Energy's free solar feasibility analysis which helps determine the best custom solution for their home. These homeowners can reduce their carbon footprint, save on utility bills, gain long-term peace of mind and increase their property value through EFS Energy's customized solar solutions.
- Lesson in Being Blackballed: Scarcity Mindset
I recently found out I've been blackballed from leadership positions in two organizations geared toward manufacturers. True story. In both cases, digital marketing/branding agencies viewed Story on Purpose as a competitive threat. So, they blocked me. I don't take it personally. It's simply the scarcity mindset on full display. I had previously met with owners of both agencies. Both meetings were presented as a networking opportunity to get to know each other and possibly pursue collaboration. In both cases 90% of what they offer customers is different from how Story on Purpose works with customers. I was told one of the agency owners said "he's fighting for the same marketing dollars we are." The only obvious overlap is that we all help customers with messaging clarity and strategy. The rest of their offerings greatly differ from how we help customers at Story on Purpose. Often times both agencies outsource the work that Story on Purpose does to others. The scarcity mindset says "there is a finite amount of business out there and I must do everything possible to get a bigger piece of the pie." The abundance mindset says "there are ample amounts of business out there and collaboration can build a bigger pie to create win-win-win scenarios." Let's be clear. Competition exists and running a business isn't easy. Burying your head in the sand and not trying to stand out against competition is a recipe for extinction. You might be wondering what an example of abundance mindset and collaboration looks like. Take Shapiro and the separate work Sean Stormes and Alan Andersen have been doing with the company leadership for the past year plus. Both Sean and Alan work with executive leadership teams and I know firsthand they have some crossover in how they can work with customers. Yet, they are both zeroed in on different core offerings they are delivering with Shapiro, and they don't feel threatened by each other! I know because I've been in those leadership meetings. I've been a part of conversations with Alan and Sean in which both leaders showed an abundance mindset. The same applies to how Andrya Allen with The Nine digital marketing agency, Judy Ferrero with Shapiro marketing, and my team with Story on Purpose are working together to tell the story of Circular by Shapiro. There is crossover between all three of our areas of expertise. Sure, the skeptic would point out that Shapiro COO Bob Alvarez has brought us all in and identified how he wants us to help Shapiro achieve its goals. But just because people are working on the same team does not mean they work with an abundance mindset. Just this week, a business leader told me how he left a company because the top executive approached everything with a scarcity mindset. A book that I recommend that's helped shape my abundance mindset is The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I've been exposed to many great leaders (tagged below) who truly lead with a selfless, abundance mindset. If there's an opportunity to provide everything a customer needs, they jump on it if they can truly provide the best outcomes. If there's someone better for a specific component, they help build a bigger pie by bringing in that expertise. They also seek ways to add value that in no way really benefits them. This is often in the form of making connections, referrals, and free insights from their expertise. The leaders who approach business with an abundance mindset most often have an air of confident humility. They don't use false humility when it comes to their expertise. They deliver with excellence in their area of genius and they are humble enough to know they don't know it all. You can read more about confident humility and the book that inspired me to pursue it here.
- A Story of Abundance Mindset
This is a story about two businesses and leaders I've seen collaborate beyond their core offerings. Both approach business with an abundance mindset and not a scarcity mindset. CMA Global, a team of psychologists who help companies with complex people issues, trusts Matt Skarin and Skarin Insurance Brokers to handle its complex insurance needs. Jami Wolfe, Managing Partner at CMA Global Inc, notes that the relationship goes far beyond insurance. Skarin Insurance Brokers' consultative approach and connections help CMA achieve its business objectives. When I met both Jami and Matt two years ago they were already doing business together. At an ACG St. Louis event I overheard Matt asking Jami about her business and offering input and connections that had nothing to do with insurance. That's what I mean when I talk about helping customers beyond their core offering. This is a fun, authentic story to tell because I've had a chance to work with both organizations through our Story on Purpose Instant Clarity process. In a 5-part online course or a half-day workshop we identify, clarify, and simplify how to best speak to ideal customers and partners. Speaking directly to your target audience about their issues is the most effective way to get their attention and build trust. Both of these leaders and their businesses do this well. When you listen to Jami's video below, you'll hear the Skarin Insurance Brokers story from the viewpoint of an ideal customer. That is the most effective way to tell your story! Make them the hero. I used the outcome of that Instant Clarity from both organizations to create this post. It clearly speaks to both organization's ideal customers; CMA helps companies with complex people issues and Skarin helps companies with business objectives beyond handling their complex insurance needs.
- The Most Pivotal Moment in My Entrepreneurial Journey
Okay, story time.... HUGE significance tied to the Zoka coffee shop in Kirkland, Washington (outside Seattle) and my meetings this week of 8/22/23. In 2019 I left Broadcast TV to start my business. And surprise, surprise...I learned some tough lessons right away. Mason Buckles had asked me to put together a #videostorytelling proposal for his very successful Mortgage Brokerage (thanks Brianne Joseph). I felt great about it and had a mentor, Darran Littlefield, review it for me. Well...I got beat out on the bid. Mason was VERY gracious to tell me he went with Brandtegic instead and why. Around that time I had a coffee networking meeting with Jeff Culpepper at Zoka Coffee Roasters. He told me about a younger guy, Austin Schneider, who was doing something similar to me for real estate professionals on Seattle's Eastside. Jeff connected us and I looked up Austin's personal website. It said he had left a sales job at KING 5 News (I came from KIRO 7 News). Two BIG STRIKES! He was in sales and I was in news. He worked for our big competitor. Then it said he's the founder of Brandtegic. Oh, and he's about 10 years younger than me. STRIKES 3 AND 4!!! I was FURIOUS! This young, punk sales guy from my competition had beaten me out on what was supposed to be a project that helped launch my business. My pride was more than just hit, it was like a one-two punch from Mike Tyson. After sulking for several minutes I noticed that he was open about his love of Jesus on his webpage. I worked to swallow my pride...which was like swallowing a bowling ball. I thought maybe this young entrepreneur would share with me how he's building his business. So, I emailed him asking to meet. And he was OVER THE TOP gracious with me. He shared how he was building his business and charging what he charged clients. We talked about faith and he told me about KIROS, a Seattle Christian business network. He also said, "see that sharply dressed bald guy over there (Alan Andersen)? He's part of the KIROS group and I'll introduce you two." I met Alan briefly at Zoka and then we got together a week or so later in more depth. Well, that intro set off a chain reaction that has only snowballed since. First and foremost Alan quickly became a dear friend, praying for me and supporting me through a very difficult season personally and professionally. Alan always leads his intros with "the best thing that happened to me was getting fired from my job, having our house foreclosed on, and finding out we were pregnant...all in a matter of days." Alan proceeded to teach me key business principals, as he had been an entrepreneur for 8+ years at that point. He pointed me to key business/life books and gave me his template for writing proposals. (He and I both now do work for Bob Alvarez and the awesome Circular Economy team at Shapiro). That was January/February 2020. Fast forward to this day of August 22nd, 2023. Here's what transpired that day at Zoka Coffee: I met with Jeff Rogers, an authentic mentor who Alan introduced me to back in 2020 right as my family moved to St. Louis for my rockstar wife's job with Boeing. Jeff is the co-founder of KIROS. I met with Alan Pablick, an Emmy Award winning storyteller who I had worked with at KIRO 7. Alan is part of the Story on Purpose team now. He's been instrumental in building out the Instant Clarity Online Course, which we built for sales professionals and small business owners. I had lunch (just around the corner from Zoka) with the One Accord Capital Advisors team of John Kaminski, Tyler Beutel, and Jeff Rogers (James Anderson not present). We were discussing a business that Story on Purpose is helping them sell with our sell-side video storytelling. Matt Skarin talked to me about this business two years ago. Here we are 2 years later. I learned in that lunch that the deal had a 500%+ increase in engagement over a typical deal they send to prospective buyers. And thanks to my team led by creative director Tom Herbig, the sell-side video content is getting GREAT feedback from the interested buyers. I took a zoom call from Zoka with Matt Skarin, Bill Rochfort, and Andrew Markell about our progress building out CornerstoneSecurity.com, a total digital sovereignty solution for family offices and nation states that delivers them intelligence agency and military grade technology solutions, previously unattainable outside of 1st world governments. I had a dynamite meeting with Chris Hare, founder of The Storied Future. Chris has been equally as gracious as Austin Schneider in opening up his playbook on how he's taken his experiences at Microsoft and Amazon to build a successful storytelling business that helps CEOs succeed through strategic narrative. Chris will be a keynote speaker at the Tom Hill Eagle Summit in October. I connected him with Sandy Waggett and he's going to bring an awesome presentation to a group of successful entrepreneurs. I wrapped up my time in the Zoka/Kirkland area with a $33 parking ticket on the car my good friend, Shon Albert, let me borrow. But hey, you can't win 'em all! (I'm going to pay it, Shon...settle down) So, you can see that Zoka Coffee is more than just a building to me.... Oh, and great friendly service there!
- 3 Lessons from a Diversity Breakthrough in Cosmetics
One of my favorite podcasts these past 4+ years is "How I Built This with Guy Raz." It helped fuel my entrepreneurial fire as I was looking to exit broadcast journalism in 2018. Every entrepreneur has unique components of their story that look different than ours. There are also business lessons we can learn from each of those unique stories. Melissa Butler is the founder of The Lip Bar, an all natural lipstick brand inspired by her love for all-natural bars of soap. She has made major waves in the cosmetics industry, which is historically very hard to break into. She's a proud black woman who brought tenacity and a few key moves that led to her breakthrough. Here are 3 lessons that stood out to me from Melissa's story: Focus Messaging on Audience's Outcomes: I love the story of how Melissa got Target to carry her lipsticks. It highlights the fact that your story needs to be told differently to different audiences. It's not a different story, you just tell the same story differently. Melissa had no connection to any buyers at retail stores, so she started searching LinkedIn for "Target buyer," "cosmetics buyer," etc. Melissa emailed one Target buyer and focused primarily on what The Lip Bar could do for Target, rather than what Target could do for them. Brilliant! She told her story, but she highlighted that her customers aren't shopping at Target for makeup. Carrying The Lip Bar products would attract new customers to Target, and make that buyer who brought in the Lip Bar products a HERO! This is a point that is often overlooked by most businesses...yes, mine as well at times. You need to customize your story to your specific audience's world. Make them the Hero! This is why salespeople and organizations use our Instant Clarity online course and workshops. The process gives you a framework to work through for each of your unique audiences so that they want to engage with you. Target is a strategic business partner, not a customer who needs/wants lipstick. Remember, Melissa didn't sell Target by just listing out her product details, quality, etc. She sold Target because she helped them see how she could help them become a hero. Creative Collaboration: Before the Target breakthrough, when she was just getting the business going, Melissa decided take the makeup counter directly to customers. Her ex-boyfriend helped convert a shuttle buss into The Lip Bar Truck. They took it on a tour and quickly learned she needed a permit to park it on the street. So, then she had the idea to partner with stores in different cities to park the truck in front. BINGO! Her most successful partnership was when Urban Outfitters in Washington D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood hosted the Lip Bar Truck for a day. That is creating a WIN-WIN-WIN. Urban Outfitters and the other stores benefited by having the flashy truck attract people in with a product (lipstick) that didn't compete with their offerings. Customers of those stores benefited by being introduced to a new product. And Melissa and The Lip Bar clearly benefitted. That is creative collaboration. Instead of "how can I get more of the pie," the thought is "how can we together build a bigger pie that feeds us all more!" Your Story + Excellence = Results: Melissa has a great story and prominently displays that The Lip Bar is a black owned business. She ultimately, however, doesn't expect or want that to be why her business is successful. In the podcast she said, "As a black business owner I don't want you to support my business. I want you to shop my products because we make it easy for you to understand what products work for your complexion, not because you feel bad about something. Our goal is to have lifetime value with our customer, and a more than transactional relationship with our customer." Boom, mic drop.
- Do I Miss TV News? No, Here's Why
I often get asked if I miss being a TV news anchor/reporter. I'll answer that in 3 different ways. 1. No 2. At the gym this morning (BioFit Stl), I painfully heard a BBC News report on Brittney Spears getting backhanded by a security guard. This was at 7am. The time is important because stories in the first 10 minutes of each half hour are "lead stories." The news anchor from London told how Brittney Spears was in a Vegas hotel lobby when she tried approaching the #1 NBA Draft pick, Victor Wembanyama. Apparently his security guard backhanded her. The BBC anchor talked for about 90 seconds, referencing a social media post from Brittney about it, and they played a soundbite from the NBA player. Then they brought in a correspondent sitting in a New York newsroom to discuss. The reporter proceeded to share nothing new. The anchor and reporter had about 2 more minutes of back and forth, essentially saying that there's no other information available. Then they moved on to the next story, a live report from Pamplona, Spain about the running of the bulls. There was no news angle that I heard, just a reporter there saying bulls get released and people try to avoid being gored. The news anchor asked "how safe is it?" Thankfully my workout was done and I left. Here's the thing, I'm very proud of most of the work my fellow journalists and I did while I was in broadcast journalism. My dad, the original John Knicely, is still doing great work as a news anchor/reporter at age 72 in Omaha! He's always been and continues to be my biggest inspiration in storytelling. He and I also both LOVE the movie Anchorman. Ask me about the time my old school news boss compared me wearing a Ron Burgandy mustache in a Twitter photo to dressing up as Hitler...true story! I'll save that full story for another post. Standby... The Brittney getting backhanded lead story on BBC World News immediately me think of Panda Watch! The mood is tense! I have friends in the news business still doing great work. The ones I've talked to recently also say it's gotten even harder to do quality stories that really matter. There's a long list of reasons why that I won't get into here. 3. Most importantly, however, I don't miss TV news because I LOVE the work we get to do at Story on Purpose. Here are a few examples of stories we get to tell that help businesses meet their objectives and families preserve their legacy: Natural health and wellness company, who's owners built and run orphanages in 3rd world countries: The Kassebaum brothers slept in their minivan on sales trips across the country...for years...as they built Cosmos Corporation, which is now an international leader in natural health, wellness, and care wellness products. The 4 brothers, who own the company, brought in new leadership, Landon Hobson, to run Cosmos a few years ago. Instead of living the yacht life or summering in the Hamptons, the brothers are still heavily involved in Gifts of Love, their nonprofit that runs orphanages and leadership training in Guatemala and Haiti. Using blockchain, data-driven solutions to reduce landfill waste and turn it into recycled material at a profit for customers: Shapiro's circular solutions are helping manufacturers lower their carbon footprint and maximize profit from their waste streams. In one year at a Georgia manufacturing customer, Shapiro helped reduce their trash pickups from 409 to 57 total loads, eliminating 352 loads annually. This saved 303 tons of trash from the landfill through the “Waste to Energy” program. Shapiro helped recycle 100 extra tons of cardboard and created an additional revenue stream for the manufacturer. This saved over $150,000 in waste cost and led to a $1 Million+ profit for that manufacturer on its waste. Caring for families through job relocations when that help didn't exist: Laura and Mike Herring continue to say a daily prayer they started saying in 1969, "Lord help us to make a positive impact on the lives we touch today." That prayer inspired the name of their business, Impact Group, which helps care for families when a spouse goes through job relocation. As an executive for Johnson and Johnson said to Laura in 1980s Their daughter, Lauren Herring, initially joined the company out of college in 2001 to be close when Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer. Laura is now healed and Lauren has grown the company. Impact Group now empowers employees worldwide with career coaching through relocation assistance, outplacement services and leadership development. I will continue to draw on talented journalists and storytellers from TV news to deliver value to customers and help grow Story on Purpose. Most recently, Emmy Award winning producer Alan Pablik has joined Story on Purpose as a collaborator. A story he just shared with me will help you see why I reached out to him to work together. Alan came on as a young, new producer when I was morning anchor at KIRO 7 in Seattle. Last week Alan told me his approach when he started at KIRO 7 was to quietly deliver and exceed on what was expected of him. He never said that to me at the time, but you better believe I took notice! Yep, Alan is a good fit here at Story on Purpose! The rest of you expert storytellers...we're coming for you!
- For Lasting Impact, Profit First
Profit must come first. I can feel the annoyance from many of you at that statement through the screen! The seasoned business people are likely thinking "DUH!" The people-first crowd and environmental impact crowd are likely thinking "NOPE!" Now, before you lump this in with Gordon Gecko’s "Greed is Good" speech from Wall Street, hear me out. I'm not saying profit is most important or that obscene profits must come first. When I got into business in 2019 I was skeptical of the reality that profit must come first. I spent 17 years as a broadcast journalist focused on truth first! Yes, I worked for a business where profit was necessary to keep me employed, but in the newsroom the focus rightfully wasn't on profit. One investigative story I did as a reporter in Charlotte, NC highlighted misdeeds of a company. In retaliation to that story, the company pulled $1 Million+ in advertising from our TV station. I’m the guy who started and runs a business called Story on Purpose where we love to tell authentic stories of businesses focused on making an impact beyond the bottom line. Us creative storytellers ultimately want to just tell awesome, compelling stories…but profit must come first. Without profit, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for a business to achieve its objectives for any sustainable time, no matter how altruistic, loving, and ambitious they are. The business will implode without profit, and the impact it aimed to make will be halted and potentially reversed. As the owner of a business, it's something I have learned by necessity. I happen to be reading the book "Profit First" by Mike Michalowicz, which focuses on a money management system to ensure your profits. But here's the thing. Yes, profit must come first, but it doesn't mean profit is MOST IMPORTANT. I’m a partner in the growing business collective called, The People Centric Movement. Here’s our People Centric moonshot goal: We believe… that if 3K business leaders commit to conducting business with a “people-centric mindset” by 2030, relationships will strengthen, financial poverty will begin to recede, and people will transform and flourish. And no, that's not a bunch of corporate B.S. (as one of my seasoned business friends suggested it sounds like). The People Centric Movement includes highly profitable businesses who are proving its effectiveness. See Cosmos Corporation, Cambridge Air Solutions, Duvari IT staffing, Undivided Wealth Management, and State Beauty Supply to name a few. The leadership of those companies get together with us as the People Centric Movement on a regular basis to discuss how we can better serve and love our people. Reach out to me if this feels like a good fit for your business. Here’s the thing, profit must come first. And all of those People Centric companies know that. They also know that profit does not need to come at the expense of its people. I’m currently working as Chief Storyteller for a startup with very authentic and strategic goals of empowering people in 2nd and 3rd world countries through business, health, and trauma healing. I hope to be able to share more as we grow. Our Chief Advisor has been putting us as a team through the financial ringer. This guy has decades of experience running global operational organizations in some of the largest financial institutions in the world. And I’ll tell you what, he’s been taking our whole team to the preverbal woodshed as we are on the verge of getting some serious funding. You see, he knows the authenticity the mission and the team's collective ability to achieve it. BUT… he also knows that profit must come first in order for any lasting impact to be made. No matter how you slice it, in business profit must come first…whether my purpose driven soul, people first heart and creative mind want it to be the case. Once profit is established and repeatable…purpose driven businesses can fulfill their mission. At Story on Purpose we believe storytelling is a key component to generating business, maintaining it, and multiplying the impact of the stated purpose. Profit, purpose, people, and impact can all harmoniously work together! But, profit must come first so the impact can last.
- Cosmos Corporation: A Study on Endurance and Faithfulness
“The Bible says when we face difficult times and we don’t really know the way forward, the best thing you can do is just stand,” said Darin Kassebaum, co-owner of Cosmos Corporation. Since the St. Louis, Missouri company started in 1980, Cosmos has faced countless challenges. The producer of natural health, wellness, and care products has faced near bankruptcy and personal tragedy. Darin, his father, and his three brothers who own the company, have leaned on truth from the Bible and faith in Christ to endure. “In those moments I recite, I confess scripture,” said Darin. “And I believe that in doing those things and recalling to my mind the promises God has made, it bolsters courage in my soul. And it enables me to stand.” If you’re a faith driven entrepreneur, you’ve no doubt faced obstacles, too. We sometimes turn to scriptures like Proverbs 3:5,6 (NKJV), where the author says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” That’s a lot easier said than done, however. How do we not lean on our own understanding? It’s all we know in any given situation, even if we are prayerful and diligent. Supplier Shutdown Leads to Prayer and Petition for the Cosmos Corporation In the late 1980s, Cosmos Corporation’s lone shampoo supplier shut down abruptly. In the blink of an eye, Cosmos had hundreds of customer orders with no one to fill them. “We were in trouble instantly,” said Don Kassebaum, Jr. The brothers specifically remember Don Sr. praying, “Lord, we commit this decision to you. If you want us to have this, make it happen. If you don’t, shut the door.” When we offer up a situation for God to direct, we often want Him to come through and save the day. At least in the way we imagine it. We often imagine ourselves standing in front of two doors saying, “God, here is Door #1, and here is Door #2. Door #1 leads to a positive outcome. Door #2 would be less appreciated. I’d be very glad if you chose Door #1.” In this case, the family tried to purchase the shampoo supplier. That was Door #1. They offered $180K to buy the business. The owner came back and asked for $200K. They couldn’t afford the counteroffer, which meant the situation was quickly leading to a disappointing answer to prayer. “So it was clearly shutting the door,” said Darin. “And in those moments you just stand. If you go out of business, you go out of business standing. But I have found dozens of times God opens Door #4 in that moment.” A few days later, a woman who had been working for the supplier approached the Kassebaums and said she could help them make shampoo. “Okay, here’s an open door,” Darin recalled thinking. “Let’s go through this. I’m not certain it’s the right one, but it’s the only door that the Lord hasn’t shut. Let’s go that way. Many times it’s led to an open field of opportunity.” The supplier agreed to sell some production equipment, and the woman taught the family everything they needed to know. The total cost came out to $1800. All of a sudden Cosmos was making shampoo and fulfilling their own orders. It was an unforeseen, pivotal moment that set Cosmos up for breakthroughs in natural shampoo production. A Story of Hope for Entrepreneurs Waiting for God to Open or Close a Door Psalm 119:105 (NKJV) says “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” If you’re like me, you want it to be a floodlight showing everything ahead and around the corner. But that’s not how God works. Not every entrepreneur will receive a resolution like the Cosmos Corporation experienced. In fact, many entrepreneurs will have to close down a business and pick up the pieces. Even when God ultimately moves, it may come after years of prayer, tears, and questioning. By surrendering control and trusting in Him, regardless of the outcome, we grow in intimacy with Christ. And that is the fulfillment our hearts ultimately desire.
- Innovation, Disruption, and the Customer Buying Journey
I spent 3 1/2 hours in a car dealership recently and it led me to explore the topic of innovation. I was commenting to my wife on how puzzling it is to me that the standard customer experience model at most car dealerships continues to be meeting with a sales person in their office, with a big elevated manager’s desk out in the middle of the floor. We’ve all likely experienced the routine. You work with your sales person and possibly negotiate. They leave you in the office several times as they go talk to the manager at the big desk. Even if your purchase is as cut and dry as ours was, simply buying out our lease for a previously set price by Ford, it still involves elements of this seemingly antiquated process. Even if your salespeople and the manager seem nice and trustworthy, as was the case for us this week, it left us with a feeling of “are we getting taken advantage of in some way?” Clearly those feelings we experienced aren’t unique, and that’s what spurred the likes of CarMax and Carvana. They provide you with a car buying experience that is much more streamlined and removes that old car sales approach. You buy the car based on a set price. So, how are CarMax and Carvana doing? CarMax recently did 8.01 Billion dollars in sales in a quarterly report, up 128% year over year. Carvana did 3.34 Billion dollars in sales and is up 198% year over year. What did CarMax and Carvana do? What did Uber do that allowed it to disrupt the taxi cab industry? They all started with the customer experience and how they want to purchase. The customer buying journey is a big topic these days in sales and marketing circles, and for great reason. It customizes the process around what the customer actually wants when they want it. It’s also nothing new to the last decade as we’ve witnessed the rise of Uber, Air BNB, and CarMax. Your smartphone is a result of this method of innovation and disruption. The iPhone came out in 2007. Blackberry phones had a 20% market share in 2009. By 2013 it was less than 2%. One of the most influential video clips I’ve seen as I started my business 18 months ago, is this clip from Steve Jobs shortly after he rejoined Apple in 1997. In a question/answer session at the Worldwide Developer Conference, someone in the audience told Jobs it was clear he had no idea what he was talking about in relation to Java script and Open Doc. While I personally don’t know much if anything about those software programs, Jobs’ answer blew me away. He said, “One of the hardest things when you’re trying to effect change is that people like this gentlemen are right, in certain areas.” He went on to say something that I’ll never forget “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and figure out where you’re going to sell it.” Jobs went on to say, “I’ve made this mistake probably more than anybody in this room. And I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it. As we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with what incredible benefits can we give to the customer, where can we take the customer? Not sitting down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and how are we going to market that?” Wow! What an answer right after being insulted! I assure you I needed to hear that. As a storyteller I love to tell stories that are interesting to me! That’s great, but why would someone want to pay me for that? What I’ve learned through this Steve Jobs clip, from business mentors of mine, and some great business books is that I’ve got to start with the customer first. I wish I could sit here and tell you I’ve mastered it, but I haven’t. I’m growing my business and finding where I can add value to my clients. The beauty is my clients have great stories that will help them achieve their goals. And that’s what I’m doing, helping them to uncover the right authentic story they have to reach their ideal target audience. It’s easy for all of us to start with our skills, competencies, and what we can offer. None of those are bad or even wrong. We just have to start with our customer or audience first, and then figure out how our skills help them. I hope you leave with inspiration on how to look for ways to innovate and disrupt whatever field you’re in.
- I'm Blessed, And...
I’m blessed. It’s so true, I truly am. I’m blessed, and… I’m blessed, and there’s a lot of hard life stuff I’ve navigated the past couple of years. How do you answer when someone asks, how are you doing? Do you feel pressure to present a version of yourself and your life that paints a rosy, polished image? I know I do. That’s why I’m focusing on I’m blessed…and. I gave a speech to start the year 2022 on gratitude. I used quotes from Will Arnett, John F. Kennedy, and Corrie ten Boom, a holocaust survivor who thanked God for the fleas in her concentration camp tent because they kept the guards out of the tent so they could have a Bible study. This post in no way negates the power of gratitude. Instead, I aim to emphasize the importance of holding both in balance; gratitude and vulnerability: being real about the pain and challenges we are dealing with. We all know pretending a problem isn’t there doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t make the pain stop. In the midst of this onslaught of growing social media perception pressure these past 15+ years we’ve had leaders step up. Brene Brown is one of the most widely known and celebrated for her focus on vulnerability. Brown said, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” We can all recognize that our setting and the people we are with often impact how we answer the question, how are you doing? In church it’s often, “oh, I’m blessed. God is so good.” It’s true God is good, but you also may have just lost a loved one to suicide (the recent story of a Christian mentor of mine). I would argue the brutally hard stuff doesn’t negate God’s goodness. After all, Jesus asked God if there’s any way other than crucifixion…only to then say “Thy will be done.” In a business setting it’s often: “Oh, I’m just grinding away.” When I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills next month. That’s a story I’ve had as an entrepreneur many times these past few years. In a social media setting it’s often: “I’ve got the best life, the best family, and everything is GREEAAAAAT!” In actuality…It’s just not. What I’ve learned over the past 4+ years through a major career change, marriage challenges, and tremendous uncertainty, I had better be real about this shit with people or I’m going to choose very unhealthy self-medication. And I learned it from courageous people who opened up about challenges and struggles in their life with me. It empowered me and emboldened me to open up about my own struggles. It’s not a comparison game. Your pain isn’t diminished because someone else has gone through something that seems more challenging. Brene Brown also said, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” This also isn’t about being a Debbie Downer, we all have the Eor’s in our lives who turn everything into a negative. Simon Sinek wrote “There is a difference between vulnerability and telling people everything about yourself. Vulnerability is a feeling. Telling everyone about yourself is just facts and details.” To be clear, it is through an approach of authentic gratitude that helps me get through the tough moments that I need to be authentically vulnerable about. How am I doing? I’m blessed, and…