The story is everything.
One of the keys to the story of the 21st century will be the building of great things and cultivating a community around those things by telling the community why they should care. If you can do that effectively (spoiler alert: not easy) then they will vote for you with their wallets and their time. Your customers will love you and they will tell you how much value you're creating for them by paying you money to continue to exist and spreading the word about why others should do the same.
A story that is particularly fascinating is the way the internet has gone through it's own phase changes.
In the beginning, the internet was vague, slightly scary and extremely exclusive. Few but the very early adopters (Seth Godin's sneezers)were connected to the world-wide-web and the first phase of its lifecycle was actually getting humans on to the network.
Phase 1: Build the network.
Benedict Evans, the very-likely-genius of Andreessen Horowitz, in a fantastic presentation on the internet's incubation, claims that access to the internet is now basically 100%. Masai warrior culture still holds true to their ancestral ways of life but now also have cell-phones with 3G-LTE tucked into their beautifully colored garb. Phase 1 complete.
In the second phase of the internet, now that access to the network has been solved, communities of like-minded people have diverged from the mainstream and formed specialized groups. Sub-networks began to emerge and we are now siloed in our own virtual communities. The internet was really big in Phase 1. In Phase 2, it's become very small.
Phase 2: Find your tribe.
Once our sub-networks of social justice warriors, political pundits, car junkies, badminton enthusiasts, pottery lovers and adventure addicts have all been established we have to manage those networks. They need services, collaboration, guidance and a common voice to present to the rest of the world: "People like us, do things like this."
Phase 3: Manage the network
Some of the best companies in the world today are glorified logistics companies that manage time, information, people and money; Amazon manages the network of people who want cost-effective goods and their packages quickly, Uber manages the network of entrepreneurs who own a vehicle (supply) and commuters who want a seamless ride-hailing experience (demand), Airbnb manages the network of travelers who want an upscale, comfortable travel experience and Sankara manages the network of city-dwellers eager for cultural goods, flavors and experiences.
Phase 2 and Phase 3 are important to us here: the networks have subdivided and are hyper-specific and we need to find a way to serve our network. We have never needed to tell our customers why they should care more than we do right now.
“Everyone always acts in accordance with the internal narrative. Always....
The real question, then, is where does the internal narrative come from and how does it get changed?”
Seth Godin, People Like Us Do Things Like This
In Kevin Kelly's 1,000 true fans, he paints the picture of modern success for someone shipping great work.
“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”
Kevin Kelly's 1,000 True Fans
In the beginning, mass-marketing encouraged us to steal attention; to spam the world and hope 1% of our spam sticks in the form of engagement or direct traffic. The internet was a vast savannah and so you needed to spend hard-earned marketing dollars blasting your message as far and as wide as was virtually possible. The problem: most people don't care what you're selling and they never will. Thus the attention you stole, which they will never get back, didn't benefit you and it certainly didn't benefit the community. Now, the internet is small; it is the same vast savannah but communities of like-minded humans dot the horizon and they are constantly telling you what it is they want and how you can serve them. It's all right there; not for the taking, but for you to generously fill gaps with your story.
"Fans, customers, patrons have been around forever. What’s new here? A couple of things. While direct relationship with customers was the default mode in old times, the benefits of modern retailing meant that most creators in the last century did not have direct contact with consumers.....If you lived in any of the 2 million small towns on Earth you might be the only one in your town to crave death metal music, or get turned on by whispering, or want a left-handed fishing reel. Before the web you’d never be able to satisfy that desire. You’d be alone in your fascination. But now satisfaction is only one click away. Whatever your interests as a creator are, your 1,000 true fans are one click from you. As far as I can tell there is nothing — no product, no idea, no desire — without a fan base on the internet."
Kevin Kelly's 1,000 True Fans
How you tell your story depends on the community you are serving and what their needs are. It starts by being in some way remarkable. The territory at the perimeter is intimidating to some and thrilling to the generous storyteller. The mass marketing era was peppered by average firms doing average things which created a race to the middle that left space for renegades to win entire markets. Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple are all remarkable; worthy of attention; striking, extraordinary, exceptional, amazing, astonishing, astounding, marvelous, wonderful, sensational, stunning, incredible, unbelievable, miraculous or phenomenal.
Once you've found a way to become remarkable and be talked about you need to tell your story as authentically as possible to as specific a community as possible.
Apple: Beautifully made devices for people who don't want to settle for average. Apple's rise to fame was solidified in 2001 with Job's prodigious value proposition for the iPod; 1,000 songs in your pocket. In a single sentence, we know the story of the iPod user; the busy professional who will pay for mobile convenience and won't settle for anything less than their entire library in their pocket. Bright white headphones so everyone around you knows you're using Apple. You don't only want an Apple product, you want to be seen using an Apple product.
Stripe: "Increasing the GDP of the Internet." Wow. What the hell does that mean? I don't know but I want to know. Patrick Collison's 9 Billion dollar company is changing how money moves on the internet and their customers love them for it. It's no wonder they serve almost every major company.
Seth Godin: "People like us do things like this." Shipping work is scary but it's also the most generous thing you can do; bravely shipping great work for customers who would miss you if you were gone. Linchpin, Purple Cow, This is Marketing, Tribe; Seth is a master at telling us why we need you and we love him so much he's the first hit on a google search of......"Seth."
The Remarkable Checklist
1. Build the network
2. Find your tribe.
3. Serve your community by producing Great Work; ship generously and often
4. Tell your community why they should care: the story is everything