How Brands Can Tell Better Stories with Bobby Lehew

bobby lehew

“Every order sold is a story waiting to be told. Everyone has a story to tell.” You won’t meet a bigger advocate for story and its ability to move people than Bobby Lehew. As Chief Branding Officer at ROBYN, he employs story every day in redefining this growing business. While story is an exciting topic for marketers, it’s also misunderstood. I couldn’t wait to unpack story — why it matters and how we can use it more — with Bobby on this week’s episode of the On Brand podcast. 

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About Bobby Lehew

Bobby Lehew is the Chief Branding Officer at ROBYN, a branded products fulfillment company that creates and distributes promotional products, corporate apparel, and printed materials through e-commerce company stores. Robyn’s achievements include being recognized three years in a row by Inc. magazine as one of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies in the US, numerous industry awards, an Addy, and being featured twice in the $20 billion promotional industry as one of the top fifty “Best Places to Work.” Bobby is a national speaker on topics related to B2B marketing and, as an ardent bibliophile, loves a world where business marketing and storytelling make story-selling magic.

Episode Highlights

How to make your brand’s stories more like This American Life. Bobby and I first crossed paths last month at MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston. I was talking about branding and he followed me with a talk (to a packed room!) entitled, “From Storytelling to Story-Selling: How to Tell a B2B Story That Is ‘This American Life’ Compelling.” What are most businesses missing? Bobby quoted Ira Glass by noting that there’s three things our stories need: action, stakes, and a moment of reflection.

Forget logic. Stories require emotion and empathy. “We think we are logical and rational so we create stories with features and benefits. In fact, we’re governed by emotions.” We need to look for ways to infuse our case studies and histories with more empathy and emotion. “You’ve made it so easy for us.” When a customer of Bobby’s said this to him he realized that even though they sell products, they’re really selling something more.

“You have to map what you do to an emotion.” How does a business go about doing this? “Listen for what they (your customers) aren’t telling you. Listen for the interjections (the surprises) and the expletives (what you’re doing wrong).” That’s where you can find emotion that you can build on beyond the basic features and benefits. Speaking of emotions, according to BuzzSumo the emotions most often provoked by the most shared articles include awe, laughter, and amusement.

Has our digital culture damaged our ability to invest in stories? “We are burned out by all of the micro moments in our life. Story isn’t easy but it still matters. It’s the conveyance. Stories go to work on you like arrows.” For further reinforcement, check out this article from Fast Company on Why Companies Need Novelists including the times they need them most — when they’re born, when they have new leaders, and when they’re in trouble.

“The best salespeople have always been great storytellers.” If you think of the successful salespeople you know, it’s easy to see that Bobby is quite right. So how can you get good at storytelling? “Fall back in love with the short story. You’ll get narrative and technique.”

Where does Bobby go to get inspired by stories? “Books. Authors like Wendell Berry and Wendy Davis. Podcasts like The Guardian Short StoriesNew Yorker Fiction, and PRI Short Stories. Brands are also great storytellers like this video from UPS.”

What brand has made Bobby smile? He shared two. First, Frye boots for what this classic marketer is doing to foster the maker movement. Second, Ralph Lauren makes Bobby smile because of the founder’s famous quote, “I’m in the storytelling business.” Well said, Ralph. As are we all. And if we’re not, we should be.

To learn more about Bobby Lehew, check out his website

As We Wrap …

Before we go, I want to flip the microphone around to our community … Erika Krukowski gave us a shout on Twitter about our recent episode focused on brand personality and purpose featuring Nathan Sinsabaugh. Thanks for listening!

Did you hear something you liked on this episode or another? Do you have a question you’d like our guests to answer? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #OnBrandPodcast and you may just hear your thoughts here on the show.

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Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!