Storytelling for businesses is an essential part of your marketing strategy. It helps audiences connect with you and your brand and ultimately helps you make sales.

But how do you even begin to tell your story if you’re not sure what your story is?

In this episode Katie Flamman talks to Gareth Dimelow from Inside Stories. They discuss the importance of understanding your business story as well as the keys to creating compelling stories that connect. 

Key Takeaways

  • Reeling off a list of events does not constitute a story; great stories require elements of drama, conflict, or resolution. 
  • Authenticity is also crucial – aligning personal or business values with the stories being told creates resonance with the audience. 
  • Audiences want to be involved and engaged; they don’t just want information handed to them but rather desire opportunities to participate and make connections.

Guest Information

Find out more about Inside Stories agency here:

Insidestories.guru

Tel: 07516 823195

Want to work with Gareth? Get in touch with him or his business partner, Terry.

Gareth Dimelow: gareth@insidestories.guru

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gareth-dimelow-b05296a/

Terry Bower – terry@insidestories.guru

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/terrybower-insidestories

The Transcript:

Katie Flamman 00:00

Welcome to Storytelling for Business, the podcast that helps you build better customer relationships by telling stories your clients want to hear. I’m Katie Flamman. I’m a voiceover artist specialising in corporate storytelling. I’ve worked with clients like American Express, Volkswagen and Sainsbury’s, helping them to share business developments and brand stories. But why is business storytelling important? What makes a great story, and how can storytelling create leads for businesses and build blasting client relationships? I’m on a mission to find out the answers, and I’ll be sharing my discoveries along the way.

Katie Flamman 00:37

Today’s episode is about clues and finding your story, and my first guest has created a business around just that. If anyone gets why I wanted to create this podcast, it’s Gareth Dimelow. His agency, Inside Stories, helps business owners find and share their story and use storytelling to grow their business. With his co-founder, Terry Bower, Gareth believes that storytelling is the key to unlocking engagement with your clients. Now, it seems to me that Inside Stories is a unique company. They’re something like a detective agency crossed with marketing and PR with a smattering of therapy. So let’s find out more. Gareth Dimelow, welcome to the podcast.

Gareth Dimelow 01:25

Good morning, Katie. Thank you for having me. It’s lovely to be here, and thank you for that introduction as well.

Katie Flamman 01:30

It’s brilliant to have you. Well, you heard my description of your company, am I right? How would you describe what you do?

Gareth Dimelow 01:36

It’s a pretty perceptive description actually because I think you’re right that there are three key components to what we do and how we work with our clients. And I think the first, the obvious elephant in the room is it’s marketing, but it’s not marketing in the sense of a programmatic system of tactics. I think there are lots of agencies out there that can deliver that stuff. They have the resources, they have the technical capability to roll that stuff out. But what we’ve recognised from, let’s just say a number of years in the business is that the stuff that you market doesn’t just happen. So there’s two of the things that you described, the detective component and the therapy component are equally important, some would say more so because that’s where the real understanding of what the business is about comes from.

Gareth Dimelow 02:30

And people hearing this for the first time might think, “Who are you to presume, I need your help telling me what I’m about?” But I think the thing that we’ve realised over the last few years is that everybody needs a little help working that stuff out, in the same way that anyone who’s had a good therapist would tell anybody, it’s worth having a therapist because it just helps you formulate and shape your understanding of yourself, understanding why you react a certain way you do to things, understanding how you feel about certain things, and digging deeper and getting closure on all of that.

Gareth Dimelow 03:08

I think with businesses, it’s the same thing. So the detective bit is absolutely, we have to sift through the clues because there are clues everywhere to any business. The materials they already put out, what’s on their website, conversations that we have with founders and employees, but it’s really up to us to ask the right questions Columbo style, just work out what are the things that they’re not telling us because they’re being obtuse or secretive, but they’re not telling us because they don’t know what to tell us because nobody’s ever asked the right questions. So absolutely, yes to the detective component. And as I said, with the therapy, several of our clients have actually said at the end of the day long workshop that we run with them, they’ve sat back in their chair, let out a big sigh of relief and said, “Wow, I feel like I’ve just put my business through therapy,” and I think the interesting crossover there is, therapy is so intensely personal.

Gareth Dimelow 04:10

It’s a human process by which we understand what makes us tick, and business we tend to see as a distant, ethereal entity that sits somewhere over there where money comes in and money goes out, and clients are happy and blah, blah, blah. But it’s so fundamentally depersonalised, and I think when you found a business, when you set up something, it’s you through and through. That personal thing is baked into everything that you do. So actually having a therapy session where you connect the drivers that affect you as a person and the decisions you make as a business owner are completely intertwined. So I think there’s absolutely space for the therapy side of what we do as well, helping people reconcile any tensions that might exist or even just coming to terms with why this has always been their calling without them ever being able to articulate that.

Katie Flamman 05:16

And quite a lot of the business owners you work with are they presumably small businesses or solo businesses? Is that why there’s such a strong personality coming through there?

Gareth Dimelow 05:27

Yes, predominantly small to medium size. I mean, I have separately run this process with much larger organisations prior to Terry and I founding Inside Stories. So it’s a tried and tested process that works with a business of any size. And funnily enough, with larger businesses, what tends to happen is it’s an opportunity for realignment or it’s an opportunity to retroactively put some guiding tracks in place to a business that’s grown faster than anybody expected. But yes, predominantly these are smaller businesses, and I think absolutely… And I can say this, having been self-employed for seven years, I left 20 years of working in big agencies where I had that comfort factor, that security, always knowing that every month money would appear in my account and I had a place to go to do the thing that I called work.

Gareth Dimelow 06:23

And when you set up on your own, you really have to, it has to be something that you passionately believe in, and it has to be something that comes from inside. So absolutely, the crossover between the drivers for you as a person and the drivers for your business are one and the same thing, but I think the thing that I find really… I love meeting people and I love conversations, and I love getting to know them, and I think the thing that is always really fascinating is watching that moment where the light bulb goes on, where somebody realises that they’ve always been doing a version of the thing that they’re doing now, but they’ve never quite connected the dots to see why that was always their calling.

Katie Flamman 07:10

A light shining on it.

Gareth Dimelow 07:12

… yes, it’s always been there, and they’ve never afforded themselves the opportunity to take a couple of steps back and see their world and their life from a singular perspective where everything is in view. It’s like you’ll often meet people who they’ll do various jobs for 20 years and then they’ll throw it all in and they’ll decide to become a teacher, and when you actually look at all of the things that they’ve done or the roles that they fulfilled in different organisations, there’s an element of teaching, of guidance, of support, of nurturing, of education that is a consistent thread through everything that they’ve done, and that’s the point where they realise, “I’ve been…” I don’t want to get metaphysical, but for some people it’s like, “The universe was telling me this all along.”

Katie Flamman 08:03

Yeah, “This was what I was destined for.”

Gareth Dimelow 08:03

“And I was just too busy to notice the signs.”

Katie Flamman 08:07

So who you are then is completely connected with what your story is., Is that right?

Gareth Dimelow 08:16

Yeah, at least it should be. And I think there’s an interesting caveat in that, obviously I get invited to anything that involves stories because people say, “Oh, well, you’re the storyteller. We want you to come along. We’ve got a great day of stories planned,” and it might be a programme of speakers who’ve all been invited as special guests to tell their stories. And a lot of the time what actually happens is people just stand up and effectively talk through their CV, and I would argue, and part of the reason we do what we do Inside Stories is we all instinctively know what a story is. We feel when we’ve experienced a story. But a lot of things that people will dress up as a story because let’s face it, story sounds nicer than content, or story sounds nicer than pros, but what they’re actually doing is they’re just reeling off a sequence of things that happened.

Gareth Dimelow 09:19

And I think that this radar that we all have, this ability to recognise when we’ve found a story, I think is one of the things that when you watch a movie that doesn’t land with you, or you watch a TV series that feels like it’s treading water and it’s not really going anywhere, we are not all movie and TV critics, but we feel that there’s something wrong. And I would argue that the thing that is wrong that we are picking up on is it’s not telling us a story, it’s just showing a bunch of things happening in sequence. And Terry and I are both movie fans, that’s one of the things we first connected on. And I think we both have that sense of, particularly franchise movies, for instance, where the decision is made to make a movie and a budget is allocated and a release date is found, and then they get a bunch of writers in a room and try and bash out-

Katie Flamman 10:16

What should we make it about?

Gareth Dimelow 10:17

… well, what should we make it about? And to me, that is a giant flashing warning sign that the story didn’t come first. What they’re doing is they’re generating content to fill a slot, and then saying to the audience, “Will that do?”

Katie Flamman 10:35

And it’s about the audience, isn’t it?.

Gareth Dimelow 10:36

It has to be.

Katie Flamman 10:36

 Whether it’s a film, whether it’s your business client, what you are putting out there as content or a story, or whatever it is, has to resonate with them because it’s all about them. You want them to be interested in what you’re saying, don’t you?

Gareth Dimelow 10:52

Yes. And that’s, I think, where a lot of people go wrong with not just storytelling, but with marketing generally. I’m going to keep stepping back and going, broader context is marketing, specific focus is story. But that’s always been a problem I think for marketeers is businesses sit around going, “These are all of our priorities. These are the things that matter to us. These are the things that we want to achieve and accomplish, so we need to tell the world that we’re doing those things.” And the audience is going, “Great for you. What about me? That’s not my priority. That’s good for you. It’s not really for me.”

Gareth Dimelow 11:31

And I think one of the first things that we do in our process actually, is really about stepping outside of that insular focus for organisations and helping them think about what the audience needs to get out of it. And again, just to use another film reference here, we often reference Andrew Stanton, who’s one of the directors at Pixar, and he did a fantastic TED Talk, which if you haven’t seen it, Katie, I really think you’ll enjoy. It was a 15-minute presentation about the power of storytelling.

Katie Flamman 12:03

I’ll put a link to it in the show notes.

Gareth Dimelow 12:05

Yeah. It’s really, really wonderful. And one of the concluding thoughts he had in that Ted Talk was that, audiences don’t want four, they want two plus two. And I liked the sound of that thought, but it took me a while to unpack it and work out what he was really saying, and the conclusion that I came to that made it so powerful is that he’s not just talking about, “Don’t give them the answer. They want the journey. They want the detail.” He’s also saying the audience needs to feel like they’re participating in the creation of the story. Now, that’s not to say that this is a cheesier and adventure thing for anyone in your audience who’s old enough to remember that publishing phenomenon of the early to mid ’80s like I am, this isn’t-

Katie Flamman 12:56

I had a whole set of those.

Gareth Dimelow 12:58

… I love them, they’re amazing, but this isn’t about throwing it open the way we did 15 years ago when suddenly user generator content was everywhere, where brands stepped back and said, “Well, we’re not going to tell you, we’re going to get you to tell us.” And what they were really saying was, “We’re going to get all of this content for free because we’re going to ask our audience to make it for us,” it’s not that. When Andrew Stanton talks about the audience wants two plus two, what he means is they want to be able to find a pattern. They want to be able to fill in the gaps. They want to be able to tie the things together and step back and go, “Oh, I understand what that story, not just what the story told me, but what the story was about.”

Gareth Dimelow 13:41

Or, “I want to piece together from the environmental context or a scene that had no dialogue or some almost inscrutable expressions on characters’ faces. There’s other things that are going on that are not written in the script for me to follow,” so what I’m doing is I’m a co-conspirator in the storytelling. I’m getting an opportunity to say, “Ah, I understand what this means and what this means for the story overall.” And I think that’s the problem with people who take either too literal or too formulaic an approach to telling the world about themselves.

Gareth Dimelow 14:22

They don’t leave any gaps, “I did this and then I did this, and then we did this,” and it doesn’t matter whether that’s an individual or a business. Their About section on a website is just a sequence of things that happened. Whereas for me, for it to feel like a story, there has to be a driving force, or there has to be a moment of inspiration, or there has to be a moment of test or challenge or failure that they bounce back from, then it starts to feel like a story. Otherwise, it’s just a sequential list of things that occurred.

Katie Flamman 14:57

It’s so interesting to think about marketing in this way, in a way that’s really going to connect with the listener. I’m going to come back to this point because I feel like you’ve talked about Terry and you’ve talked about Inside Stories, and I feel like I ought to ask you, how did Inside Stories come about? And we’ll come back to the key points that people can do to make sure they’ve got the storytelling part right in a minute. But let’s backtrack a bit, how did Inside Stories itself come about?

Gareth Dimelow 15:29

Okay. Well, there’s a couple of parts to this story actually. The first one was, in my last full-time role, I was working in a big agency and I was wearing multiple hats. I was heading up planning and strategy. I was looking after the pitches, I was supporting the creative team. But I also, for about 12 months, had to look after our digital proposition. And by that I meant I was quite clear that I didn’t want to run the digital projects because that wasn’t my skillset or my capability, and to be quite honest, it wasn’t something I was interested in.

Gareth Dimelow 16:01

But in terms of formulating a point of view on the role of Digital for our agency and what we were delivering for our clients, I said, “Yeah, I can do that.” But of course, the moment it was announced that I was looking after Digital, all of the third party suppliers who provided us with technical solutions for our clients, all came out of the woodwork wanting to get some face time with me on the assumption that if they could get me on side, then I would then advocate on their behalf to our clients, which makes sense. But I just found myself sitting through an awful lot of really turgid, uninspired, flat pieces of content.

Katie Flamman 16:46

Or poor you, Gareth.

Gareth Dimelow 16:48

Oh, yeah. They were all very slickly presented. They were all done with interactive components, and oftentimes they’d be presenting on an iPad and they could throw stuff up to the big screen on the wall-

Katie Flamman 16:59

But you didn’t care.

Gareth Dimelow 17:00

… and that wasn’t fun… I didn’t care because what I was looking for was a reason to recommend them over the many, many competitors that they had in the marketplace. And on a number of occasions, I would say to them, “Look, I get what you do. We’ve worked with you before. I know what this stuff is. I appreciate this is just a sort of getting to know you opportunity, but I want to know what differentiates you from the other people in this space who broadly do what you do.” And not one of them was ever able to come up with a differentiation that meant anything. They’d say broad bland statements like, “Well, we’re better or we’re smarter.”

Gareth Dimelow 17:45

Or sometimes they’d say, “We’re cheaper,” which ultimately, a lot of people make a decision based on costs, so that’s fine, but it doesn’t make anybody feel anything. It’s a pragmatic box ticking exercise. And so I realised that the reason they weren’t able to differentiate themselves was because they’d never spent the time to understand why they did what they did. And of course, this was around the time that Simon Sinek did his famous TED Talk about why, how, what and the power of purpose-driven leadership. And again, that’s something that a lot of people got wrong because they watched the video, they read his book, Start with the Why. It’s all very good. I’m not arguing against it, I’m a big advocate of it. But there’s one thing that Simon Sinek doesn’t do in that Ted Talk or in his book, and that’s telling you how to unlock the thought process to find that why. So everybody’s drunk the Kool-Aid, they all know they need a why, but they don’t know how to get there, and it’s not easy. So back to answering your question, I was spending all of this time realising that these companies hadn’t done this work, and I started because I was getting frustrated in the meetings. I’d start throwing out, “Well, it seems to me that the thing that you’re really offering is X,” or, “I think there’s a missed opportunity here that if you talked about why.”

Gareth Dimelow 19:08

And every time they’d be scribbling it down going, “This is fantastic, this is super helpful,” and then they’d leave the meeting and I thought, “This is what I should be doing,” because firstly, it’s the bit of my job that I enjoy the most, which is active listening and composing a story on the fly based on the inspiration that I’m getting in the room, that’s the thing that I love doing most as a human being, and all the other stuff was less interesting to me, so I was like, “That’s what I need to be doing.” So when I left that job, I found myself making two lists. So there was a list of things that I was good at, and there was a list of things that I enjoyed doing. And everything that made both lists was how I shaped what I was going to do, and understandably-

Katie Flamman 19:54

Very sensible.

Gareth Dimelow 19:55

… that sort of consultative storytelling, nurturing, all of that side of it was what rose to the top. Flash forward possibly three years, in which time I’d started formulating a process, I’d started looking at some exercises that I could use back to that point about Sinek not telling you how to come up with a why. I’d started finding out ways of helping people towards that goal. But of course, it’s not enough to go, “Right, we’ve got our why, ta-da, we’re done,” because it’s not. That’s the first step on the journey. What you’ve then got to do is find ways of baking that into the stories you put out into the universe. I also realised that there was a need to educate the world on what I think a story is, and I stress what I think a story is. I’m not arguing that I own the definition, but what I did create was my definition, which suits the way I bring stories into the world, and that way I had something that was an ownable IP that was uniquely ours.

Gareth Dimelow 21:03

And when I met Terry, what Terry was excited about was being based in Brighton, which is such a hotbed of innovation and startup culture, you can’t throw a stone without hitting three incubator hubs. And so it meant that there’s a real diversity and breadth of inspiring, passionate, enthusiastic people who just need some help. And I realised that with Terry as my guy on the ground, who was there to formulate the relationships, to meet the people, to get out there and advocate and evangelise the power of storytelling, that between us, we could build something really quite powerful. So that’s how it all started, and it’s been nearly four years now.

Katie Flamman 21:50

I’m jumping in here because 20 minutes of whiz by and it’s almost time to go. But before we do, what did we learn from this episode? Today’s key takeaways are one, reeling off a list of things that happened doesn’t make it a story. Two, great stories must have an element of drama, conflict or resolution. Three, authenticity is really important. Your values and your business values must be the same and should be reflected in the stories you tell. Four, audiences like to be involved and to be allowed to fill in the gaps. Remember, they don’t want four, they want two plus two. What a first episode. So much great stuff to digest. And the good news is, Gareth was only just getting started and there’s loads more to come. In Episode 2, Gareth shares the recipe for cooking up a good story.

Gareth Dimelow 22:47

Well, the secret sauce is really simple as I see it. And so what I came up with is a simple mnemonic with three Ms, which is, for something to be a story, it has to be meaningful, memorable and moving.

Katie Flamman 23:01

If you want to find out more about those three Ms right now, just keep listening. Episode 2 is lined up and ready to go. It’s called Chemistry, the Power of Story. But for now, a massive thanks to Gareth Dimelow for sharing his storytelling expertise. If you’d like Gareth’s help with finding your story, he’d love to hear from you, his contact details and the Inside Stories’ website address are in the show notes. And if your business story’s already figured out but you are looking for a voiceover artist to share it with the world, I’d be happy to help, so give me a shout. I’m Katie Flamman, and this is Storytelling For Business. Until next time, goodbye.