Brand Storytelling Pointers from a Hollywood Screenwriter

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Michael Jamin is a Hollywood screenwriter who’s written for a number of big TV shows like Maron, Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, Out of Practice, and Just Shoot Me, just to name a few. Together with his wife, Michael also runs an incredible eCommerce store called Twirly Girl. They make beautiful, high-quality dresses for girls made in the United States.

This episode is a primer on all things storytelling for your brand from someone who has the background and authority to speak on the topic. Michael and I chat about how you can use brand storytelling to grow your business, build your brand, and connect with customers. Don’t miss Michael’s gems about what goes into building a good story and the exact formula for writing compelling stories to help you promote your brand and your products.


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(With your host Andrew Youderian of eCommerceFuel.com and Michael Jamin of twirlygirlshop.com)

Andrew: Hey, hey, guys, it’s Andrew here and welcome to the eCommerceFuel podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in today. And today on the show, I’m joined by Michael Jamin, who is a Hollywood screenwriter, who’s written for a bunch of big shows on TV that you’ll definitely recognize. He also runs an incredible e-commerce store with his wife, Twirly Girl. They make beautiful made in the United States really high-quality dresses for girls with some cool features. And we talk about storytelling, copywriting and storytelling. Mostly storytelling. How you can use it for your business, to build your brand, to connect with customers. What goes into a good story? It’s a primer on all things storytelling for your business, from a guy who really has the chops and the background to be able to talk authoritatively on the topic. It’s a fun discussion.

But before diving in I wanted to mention just a couple things. First, I wanted to turn you guys on to a handful of podcasts I’ve been enjoying recently. The first one is the Ecomcrew podcast with Michael Jackness, one of our most active forum members, and Grant Chan. Really tons of great stuff over there, both in terms of the podcast as well as some long form really in-depth e-commerce articles that are well worth a read. We’ll link up to their website and podcast in the show notes, as I will for the rest of these. The second one is the Jason and Scot show. Co-hosted by Jason Goldberg, another forum member and also a man behind…one of the team members at Razorfish, and Scott Wingo, who is the co-founder of Channel Advisor. They’ve been putting out some great episodes as well, and you can find those over at retailgeek.com. And finally Nerd Marketing, of course. You know Drew Sanocki if you’re a regular listener, and he’s got his podcast up and rolling over at nerdmarketing.com. Really great punchy very actionable episodes over there, so recommend checking those guys out and then enjoying all three of those.

Andrew: And then finally, it’s been a while but I want to do a first sell shoutout. And this one’s going out to Ryan Barr, who you may remember because he’s been on the podcast before. He’s the man behind whippingpost.com. And recently launched firstdraftco.com, where he and his business partner really designed and launched the ultimate notebook. The most functional beautiful notebook that they could come up with, and I think they did a killer job. They’ve got some beautiful notebooks over there. So Ryan, congratulations for the first sale on the new project. That’s always exciting even if you get a killer successful e-commerce business like you do. Excited to see how that comes along in the coming months and years. All right. With all that being said let’s go ahead and jump into today’s discussion with Michael German, on storytelling and really tying that into your brain.

From Shakespeare to Beavis & Butthead

Andrew: Michael, so I’m guessing you were born a famous Hollywood writer, gallivanting around with celebrities, living this life that from the outside in I’m sure looks very glamorous. And as we were talking about before we hopped on, it probably isn’t quite as sexy as you might see from the…when you get into the daily grind. But how did you get into screenwriting to begin with?

Michael: As I kid I used to watch Cheers. I love Cheers and I remember watching the show, reading the credits at the end and thinking if only I could be like a grip on Cheers, then I could work my way up to writer. Because I wanted to be a comedy writer. And then now that I’m in the business I realized oh the grips get treated way better than the writers do. So I moved out to Hollywood after college, and I just pounded the pavement and I started from the bottom as a production assistant, and then I now worked my way up. So I’ve been writing for about 20 years.

Andrew: Did you study film or anything related to that in school at all, or any formal education?

Michael: No, I studied English literature, so I know a lot about Shakespeare. That’s it.

Andrew: How much of that carries over into what you’re writing for now?

Michael: Just once, only once. I was on a show called Just Shoot Me, and we’re breaking a story in a room. And I said, “You know this story feels a lot like King Lear.” And everyone was like, “Really? What’s King Lear about?” And so then we just basically copied King Lear.

Andrew: Nice. I actually did a semester in, I think I had the most untraditional college path ever. I started in computer science for a year, and I had one semester where I was convinced I wanted to do film. And so I jumped to film and then I went to business. And I went all up between the…I mean, I don’t think everyone else has followed that path before. So it’s always something I thought was really interesting.

Michael: Smart. You made the right choice.

Andrew: I don’t know. Apart from Maron, which is what you, of course, you’re working on right now, what shows have been the most fun to write for, that you’ve worked on in the past?

Michael: Well, Just Shoot Me was a wonderful experience. It was my first real job as a writer. I did a couple episodes of Beavis and Butthead because I worked on King of the Hill for a while. And so that was Mike Judge’s show, and then Mike said, “Hey, they brought back Beavis and Butthead. You want to write some of those?” Like the pay was terrible but my partner and I, we just jumped at it, because it’s like Beavis and Butthead. So that was a lot of fun because they’re iconic. So those were both really good experiences. We ran a show called Glen Martin DDS on Nick at Night that no one ever saw, but it was a lot of fun. But it was a bit of a disaster for the network.

The Best (& Worst) Celebs He’s Worked With

Andrew: And I’ll ask this one too, and if you punt on it I don’t blame you, but I’ve got to ask it. The nicest celebrities you’ve worked with, and maybe the worst celebrity in your opinion you worked with?

Michael: Oh sure. I did a show called Out Of Practice years ago with Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing and Ty Burrell from…Ty Burrell is now on Modern Family. And Ty is really one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s the father of Phil in Modern Family. Terrific guy. Henry Winkler, he’s got the reputation of being the nicest man in show business, and he absolutely is. That guy, like he was the Fonz back in the ’70s. Now he’s a sweet old Jewish guy who calls you Bubby. I’ve worked with some…should I mention them? I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about how Brian Dennehy yelled at me on set. I don’t want to mention that, right? Brian Dennehy, remember him?

Andrew: I don’t, but I have zero cultural insights. My wife makes fun of me. I almost know nothing going on in the cultural realm, so that doesn’t mean anything.

Michael: But there are plenty. I’ve worked with my share of celebrities who are nightmares, so that’s never fun. But for the most part, I worked with a lot of really nice, wonderful actors, and celebrities who couldn’t be sweeter. Jason Alexander, I worked with. He was sweet. Mel Brooks, he’s a hero of mine. I directed him on a cartoon I did. Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. It’s cool.

The Jump from the Silver Screen to eCommerce

Andrew: How did e-commerce work its way into this life of screenwriting that you had? Or was it the other way around?

Michael: Well. I got started…my wife has business called Twirly Girls. And so she makes Twirly dresses for girls. And so this is, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight years ago, and she hadn’t figured out any kind of branding. And I decided, well…she came up with a cute jacket called the treasure pocket jacket, had a lot of little pockets in it. And then I thought well, maybe I’ll write up…you want me to write a poem for it? And we could hide the poem in the jacket, and it will be a little surprise for little girls. And so I wrote this little poem about it, and she just loved it and she’s like tears were in her eyes. And I don’t know if because she loved the poem so much, or because I took so much time to express interest in her company.

But then I started writing…she asked me to write product stories for all the products that she was selling. That was a lot of work but that’s kind of how I got involved in the company.

Andrew: And I’ve mentioned your website on the show before. And it’s incredible. You’ve done such an incredible job, but the products themselves are beautiful. My girls have some dresses of yours and they look…absolutely love them. They’re really well made and they’re just, they’re really cool. Of course, if you hadn’t guessed from the name Twirly Girl there, there built to really kind of billow out and twirl when the girls go round. But more than that, just the way you’ve marketed it. And each product that you have a little story for, the copy is some of the best I’ve ever seen online for products. For each product, you’ve got a little story there. Was that something you did from the beginning? Is that something that kind of evolved over time?

Michael: It really started after I wrote that little poem for her. And she’s like can you do it for everything? And we have a lot of products so it’s a lot of work, but there was really the only way I knew at the time on how to contribute to the company. I wanted to support her and I’m a writer, I write jokes, I write stories. What else can I possibly do? And actually, I remember I went and bought Business for Dummies. And I read that and I was like, “This is over my head, man. Business for Dummies is too hard for me.” So I figured, I’ll just write stories. That way, I can do it, I can contribute any way I can. And then as I started getting more involved in the business, I realized, well that’s kind of what branding is, and that’s what marketing is. And it was like oh, okay. And I kind of took it from there.

The Product Writing Process

Andrew: So with Twirly Girl, would you say–because we’re going to get into kind of storytelling in a minute here–but would you say with Twirly Girl, you do a really good job of just writing great copy? Or do you have a very well thought out story you think that you’ve tried to tell on the website? B there’s a difference there.

Michael: Yeah. I try to do both. So one of the things…it’s interesting. When we started the company, I think when anyone starts a small company, they have it in their head that they’re a little ashamed of being small. And they want to protect themselves as being bigger than they really are, right? So you don’t really talk about yourself, you want to make it seem like you’re a 100 person company, and project this image of your greatness. Because I just think it’s natural; you want to be taken seriously. But then when you look at really large companies and see what they’re doing, like I’m talking multinational conglomerates or whatever, they’re always trying to make themselves look smaller and more personal. So I like you’ll go on AT&T or whatever, I’m just making that up, but I’m making an example, but they’ll be a picture of a woman. I’m Shelley and I’m customer services. And I’m Glenn and I climb the poll and repair your telephone lines. They always talk about the people who work at the company, so that you could possibly maybe relate to the company in a better way.

Even though if you ever called AT&T for a problem, you would never in a million years talk to any of these people. So they’re trying to make themselves look more personal so you can relate to them. And the small companies are trying to make themselves look less personal. There’s a giant disconnect. I think as a small company you have a huge advantage. Tell your story, tell who you are, why you’re in business. And I think customers relate to people; they don’t relate to brands, they don’t root for brands, they root for people. And so that’s our giant advantage that we have.

Andrew: And so what’s the story that you’re telling on Twirly Girl that allows you to really connect with people and relate to them?

Michael: Well, we tell everyone stories. So we tell the stories of all of…we only have four employees, but we tell everyone’s background, how they got involved in the company and what they do. And so they know when you call us or you have a question or a problem, one of us is going to answer. And now you know what we look like, you know why we’re doing this, and hopefully you trust us a little more. The main story is we started how my wife got involved, how she started Twirly Girl. And it was really never even intended to be a business.

We had two small girls…this is seven or eight years ago. And so my wife just wanted to make them, sew them a special dress. And she didn’t really know how to sew, but she took some classes and she came up with the design for a reversible dress that twirled. Because little girls love to twirl. And we live in LA, so we’re close to the fashion district. So she went shopping for fabric and she got the best fabrics, because they’re all there…we’re all five minutes away. We can get all this stuff so it was never about making a cheap dress. It was about making a really, really good dress, really good quality. And we used a special fore thread over lock sewing machine, which sews with an extra thread on the seams, which makes it even stronger. And this is only because she wanted to make a really good dress for our girls. I mean, if you’re going to make something for your kid, you’re probably going to do it right and you want to do that.

So soon other parents at the schools were seeing these dresses, and like, “Hey. Can you make us? Make one for my daughter.” And so Cynthia would get on the dining room table with her sewing machine. And sure, she started sewing dresses. And it was a small, tiny little business. But pretty soon demand picked up. And we started hiring local sewers in Los Angeles to do this. And at first, they were sewing it their way. And Cynthia, she really barely knew anything about sewing, but I remember she was talking to them saying, “Look, we don’t want it sewn this way, we want it sewn this way, because this is like the higher quality version.” And it was a little embarrassing for her to be telling professional sewers how to sew, but it was only because Cynthia wanted it done right. It wasn’t about doing it cheap, it was about doing it right because we were still making, in her mind and in our minds, just special dresses. It’s not about making the cheapest, or the easiest, or the fastest. It was like really high quality, so they last long, so they don’t tear, so they don’t fall apart. They maintain their shape. That’s kind of how the business was born. And so that’s our little niche.

Capturing the Brand Story – And Nailing It

Andrew: How do you tell this story across your website? Obviously, the first way you could do it would be the about us page. And you go there, you can see your team, you can read the story. But are there other ways that you can convey this story to people as they hit the home page, as they browse, as you may be talk about some of the details of what you are making? What are you doing specifically across the site to convey this story, as well as possible to people?

Michael: Well, first we definitely do it on the about us page, but we also do it in our email marketing campaign. So when you opt in on our website for a 15% discount, you give us your e-mail. Then you get a drip campaign of e-mails that describe our company. And then one of the first or in one of the first five or something, we tell this story how Cynthia got involved in it, and how she started the company. So all right, so now you already know what she’s doing, and why she started it, and there’s a picture of her. So that’s very effective. And then also on our website, of course, we give like little details about small snapshots of our stitching that separates it from most, because this four thread over lock is unusual in stitching. It’s not done in cheaper stitching. So that’s how we kind of drip it on the website, but it’s also, we also tell that story on Facebook. And I share, we make blog articles about this. So it’s on our blogs so you can read all about it if you just do a little digging. And also videos. We also have a video on our home page.

Andrew: With storytelling, obviously it’s something that you’ve been involved with for a long time in your writing career. I think a lot of people think that just a story is…I heard you in a past podcast–well, we’ll link up to it, which was fantastic as well–you were talking with someone and you asked him to define what a story is, and they really struggled because it is tough to define, but kind of loosely you could say maybe a narrative, or a series of events, or something. Which is true but it goes much further than that, and there’s actually like there’s a very specific formula that you use to tell a story right?

Michael: You know I think, and I meant to look this up, but I think it was Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain something, a concept, simply and clearly, you don’t understand it.” And so that’s the same thing he was talking about relativity or something. So this is about storytelling but again, if you can’t define what a story is in a single sentence, then you don’t understand it, how you couldn’t possibly write a story. If you can’t put your thumb on it, what a story is. And I’ve even worked with professional writers, who in their gut know what a story is, but they can’t define it. And once you define it, it becomes so much easier. You go, “oh, now I know how to write a story.” And you can use this not just for writing a screenplay or teleplay, but for telling your story on your about us page, or in your email marketing. Once you know what a story is, you can write one, and you can connect to your customers.

Key Elements of a Great Story

Andrew: And what are those key elements of a great story?

Michael: Well, some people are natural born storytellers. I’m not. I had to learn how to do this. So I remember taking years ago, classes from this grizzled old writing guy veteran. He wrote on a bunch of shows and we’d meet at his house. And so he had these classes and he’d say, “Okay, so what is a story? Define a story in one sentence.” And everyone’s on the spot. You don’t really know what to do. And I remember one guy fell for it. And actually when you’re listening to this at home, I would encourage you right now just to think for yourself ‘what is a story?’; see if you can define it. Hit pause and define it in one sentence. It’s really hard. So he went around in the room and one guy goes, “Well, a story is a narrative. A beginning, a middle, and an end.” And my teacher just looked at him and says, “Aha. You know what else has a beginning, a middle, and end? A piece of shit. That’s exactly what you just wrote.” And so yeah, it’s not a beginning, middle, and end. That’s not very helpful. So I will now define for you what a story is, and this will help you I think with all your branding anyway you want to reach out to your customers, or about us, or anything like that, or product descriptions.

So quite simply, a story tells the struggle of the hero fighting an obstacle to achieve a goal. So if that’s too complicated, even that’s too complicated, hero, obstacle, goal, right? Write those three words down, and that’s all you need to know basically. So I can give you some examples if you want. I don’t want to somehow turn into a screenwriting class, but I think I’m going to use examples from screenwriting because we all watch movies, and I think it’s just easier if we all relate to that. And then you can…a movie is an hour and a half long, but you can easily distill that down to whatever 30 second sound bite you want to put on your website, or have a paragraph on your website. So one example that I often use is Jack and The Beanstalk. So we all know that story. Okay, so Andrew who is the hero of that story?

Andrew: That would be Jack.

Michael: That’s Jack, right. The hero is very often in the title. So what is his goal, what does he want?

Andrew: I think to feed his mom, doesn’t he?

Michael: Yeah. That’s a good enough answer for right now. And what is the obstacle?

Andrew: The giant.

Michael: Yes, right, good. So if you want to tell a compelling story, the obstacle should be really big and really formidable. So it’s not a dwarf, it’s not a friendly unicorn, it’s a giant. And it’s a mean giant, right? He’s a blood thirsty, smells the blood of an Englishman giant. He will tear you apart. The bigger the obstacle, the more compelling the story. And by the same token, the goal should be routable. So in this story, Jack actually defeatist [inaudible 00:22:13], it’s close. What he really wants is the goose that laid the golden egg. He wants to steal the goose that lays the golden egg. The better the goal, also, the more compelling the story.

So it’s not the goose that lays the bronze egg, or the silver egg. It’s the golden egg. It is the best goose of all. Okay, so now that you know what that is, anything when you tell that story, it’s hero, obstacle, goal, you want to make sure you have one goal and one obstacle. Not 100 obstacles. You want to make sure that they all lump into that one subsection of hero, obstacle, goal. So when you write your story, I always say, “What does jack want and what does he really want?” So what he wants is the goose that lays the golden egg. He wants some money because he saw these magic beans, now he’s up to creek. But what he really wants is the deeper version of the story. And you have to answer both those questions when you’re writing.

So what does Jack really want in the story? In the beginning of the story, Jack’s mom says, “Jack goes to town. Take this cow. Sell the cow. We’re all out of food. Sell the cow. We need money so we can eat.” So he goes to town and on the road to town he comes across a stranger who says, “Hey, I’ll trade you that cow for these magic beans.” And Jack goes, “That sounds like a good deal.” And he takes the magic beans home. He thinks his mom’s going to be super proud of him, and she’s furious. “Jack, you idiot. What did you do? That’s all the money we had. Now I’ve got magic beans?” And she throws them out the window and sends him to his room.

And so what Jack really wants is to prove to his mother that he’s not an idiot, that he’s not a giant failure. So now we can root for Jack. Before Jack was just a thief. He was going to steal the goose that didn’t belong to him from a giant, who really wasn’t bothering anybody. You’re not going to root for that guy, right? You’re not rooting for Jack, he’s just a jerk actually. But when you get to the deeper story of what he really wants–oh, he wants his mother’s approval–and now we all relate to that. Now we root for the guy. So you need both those when you’re telling your story.

Using this Formula for Any Business

Andrew: I see how that formula works really well for movies, for compelling novels. Does the formula…does it apply just as well to businesses, to an e-commerce business for example? To something like Twirly Girl. Do you think it applies just the same way? Or does it need to be tweaked given the fact it’s a business versus a movie?

Michael: I think it can apply it to every time you try to send a message. So if you’re giving a lecture…let’s say your business is talking to people, or lecturing to forums, or whatever, or conferences. I kind of use hero, obstacle, goal, even in talking this morning. I said, “Okay, what do you want? What does every business want?” They want to connect with their audience, they want to tell their customers who they are, right? And the way they can do that is by, often, telling stories about themselves. What’s the obstacle? So now we know truly the heroes, I’m a hero and I want to connect. What’s my goal? To connect with my customers, so they trust me, and they like me, and they want to buy my products. So what’s the obstacle? Well, I don’t know how to write stories, right? But I’m going to tell you how to write stories. Now in me teaching you how to do this, I constructed the whole construct of this talk with you, is hero, obstacle, goal. Okay, so now you can use that when you’re using email marketing, or your job is to talk to groups of people. Set up hero, obstacle, goal.

Also to get more specific, as another example, so we talk about Twirly Girl. My wife’s goal was to create a really wonderful memory for our two girls. She didn’t know how to do this, so she took some sewing lessons, right? So that was her goal. The obstacle is she didn’t know how to do it. And then she studied, she took classes, and she made these dresses. Another story that we tell basically is my wife’s past, which is it was difficult for her to get into. But as a child, my wife was abused as a child from the age of seven, for six years. So she didn’t have a childhood. Her childhood was taken from her. And by creating these dresses, and you know, if you go onto our website, you see they really, they explode with childhood joy and innocence. A lot of bright colors, it’s all about twirling, it’s all about being young. Which childhood goes by real fast. Your kids are only kids for [inaudible 00:27:03] 18 years or so. And then they’re adults for the rest of their lives. So it’s about capturing this moment. So for Cynthia, creating these dresses has really been a way to relive her childhood, and to capture her childhood, and to help other children see it. So that was kind of part of her journey.

So what did she want? Her childhood was taken from her, her goal in some sense…not in a literal sense but in some sense was to recreate her childhood and relive her childhood through our daughters. And the obstacle was well, she was abused. So how would she possibly do this? Oh, by creating this company that creates dresses, these kind of magical dresses. We tell that story on a video basically on our website, but it’s always framed hero, obstacle, goal. And if you have an element in the story you go, “This is just a sidetrack. This is a little side story. It’s amusing.” Well, it doesn’t belong in there. It really doesn’t. You can tell a different story for that. It has to be on story: hero, obstacle, goal. And I do that all the time when we’re writing. It’s like, “Oh, this is a little fun little side trip.” No, it’s not really that fun. It’s only fun for you, it’s not going to be fun for the person watching.

One other thing I should mention is when you’re doing your hero, obstacle, goal, the story doesn’t start. The story doesn’t become compelling until the viewer, or the reader, or whatever you’re doing, until they are able to, in their minds, identify the hero, the obstacle, and the goal. So if you’re watching a TV show, or if you’re at a movie, and you’re like, “I’m just getting bored with this. I don’t know. I’m not getting into the story. I’m just not getting into it.” And then maybe you change the channel, it’s because the writer hasn’t identified successfully to you the viewer what the hero, the obstacle, and the goal are. And that’s why you’re bored; that’s why you change the channel. Now you know why. And I think that’s fair. So the sooner you can identify those three things, the more engaging your stories. You’ve got to grab these people. So people often say you’ve got to grab your audience, that’s what they really mean; to identify hero, obstacle, goal.

Andrew: Micheal, I can see like the story of Twirly Girl with, especially with your wife and her background and how it spawned such an amazing company. Like that’s very compelling, right? It’s an incredibly compelling story you can tell. But what if somebody is running–and I don’t know. I’m just going to use this as an example because it popped in my head–let’s go back to like Dunder Mifflin, right? They sell paper, they sell paper to companies because they all just need a paycheck. I think some people have incredible stories behind their businesses. Other people have businesses where if you really got honest, the story would be, well I sell something that I may not be amazingly passionate about. But there’s need for it in the market and I’ve got to pay the bills. So in that kind of case, what is someone to do? Is it a point where they can’t use storytelling as much? Or is it something where if they want to build something bigger and more powerful and be able to utilize storytelling, they should change what they’re selling, and change their market?

Michael: No.

Authenticity Always Wins Out

Andrew: What should they do, what should Dunder Mifflin do?

Michael: Well, first of all, not at all. I think you should tell whatever story is authentic and personal to you, and it doesn’t have to be heroic like you overcame child abuse. Not at all. So, Andrew, you sell CB radios, right? So that’s not technically glamorous but I’d imagine, let’s take you as an example. What was your background before you’re doing this? Were you investment, in banking. What were you doing?

Andrew: Yeah. Investment banking.

Michael: Right, so you left behind probably a well paying job that was really not fulfilling to you, was not using all…I’m guessing, and if this doesn’t feel authentic to you, interrupt. But in my mind, this is how I see you. You had this job, this office job that was kind of killing you slowly on the inside. It wasn’t satisfying, but you were making pretty good money but you didn’t want to leave it, but you knew deep down you had to, right? Are we on the right track so far?

Andrew: Yeah, pretty close.

Michael: Okay, so you founded a sector that you thought maybe that you liked, that you thought maybe you could make some money in. So now you’re selling your CB radios on your website. Okay, but now that you have a family to support, you’ve got to make this work, because you do not want…your goal is to make your new lifestyle work. You do not want to go back to this job that you didn’t like, that was not satisfying to you. No offense to people who are doing it, but it wasn’t for you. And I know if you tell the story on your website, I can’t go back. I will do whatever it takes to provide excellent customer service to make this business work, because I do not want to go back to that job that I had. Which means staying up late, working my butt off, making sure you get good customer service, curating a collection of CB radios–because I don’t sell every CB radio; I only sell the ones that I feel are the best, that fit whatever you’re need is. I want to make this business work. I will do whatever it takes to make it work. Now I trust, that guy that’s telling that story? I trust him. I’m like, “wow okay, he’s going to probably help me a lot more than, I don’t know, Radio Shack is, because Radio Shack, you know, they’ve got deeper pockets,” right?

Andrew: That was amazing. I was thinking through it, and originally at first blush I thought, you know, if I did tell that story, I think what made it really impressive for me when you just told it versus the version I had in my head which was, “Hey, I quit a job. I sell radios. You should come buy them,” was that you focused so much on how the struggle in my past where my job that I left, and I don’t want to go back to, helps benefit the customer today because there’s that huge obstacle that is going to, in some roundabout way, end up helping the customer get incredible service. And even though I’m not super passionate about CB’s per say, that’s still something that they can get behind because it benefits them and it’s authentic.

Michael: Yeah, and you’re passionate about feeding your family, I’m sure. And also, there’s a lot about the business that you are passionate about. I know you definitely enjoy connecting with other e-commerce merchants, and learning, and improving your skill set, and providing better value to people. So you’re not just checked out just because…you’re not. Not at all, and I don’t think anybody is who has a small business. They want to make it work. And also, I’ll tell you another story from my past about CB’s. When I was 17 and I had a crappy old car and someone gave me a CB radio. And this is obviously well before the internet and even cell phones. And I remember, all right. So I put this thing in my car, and I didn’t necessarily want it, but I used it. And next thing you know I’m talking to truckers who knows where they are. I’m connecting with people, I’m getting help from strangers, “Hey, is there traffic on this road?” Strangers are helping me and I’m helping strangers. And suddenly, I’m part of a community and I’m connecting with people. And I was like, “Wow, I’m in a secret club, all because of a CB radio.”

Andrew: Yeah. That’s a great story as well.

Michael: But that’s also what you’re selling, right? You’re selling people connecting with other people. You may be in an emergency, you many need somebody, you may want more information that you can get. And that’s what CB’s do.

Andrew: Michael, what other sites or brands do you think really nail storytelling?

Michael: Well, as a sitcom writer, I was a huge fan of Seinfeld back in the day. I mean, hilarious. And so Seinfeld used to poke fun of J. Peterman, which is a catalog. And it was a catalog at the time; now they have online presence. And so they sell I guess menswear. It’s never about this jacket. When they describe a jacket, it’s never…this here’s a jacket made out of cotton or whatever. So this is the jacket that I first saw when I was in the Serengeti chasing zebras through the whatever…it’s always very exotic. And Seinfeld lampooned them. But it’s hilarious to read. And in books, this whole world. And I was like, “Wow, that’s what I want to do for Twirly Girl in our own way. Just create a magical world, so that when you’re reading a product, it’s not a boring description, it’s like, ‘Oh, if you get this dress, this is what you’re really getting. You’re really getting access to this creative magical world, just because you put on this dress.'”

And so yes, it’s all…it’s not real, but it’s certainly fun and it creates a whole world for you. And that’s what J. Peterman does, and they still do it on their site, and it’s always a lot of fun. There’s another guy in your eCommerce forum [inaudible 00:36:22] they do it as well. They don’t do it to such a big degree, but they create little stories that they tell to describe their products. And it’s very creative. So there’s plenty of people doing it.

Andrew: Michael, this has been awesome. Thanks. I think I’m going to get off the phone with you and immediately go over and update the about us page after you pretty much brilliantly rewrote it for me.

Michael: I would just say, one last thing. I would say the key to when you’re doing that is just to be authentic. So whatever your story is, whatever you feel, put that in.

Andrew: If you haven’t caught it, check out Maron on IFC. Michael is one of the brainchilds behind that, and I’m excited to catch up on it, or at least to start watching that show after getting to know that he’s behind it and seeing a few trailers. Very cool show. And check out his story if you haven’t been to twirlygirlshop.com. Incredible example of just…apart from storytelling, just fun, interesting copy on all of their products. Each product has this little mini story behind every one. It’s compelling to read, definitely worth checking out. Michael, I’ve been a fan of what you’ve been doing for a long time, and it’s great to have you on. Thanks to coming to talk storytelling.

Michael: My pleasure. Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew: If you want to connect with and learn from other proven e-commerce entrepreneurs, join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight-knit embedded group for store owners with at least of quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at eCommerceFuel.com. Thanks so much to our podcast producer Laura Serino for all of her hard work in making this show possible, and to you for tuning in. Thank you for listening. That’ll do it for this week, but looking forward to seeing you again next Friday.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Awesome episode Andrew! When Michael was describing the Hero, Obstacle, Goal story formula, the first business I thought of was Warby Parker – their Our Story page is a great example if anyone is looking for additional inspiration 😉

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