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Gary V: Why storytelling matters in business and social media

Gary Vaynerchuk

On stage and online, most savvy business leaders know him simply as Gary V. In real life and in business, those who know his story best know him as Gary Vaynerchuk, serial entrepreneur, American kid born in Belarus, Internet and social media sales genius and future owner of the New York Jets.

Gary V is also an entertaining and thought-provoking author and speaker. And as part of his effort to give back in advance of the fall publication of his third book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy, Social World, Gary V is doing a solid year – 365 days – of interviews with bloggers, agencies and thought leaders who share his commitment to storytelling and social media success.

WordWrite was privileged to be selected as one of the 365 interviews, and this week, I spent some time with Gary exploring the intersections between WordWrite’s commitment to storytelling as the Agency of Story, and Gary V.’s experience as a master storyteller. Here are highlights from our conversation (to listen to our full conversation with Gary and hear him in his own words, click play in the box below.

I’m in the midst of writing my first book, Why Your Story Trumps Your Brand, and Gary agrees that the two concepts are important and intertwined. For him, what comes first is brand, “because if you don’t know who you are you won’t know what to say to the world, right? You have to know who you are as a person; you have to know who you are as a business. So, I would say brand, you have to know what’s unique about you. That’s where story comes in, some people can articulate what they bring to the table, others can’t. Sometimes we call it charisma in people, but it still starts from the seed of who or what you are, or who or what your business is.”

At WordWrite, what Gary refers to as brand we would call your Capital S story – who you are and what you stand for, and your brand the marketplace manifestation of that. 

In Gary’s experience, storytelling has been more about execution, the sharing of the brand, and “that execution matters more, right? So, I love to say execution matters more than ideas and I would say succinct stories matter more than brand. It’s splitting hairs; obviously, they both matter tremendously. To me, it all depends on how you define the question. For me, understand the brand’s story, or the essence of the brand, is the seed that the story comes from. But, without being able to tell the story you can make the greatest phone, the greatest sneakers, the greatest movie of all time, but you will not succeed.”

For me, this is part of what’s made Gary V so successful. Unlike many others who understood early that social media and the Internet had tremendous power for business, he saw that without sharing the essence of who or what you or your company stand for, (call it brand or story), you won’t go very far.

Gary VaynerchukGary V first built a successful online wine business and has since branched into other ventures, including his own social media agency (as well as speaking and writing extensively). In his travels and his work, he sees a lot of companies forgetting that marketing in the 21st century is not simply technical execution of brand – it’s still storytelling.

Even very big brands and companies “get a lot of things wrong. They make the wrong decisions about what they think the customer wants to hear. They just make a lot of wrong assumptions of what the customer wants and so that’s what happens.”

And to Gary, storytelling is just as important in social media as in any other medium because “it’s about the social media sites. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, these sites are now driving the attention of consumers. Any place that has the consumer’s attention is where we need to be storytelling. So, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and all these sites are driving more of the time where people are spending their eyes, their ears, and wherever the customers’ eyes and ears are, that’s where I want to be telling stories.”

Critics who fault social media for storytelling don’t get it, Gary says. It’s wrong to look at Twitter, for example, and focus on 140 characters as a poor landscape for storytelling. Gary says the power of social media storytelling comes from the context that the sites provide.

“You don’t provide the context; Twitter itself, and the conversation that’s going on, on Twitter is actually the context. I don’t think one brings context, I don’t think one creates context, I think one reacts to context and I think that’s the biggest shift that I ever understood early on and . . . that’s what fascinates me so much. It’s a reactionary skill not a forward pushing through skill . . . Everybody thinks social media is social media and I think it’s Facebook and I think it’s Twitter and I think it’s Pinterest, and it’s Instagram, so they’re all different.”

Gary’s new book will feature 85 case studies of what TO do and what NOT to do in social media. As he puts it, “I’m overwhelming people with examples, because I do want the book to be a utility. I’m very, very passionate about that, I want you to basically put it on your desk and have it as a reference point as you’re trying to communicate on social networks.”

So we had to ask: Would Gary share a telling example from the book?

“One of the best is probably the Kit Kat example that I use. Kit Kat got really smart and did everything right when the Super Bowl was around. They put a piece of content out that had the Kit Kat bars in the form of the roman numerals from the Super Bowl, right. It was very on trend with something going on in the world. It was perfectly done, right? It was topic centric, it enhanced the brand, and the visual was great.

“The problem was they posted it at 9 o’clock in the morning, and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl. So they were posting a piece of content that was going to post at 6 o’clock in the morning on the west coast while the 49ers fans were sleeping. So, that little tweak of posting at that time instead at 9:00 PM, that made me critique the ad as a negative.”

In addition to his own entrepreneurial success and his passion for storytelling, Gary has earned a reputation for seeing where things are headed in the social media space (he was one of the first to predict Facebook might buy Instagram, for example). So given his track record, what does he see as the future of storytelling and stories? Is this all a fad? Or something else?

“I think it’s consistent. I actually think it’s oxygen, I think nothing changes except the places where we tell them. So I think storytelling continues to be the thing that the best entrepreneurs and the best marketers, the most successful business people, understand the concept of how they do that for their team, how they do it for the customer, how they do it everywhere. I think it evolves, I think it continues to be the pillar, the most important thing in the world. The only thing that changes is where we tell them, and the art and the craft and the skill that it takes to do that.”

To which we can only add: stay tuned, more stories to come!

Click here to learn more about WordWrite’s approach to storytelling. And please share your thoughts on storytelling in the comments below.

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