Apple, Nike and The Art of Storytelling

Originally published on on September 8, 2016 By Cornelius McGrath
September 7th, 2016. To some, just another Wednesday. To most, one of the most important days of the year. Yesterday was #iPhoneDay.

“Storytelling is the game. It’s what we all do. It’s why Nike is Nike, it’s why Apple is Apple, it’s why Walt Disney built Disney World, and it’s why Vince McMahon makes a billion dollars.”- Gary Vaynerchuk

Now, it is a well-known secret that Apple is saving its big upgrade for the iPhone until next year — marking ten years since Steve Jobs famously announced the first. Yet, I found myself feeling so compelled to buy absolutely everything presented yesterday, even though I knew it would be a foolish thing to do.
This weird feeling got me thinking about how Apple was getting me, and the rest of the world, so damn excited. Yeah, the wireless Bluetooth headphone and brand new dual-lens camera are cool. But, in the grand scheme of things, they were “nice to haves” and certainly did not warrant the reaction I was having.

After much thought, I realised Apple’s special ability to tell the most compelling stories about their products was the reason for my excited state.

Now, this might not sound so compelling. After all, everybody can tell stories, but few tell them as brilliantly as Apple do.

The Power of Starting with “Why.”
The reason why Apple can tell such compelling stories is because of their ability to start and each end one with something Simon Sinek calls the “Why”.

By “why ” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organisation exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? — Simon Sinek

In this TED talk, Sinek talks about how all of the most successful companies in the world share a common trait. That is, how they think, act and communicate with the world. He calls this phenomenon the Golden Circle.

  1. Why — This is the core belief of the company. It’s why the company exists.
  2. How — This is how the company fulfils that core belief.
  3. What — This is what the company does to fulfil that core belief.

Most companies start their story with “What.”
This decision seems logical, right? It refers to the very product that a company is selling, the thing they know better than anyone else. But even when you are selling sexy and cool wireless Bluetooth headphones, this alone is still relatively uninspiring.
Apple is a computer company. Just like Dell, IBM or Microsoft. However, when you watch an Apple keynote or visit their website, you will not find either phrase anywhere. As Sinek points out, this is because Apple will always be communicating their “Why”.

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.” — Apple

The same goes for someone like Nike. At the end of the day, Nike is just a footwear and apparel company. Yet, this fact has absolutely nothing to do with Nike’s storytelling playbook — just look at the title to their website.
Again, Nike ignores the “What” because it is not compelling enough for any customer to make a purchase. ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Innovation’ however, most certainly are and this plays nicely into their hands. Both just happen to come in the form of expensive apparel and footwear that will take you to the next level of performance.

Nike does not sell shoes, but rather ‘Inspiration’, ‘Innovation’ and the desire for elite performance

The Power of Starting Your Life Story with “Why.”
Although Sinek’s primary focus with the Golden Circle was on business marketing, the principles that he laid out for company success are just as powerful for telling your own personal narrative. This assertion might seem bizarre, but it shouldn’t. After all, the only difference between business marketing and a personal narrative is that they are different types of storytelling.

  1. Why — This is your set of core beliefs. It’s why you do what you do.
  2. How — This is how you fulfil those core beliefs.
  3. What — This is what you do to fulfil those core beliefs.

Just like Nike and Apple, we, too, operate like businesses. We might not be selling shoes just yet, but we are always selling ourselves. It might be our skills, our experience or both. The selling process does not just start at a career fair during recruiting season. Instead, it is ongoing 24/7, 365 days a year.

Once you get your foot in the door with your first job, you will be looking for a promotion. Then, a raise, another promotion and before you know it a whole new role altogether.

Many of us are going to be entering the workforce for the first time and will not honestly know the exact skills or experience we possess. And so, it is imperative that we tell our narratives with our “why” since we might not have much “what” to bring to the table just yet.
If that is the case, there is no reason to fret. This reality is in fact hugely beneficial because it forces us to focus on explaining “why” we spend our time doing what we do. Not only will this make us standout — as everyone else rattles off the “what” of their last year 21 years on earth — but will give us an opportunity to show why “what” we bring to the table will indeed add immense value to any company or person that we work for.

People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it — Simon Sinek.

So, before we focus solely on our credentials, skills and experience — or lack thereof — this hiring season, let us first concentrate on becoming excellent storytellers of our life narrative. That way, we might just end up living lives that are as innovative and as inspirational as Apple’s.
And that would be a hell of a story to tell, right?
Cornelius McGrath is an entrepreneur and writer who loves the hustle.
Loved what you heard? Check out ProMazo’s publication for more, follow me @con_mcgrath and read my other posts here.