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Just Do It

Every business should take lessons from how Nike sells shoes

We talk to one of the world’s greatest scriptwriting experts about how everyone should be able to spin a good yarn.

GOOGLE IS A natural master at the art, while Nike is so adept it has distilled its technique into only three words.

It’s the ability to persuade, or as Robert McKee, one of the world’s most acclaimed speakers on the spinning of tales, prefers to call it: storynomics.

But rather than the word story’s usual soft connotations of make-believe, in business the best storytelling was the opposite of “bullshit” – messages that were short, reputable and rooted in truth.

“It is the most effective form of communication … storytelling is the most natural thing that people do,” he told

Great business leaders have always told stories, but the degree to which it is important today is unprecedented. It is a way of making sense to people.”

From the entrepreneur who, like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, founded a billion-dollar startup in his garage to the immigrant who built an empire, those stories had the power to both pull in customers and work inwards to improve a company’s culture, he said.

Earns Amazon Amazon founder Jeff Bezos AP Photo / Ted S. Warren, File AP Photo / Ted S. Warren, File / Ted S. Warren, File

Old techniques spotted ‘a mile away’

McKee made his name teaching screenwriting seminars, with his former students going on to win a string of Oscars and Emmys, among other awards.

He is also the author of screenwriting bible, Story, and even inspired a character in writer Charlie Kaufman’s madcap Adaptation. And most recently he has been translating those skills to business.

McKee said the approaches those in commercial industries used to convincing others usually came down to either rhetoric – beating down opposition with facts and figures – or emotion, the default position in most advertising.

But these overt efforts to create a positive emotional response – or even coercion to frighten people into doing things – people today see these techniques a mile away, especially millennials,” he said.

Big Think / YouTube

In contrast, Google had built its entire reputation on the strength of users’ experiences and the company now consistently ranks as one of the top brands in the US.

“That is the result of the stories customers tell from their experience of its products – ‘I tried to do this and I couldn’t, and then I looked it up on Google and I worked it out’,” McKee said.

None of that can be made-up or come from making promises any more, or from bragging about the effectiveness of a product. It’s not any old story, you just can’t go in and tell bullshit.”

Rather, businesses needed to produce messages that put their customers at the centre of stories with a core message of “this is the problem you will face and this is how it can be fixed”.

The most effective story is always one told from the customer’s point of view that features the consumer as a core character in the story – how their desires in life are going to be satisfied by this product.”

Earns Google AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The story of Just Do It

While many of those messages were explicit, where the message was clear, some of the most-successful stories carried implicit meanings – like Nike’s Just Do It campaign.

That simple slogan, bizarrely inspired by the last words of a US serial killer, carries a lot of meaning in three simple words, according to McKee.

“That story says ‘I’m a lazy, fat-arse couch potato, and my health is getting worse and worse’,” he said.

Then I just do it – I go out and buy a pair of Nikes. Eventually I start running miles at a time and I persevere and I put myself in great shape. That is the story behind Just Do It.”

David Dang / YouTube

“One way or another, stories will be told. Customers are going to tell a story about your products and your service, and that story is going to be shared. So the story better be a positive one.”

Robert McKee will be running his “storynomics” seminar at Killarney Convention Centre on May 22. For details visit

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