Ep77: Amplify Your Pricing Power through Brand Storytelling with Susan Lindner
Susan Lindner is a Cultural Anthropologist, Brand Marketer, and Disruptor. She believes incredible connections change the world. She is the founder of Emerging Media, an innovation communications consultancy dedicated to helping innovators and disruptors create stories, to get them the resources, runway, and recognition they deserve.
In this episode, Susan shares how the transforming power of innovation storytelling creates an impactful change and disruption to your business. Susan gives leaders a blueprint for creating their own stories that offer a vision, message, and path all stakeholders can follow with religious zeal.
Why you have to check out today’s podcast:
- Discover the 5-step to innovation storytelling method which enables transformation
- Find out one important part aspect of an innovation story that causes people to connect and act
- Find out what our standard should be when we want to use innovation to produce transformation and action
“Poll your customers and find out why they love you and why they can’t live without you. And then charge double.”
– Susan Lindner
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01:40 – What her company, Emerging Media, is all about
02:47 – What do we expect from an innovation story
05:27 – How should innovation story impact the world
06:57 – Why the idea of innovation story takes a while to saturate into one’s awareness
08:02 – The challenges innovation story faces
09:08 – How does storytelling differ in B2C versus B2B
11:21 – Sharing the 5 steps to innovation story
18:05 – Relating an example on how to fully take advantage of innovation storytelling
21:28 – What bar are we setting when we bring innovation to a room?
23:09 – Humans connect at drama and pain
25:52 – What is her passion in life
26:19 – Sharing pricing advice to give a big impact on your business
“The human brain understands information via story.” – Susan Lindner
“Anything that you have learned over the course of your lifetime, chances are you’ve learned it via story unless you’ve experienced it directly. And even if that were the case, someone probably described it to you before you ever experienced it.” – Susan Lindner
“Our expectation these days around innovation is transformation. We want to know that our lives are made better by this thing that you’re bringing into the world.” – Susan Lindner
“We want to know the pain incurred because human beings connect at the pain, not at winning. That is the biggest mistake. We can revel in celebration together but humans connect at drama and pain.” – Susan Lindner
“A founder’s story is the beginning of the prophet’s story. I want to believe that what you have done has transformed you first.” – Susan Lindner
- Schedule a FREE 30-minute innovation storytelling consultation Susan Lindner. Click here: ScheduleSusan.com
- Her new book coming up this September: Innovation Storytelling – Get the Resources, Runway, and Recognition you Deserve by Susan Lindner
Connect With Susan Lindner:
Connect with Mark Stiving:
Full Interview Transcript
(Note: This transcript was created an AI transcription service. Please forgive any transcription or grammatical errors. We probably sounded better in real life.)
Poll your customers and find out why they love you and why they can’t live without you. And then charge double.
Welcome to Impact Pricing, the podcast where we discuss pricing, value, and the fabled relationship between them. I’m Mark Stiving. Today, our guest is Susan Lindner. Here are three things you want to know about Susan before we start. She is the founder and CEO of Emerging Media, a unique PR firm. She’s a mentor in several different innovation accelerators. And she has the coolest title in the world. She calls herself an Innovation Storyteller. Welcome, Susan.
Thank you, Mark. Thank you so much for having me. You know you can get a really cool title, too.
How do you do that?
Yeah, well you know, you find the narrowest niche you can. You own that niche with a reckless abandon. And then you call yourself “The” in front of it, Innovation Storyteller, The Impact Pricing Expert. Boom! Done.
Perfect. Well, I actually gave myself the title, Chief Pricing Educator because I got tired of people sending me random CEO emails on LinkedIn.
Smart, smart. And the right people find you still?
Exactly. So tell me real quickly, Emerging Media. Is that a PR firm or not?
So we are an innovation storytelling consultancy. So we work with chief innovation officers, heads of R&D, and product managers to help them tell the stories around their innovation. To get them the resources, the runway, and the recognition they deserve.
Nice, I have a feeling this is going to go amazingly well as a podcast. Because what I’m hoping we get accomplished today is we help people who are listening to us learn how to communicate value. And I could guess that innovators love talking about their innovations. And we have to find a way to get them to talk about – I’ll just say it this way – their innovation in a way that resonates with the marketplace.
Right, or their boss, or the CEO, or fellow engineers who need to build that beautiful thing that they’ve conceived of. Shareholders – there’s a whole host of people that need to be wooed and wowed by your story.
Nice. So tell us what is an innovation story?
So, you know, let’s take a step back. The human brain understands information via story. As much as we’d love to think that we absorb great stories through Powerpoint or Excel spreadsheets or an endless litany of statistics. We are not computers. And anything that you have learned over the course of your lifetime, chances are you’ve learned it via story unless you’ve experienced it directly. And even if that were the case, someone probably described it to you before you ever experienced it.
Withholding maybe the first lick of an ice cream cone, or the first time you jumped in a swimming pool that was absolutely freezing, right, those visceral responses. But typically, the human brain responds to story rather than just straight facts.
An innovation story has an added layer of complexity in that, we need to explain a future that you and I can’t yet envision. So an innovation story has to transport us to a place where we are in the future with that innovation.
We understand how it works, how it impacts us – but more importantly, how it transforms our lives. And innovation doesn’t come to the forefront simply because it makes an incremental change. Our expectation these days around innovation is transformation.
We want to know that our lives are made better by this thing that you’re bringing into the world. And so paint a picture for me how my life will be dramatically different in the event that I decide to invest in that cool innovation, buy that innovation, give it to someone else, or at a minimum, share the story of that innovation so that it will benefit someone else.
Okay, two things come through my mind when I heard you talk about this. If we were to go back 15, 20 years now, there was a company called Salesforce.com that came into play, and they were the first, at least, the first big known SaaS-based company.
And I remember seeing articles that talked about how subscription was the future of the world. I never understood it. Right now we live in that world. And so it’s easy to understand – I get it, I survived that. But now let’s fast forward and there’s this thing out there called blockchain.
Now, it’s not that I care about blockchain, but it’s absolutely this innovation. And again, people are saying this is gonna take over the world. And I haven’t internalized that yet. Are they missing the story? Is that what’s going on?
If you can’t figure out how your life is transformed as a result of hearing the Blockchain story, then yeah, they missed it. The same is true with Bitcoin, right? Like we’ve been hearing about Bitcoin for 10 years. Why aren’t we all readily adopting and investing in Bitcoin, if we believe it to be what has been promised?
And that’s because we haven’t been able to see the potential transformation in our lives yet. We haven’t yet sufficiently painted the picture. And then for some of us who are not, you know, In crossing the chasm terms, we are not innovators or early adopters ourselves, we don’t believe it until we see it. So if you’re not interacting on a regular basis with Blockchain, and you’re experiential, right, you’re that next mass-market adapter person, then you have a higher threshold of accepting risk into the equation.
So you may not see the value, you may not address the value until it comes right to your doorstep.
I could see that. I’m guessing that different people behave differently based on the product category. So it isn’t just that I’m experiential and I have to experience Blockchain before I get it. It’s really, Blockchain isn’t my world so it doesn’t matter.
So maybe I have to be experiential there. But in something that I’m cutting edge-on, or I know a ton about, I don’t have to be experiential, I can think through what the future looks like in that space. Does that make sense or no?
Susan Lindner Yeah, and you’re right if it doesn’t impact you, or if it’s not hitting your industry. I can remember back in 2000 companies were coming to me and saying, do I really need a website? You know, and the question was, well, let’s take a look at where your target market is, do they conceivably want to shop online in the future?
Do they conceivably want to get to know you or will look for information about you online in the future? And many, many companies said no. Even those who are actively investing in technology might not have seen the future of the website as part of their own marketing. So yeah, it takes a while for this to saturate into our very thick coconut brains.
I can also imagine, the other challenge that you have when you deal with innovation like this – the challenge you have is, I could tell the story of a flying car. But the question is, does it ever really become reality? Right? There’s so much that has to happen for it to be true and ubiquitous and the story to truly come true – even if I could understand and love the story.
Yes, there are other factors involved in market adoption, right, that makes the trueness real for us. So the difference between seeing the Jetsons and actually now seeing Tesla being the number one – you know – having the highest car sales of any car manufacturer in the state of California, right. Who could have believed that? I test drove an electric car in 1994, in Thailand, – it has taken us this long, and the external forces have been at work on the electric car industry to block the adoption, right?
There are forces that work against innovation, just as there are forces that work that move toward innovation. So yeah, there are things that impede the process of innovation storytelling and our adoption of those stories and the value that those stories can provide.
Yeah, this is just so much fun. Do you perceive a difference in B2C businesses versus B2B businesses in storytelling?
The depth of the story is different. So for example, when I’m at Corning Glass, and I’m having a conversation with Fractolologists, I didn’t know what a Fractolologists was, true confessions, before going to Corning – a Fractlologist is a Ph.D. in how to break stuff.
These are the folks who determine the angle at which your head hits the windshield, whether it should break, fracture, pop out or kill you, right. So the story that we want to have, or fractologist want to have, is that the electron, proton, and neutron level – and it also doesn’t connect when you’re trying to sell auto glass to a car manufacturer, right.
We have to have conversations that actually resonate with the car as opposed to the electron level. On the B2C side, it’s more digestible, the information that we need – it needs to be a little bit more superficial rather than so scientific.
However, there are times when that value, right, if we’re selling nutrition products, if we want to understand what gluten-free is really about, we may want to hear tastes great, less filling, but you know, also can supercharge my day, can give me a select number of minerals and vitamins and, you know, whatever that nutritional information is, that might serve me as a customer for those people who want to get very granular, and those people who want to stay at just core benefit.
So I think it’s a little bit different in that it has to appeal to our five senses, more so than it has to appeal to our intellect or gut.
That’s kind of what I would have thought too but it’s nice to hear you say that.
Here to confirm.
Or to teach or just correct me, your choice. How do you go about coaching a company on building a story?
So, when it comes to innovation storytelling, I’ve built a blueprint around how we have to first look at the innovation and how we tell that story. So if I can run you through those five steps, maybe that would be helpful to your listeners, too.
Sure, can we do it quickly?
Sure. So step number one is history, right? We have to come to a common ground with the person that we’re telling the story to. So first and foremost, you have to know that the listener of your story is the hero of the story, not you, not the person who invented it, not the innovator him or herself, not the product, but rather the listener is the hero. And we do that by finding the common ground, a shared history.
If I’m trying to sell you an email in 1992, then I’m talking to you about mail that’s delivered electronically, right? Because I know what mail is, and now I’m going to explain to you what the electronics side of that is, right, it’s mail that comes up on your computer screen. But I’m also going to come from a place of shared values.
So I’m going to understand – this is step number two – is what are the values that we share that are really critical, for both of us to move forward together? So what are the values that the innovation came from: speed, accuracy, efficiency, you know, life-changing – whatever those values are – honesty, appreciation, joy, carefreeness – whatever it is, what are the core values that you and I both share, is step two, in getting that person from sharing history to now sharing a potential future together.
The next thing I want to think about is the Prophet, the person who actually delivers the message. So if you’re the innovator, and you’ve invented this thing, I’d love for you to think about the prophets of old. So Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad.
Do you mean prophet as in PROPHET?
Yes. The deliverer of a message. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk. And there’s a very specific way that prophets talk to people. They talk to them in parables. And the reason that we talk to people in parables is that we tell them a story that’s archetypal.
And we allow them to see themselves in the story. Right? That’s how all of us adopt religion, we hear wise words, and we apply them to our own lives. When we bring in innovation, a product or service, we have to allow people this story, and then allow them to insert themselves in it. When they can do that, now you have a vehicle of people who are ready to share a story if they agree, which is the most important part of storytelling. It doesn’t just sit with you, you actually share it with other people.
I love teaching pricing and value, but I get a little frustrated. It’s hard to implement what you’ve learned after just one class. There are always nuances to what you learn in a classroom that just isn’t easy to recall when you’re trying to implement them in your own real-world project. Too much pricing feels so risky. To solve this, we’ve come up with our part-time pricing expert programs.
In each program, I learned enough about your business to guide you as you explore and implement new pricing capabilities and new value discovery approaches. We’ve put together three distinct programs to assist with a range of scenarios from a single project, where to help a team within your company improve their decisions to developing your own in-house pricing expertise.
I think pricing is fun, and you might too if it wasn’t so scary. If a little guidance, expert counsel and sound advice would be a benefit on your next pricing initiative, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We only have room for a few more companies.
So step number four is, who are your early adopters? Let’s get real clear about who is hearing the message, who we want to hear the message. And hopefully, who will share it. Who are those folks? They may not be the loudest people in the room, especially if you’re an intrepreneur, let’s say – or you’re an innovator, a product manager inside a company – but who shares your values, your history, who gets the story, and says, “I want to be part of this team. I want to be part of making this future happen.
I can see the transformation, thanks to you sharing it with me”. And the last is, is really getting to share the message. Right. So what is the message – if we look at the prophets themselves. Right? These are folks who went from an eye for an eye, to turn the other cheek. Right? That’s a shift. That’s a transformation. I have a shared history with you, but now I’m leaving it behind. And I’m making the point that we can’t do things the old fashioned way anymore, it will not work. Prophets arise in a particular context.
And it’s imperative – once we know who our early adopters are – our apostles, right? That we have to point out that the context has changed. And it’s time for something new to emerge, and it’s here. So there’s a way of saying, we’ve burned all boats, we’re not going back. We come from this great place, but now we’re moving forward, will you come with me?
And so that message is critical. It’s the most important step to say, this is the before and the after, and now we’re moving forward together. And that’s where you get into the opportunity to really build a brand and charge whatever you like because we’re buying a new future that we couldn’t even fathom before.
Okay, I have shivers running down my spine, that was just really, really good.
So those are the five steps to innovation storytelling.
And as you went through those, and I think about those five steps, if I got rid of the words, early adopters, and I just call that, who, then that applies to everything…I think. Right, because it’s really about who’s going to be the hero of the story. What’s the starting point? Who’s going to be the prophet? What’s the message?
You could look at it that way. But the difference in convincing someone between, ‘old tide and the new and improved tide’, is very different from, saying, ‘combustion engine to Tesla’. That’s a shift. It’s a shift in perception of who I am in the world, not just the thing I’m using. I want to see myself as an innovator.
I want to see myself as ecologically conscious. I want to see myself as the driver of a sports car that makes no noise and allows me to sit in traffic on autopilot and drive itself. I see myself participating in a new future.
Can I turn this on me for just a second? And feel free to correct me, fix me, etc. One of my audiences tends to be, let’s call them pricing professionals for a second. And pricing professionals – usually really smart technical people. And usually, they’re right when they have these great ideas. But oftentimes, they have a very, very hard time influencing the rest of the company to move the way they think that the company should be moving.
And I offer a whole program – or set of courses – to help pricing professionals become better at their job. I’m trying to transform them into leaders, into influencers – people that can make a difference in their companies. So, that’s my role in the world for that type of person. So they’re going to be the hero. But, if you put yourself in their shoes, are they transforming? Or are they using? So am I old tide to new tide? Or am I combustion engines to Tesla’s?
It depends what they’re pricing. Right? If I’m asking you to shift a pricing model, which is, you know, probably one of the top five ways to innovate a company is to change the business model, right? Change the pricing model. So they themselves are innovators because they’re saying “we’re not doing things the old way anymore. We’re shifting a pricing structure”. So that pricing professional is now tasked with saying, “let me paint you a picture of what the future looks like, if you follow my guidance”.
Let me pause you for a second. You’re absolutely right, but that’s not what I’m trying to drive at, if that’s okay. I’m trying to transform a pricing professional from being able to say, “I think we need to transform this company”, to, being able to transform itself. From, “I think we need to change our price from this price to this price”, and not being able to convince anybody to do that, to, be able to convince somebody to do that.
So I would ask them, who’s the audience on the other side of the table that they’re trying to convince? And how will that individual’s life change, personally and professionally, if they take on that guidance? If they decide to move forward and say, yes, I agree with you the pricing model needs to change. How will that human’s life change as a result?
Yes. And so now I’m going to take the step back to me again because I want to be the product. In this case, I am the product selling myself to pricing professionals. And so I should be asking pricing professionals, how will your life change when you take champions of value on as a product. Is that it?
Yep. Now you take it down as a course. Right? What is the expectation that your customer has when they buy your course? How will their life change? And I mean that personally and professionally – and people are always shocked: so, I want to know that once they take your course, Mark, will that person be promoted or get a raise within the next two years, thanks to the guidance that you can provide?
It’s not going to take two years, come on!
There you go, even better. In the next 48 hours, will they be promoted or given a raise, thanks to your genius coaching? Maybe it’s something on the personal side? I’ve been beating my head against a wall and I finally have peace of mind that I know that I can walk into my CEO’s or my CFO’s office with confidence. I know that I can actually take a vacation because the following pricing is set in mind.
We now have a subscription model where you can set it and forget it, and I don’t have to beat my head against a wall wondering whether or not we’re going to make our numbers every quarter. Like, what is the real transformation of your customer’s life once you have changed their lives with the product? What happens? And do you know the answer to that, Mark? I would put it back to you. Have you surveyed the people who have taken your course and gotten not just, “I learned a lot”, “My boss really likes the way I think now”. Hmm.
Can we dig deeper to find out – I mean, we’re looking for, come-to-Jesus moments, we’re looking for life-altering moments. We’re looking for the, “I’m going to stand outside the Apple Store for three days” kind of excitement about this stuff, because our lives are changing. That’s the bar we’re setting when we bring innovation to a room.
So beat me up on this next thing I’m about to say because I would personally beat me up for this too, but – I lived this life, I lived this transformation, and suddenly it is so meaningful and personal. And so it’s just like, ah – I don’t want to talk to other people, I just want to give it to them. But I know I gotta go listen to other people, I gotta go hear the stories.
Well, and it can start with your story. Right? So a founder story is the beginning of the prophet’s story. Right? I want to believe that what you have done has transformed you first. So tell us your story, Mark. Let me tell you where I was, I was exactly in your shoes. And here’s what my day to day existence was – right, shared history.
And the way that I felt my values at the time were, I just wanted to make as much money as possible for my company. I just wanted to know that I could have predictable recurring revenue. I just wanted to know that people understood the value of the product and service above and beyond, so I could create margins that were three x 10 x over my competition. That’s all I wanted. What I got was something very different.
I realized – right, my messaging. I had to burn all the boats. And I couldn’t do things the old fashioned way anymore, which were x. I now needed to do things the new way which are y, and I suffered for it. I suffered before. And I suffered through the transformation. It was hard, right? You don’t get to heaven unless you’re on the cross. Right? You don’t become the Buddha until you starve yourself first before you find the middle way. You don’t become Mohammed until you wander in the desert.
That’s how it works. Right? Ask Luke Skywalker. There are some hard lean years there. So that hero’s journey, that Joseph Campbell takes us on when he talks about, you know, how we get to that endpoint, how we get to the revelation, how we get to transformation. We want to know the pain incurred, because human beings connect at pain, not at winning. That is the biggest mistake. We can revel in celebration together but humans connect at drama and pain, so where is that part of your story, Mark?
Nice, that’s a great point. Okay, we’re gonna have to wrap this up. But I want to share with our listeners, this amazing aha I just had. I have been studying stories for quite a while and trying to write my own stories from my own customers. And I just had an expert give me amazing advice and aha’s on how my story should be different and how I should think about this differently.
And when I teach, I so often think, well, I’m teaching you everything you need to know, why don’t you just go do this? And you so often just need somebody to hold your hand and say, let’s talk through this and let’s figure this out. It’s just, it was an amazing experience for me. And I don’t know why I just kept thinking that. So, Susan, that was incredible. Thank you.
Well, it is my joy and my passion to ensure that no innovation dies because the innovator can’t tell the story of how brilliant it is. That is my passion in life. So I’m glad it was helpful to you.
Nice. Now, this has nothing to do with anything we’ve talked about. But I always end my podcasts with this question. So I have to ask you: what’s one piece of pricing advice you would give our listeners that you think could have a big impact on their business?
Charge double. I find in working with startup founders for 20 years, is that their pricing is often two x, three x lower than it needs to be, because they haven’t done the homework to find out, what is the value at the center of it? And what is the story that we can build on to make it even more valuable? So, poll your customers and find out why they love you, and why they can’t live without you. And then charge double.
Nice. That was an absolutely brilliant answer. Thank you. All right, Susan, thank you very much for your time today if anybody wants to contact you, how can they do that?
They can go to SusanLindnercom. And if they like, for your listeners only Mark, I would be happy to schedule a free 30-minute innovation storytelling consultation. They can just go to schedulesusan.com. And I will gladly talk with all of your listeners from Impact Pricing and help them craft a better story. It would be my absolute joy. And in September they can also reach out and get my book, Innovation Storytelling – Get the Resources, Runway, and Recognition you Deserve. That’ll be coming out this Fall.
Awesome. Thank you. Episode 77 is all done. Every week I plead and beg for you to leave us a review. Would you please do that this week, and in exchange for that we’re going to give you free access to our value-based business course. This is an incredible course that teaches you what value actually means, how it applies to your company as you’re creating, communicating, and capturing more value.
This is a fundamental course that everybody should take. So please leave a review, all you have to do is take a screenshot of the review, email it to me, and then we’re going to give you access to that course. We charge $500 – worth way more than that. And it’s absolutely free for the few minutes it takes for you to give us a review. So please do that.
And as we wrap this up, if you have any questions or comments about the podcast or about pricing in general, feel free to email me mark@impact pricing.com. Now, go make an impact!
Mark is a pricing expert who helps companies understand value, how to create it, communicate it and capture it. He has a PhD from U.C. Berkeley and an MBA from Santa Clara University, plus 25+ years pricing experience. As an educator, speaker and coach, Mark applies innovative, value-based pricing strategies to guide growth and increase profits for large and small companies.