The Power of Stories: Chris Lema and the Bridge Framework

I would tell you that when Chris Lema, VP of Products at Liquid Web, is speaking, you should listen. But, there is no need to say that. He has an infectious quality that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. I found myself hanging onto every word in his session, The Content Framework that Powers Stories, Landing Pages, & More, via the WordCamp U.S. livestream this past weekend.

Telling stories is a uniquely human trait. Our ability to weave narratives together is what separates us from lower animals. Sure, other important things such as the ability to make fire, understand advanced mathematics, and build rocket-powered ships all set us apart. But, it is the stories we tell that are the most interesting things about us as a species.

Any good story leaves you waiting to see what will happen next and how the people within those stories react. How they grow. How they change.

This fundamental human activity was at the heart of Lema’s 15-minute presentation. “When people believe that you’ve been where they are and can see that you’ve gotten to the other side, they will follow,” said Lema of selling products.

Ultimately, the bridge framework is about guiding others through your journey and helping them cross the bridge you have found. This framework can apply to your brand, your products, or any other content that you are providing to others.

One thing product makers often fail at is providing a solution before sharing how they have encountered the same problem. “No one feels like they need a bridge until they are facing a river,” said Lema. The struggle must come first.

What Comes After the Product

In 2007, I built one of the most popular themes ever in WordPress’ short history. It does not matter what theme it was. It is long retired. What mattered was it helped users get to their destination.

One theme user who stood out was building a Formula 1 racing website. I was a mediocre designer at best, but this user would create some of the most beautiful customizations that I had ever seen. It seemed like he would change the design every week. Each time, I was in awe at his talent. He continued using this same theme of mine for years, even after I archived it and moved onto other theme projects.

What I should have learned during those years was, without knowing, I had the story right. I knew the technical aspects of why this specific theme was a leap forward. However, I didn’t understand the story I was telling users was drawing people in.

I had been where they were. I had struggled to get to where I was going. I had braved the journey beyond that point and found a path for others to join me.

As time moved on, I became a better developer. I had one more insanely popular theme. Again, it was about the story. I could recognize the problems. I had the same frustrations as others. I had a way to fix those problems and get people from Point A to Point B. I invited others along. I told them I would be there every step of the way.

I never recreated that early success with another theme, at least not on the same scale.

I stopped focusing on what mattered.

I marketed future themes based far too much on the technical aspects. Essentially, I was flaunting my development skills. After years of lucking into success by being a storyteller, I tried to follow the trends of others who were marketing their HTML5, CSS3, or whatever other keyword was popular at the time.

Fortunately, I had loyal users who stuck with me over the years. There was one theme user who would often switch themes whenever I released a new one. Like the racing enthusiast, this person would put his own spin on the design. He used the themes on his photography site. What was interesting about some of the themes was they were not specifically built with photography in mind. That was never my goal when creating them.

What was it that made this user continue using different themes of mine?

It was never about all the bells and whistles. Many of them were unused on the site. It was about what came after activating the theme. It wasn’t about me. It was about the user being able to tell his own story through photos.

In hindsight, I could see that the projects I achieved the most success with were the projects I was the most passionate about. I had built them to solve specific problems. The technical details did not matter. I had built or found a bridge to get to the place that I wanted to be. My excitement and passion naturally transferred to how I spoke about those projects. It changed how I sold them to users. I told my story.

The biggest failures I had were when I did not have a good story to tell.

Watch Chris Lema’s Speech

For those that are running any type of business, you owe it to yourselves to listen to Lema explain how to connect with customers.

Lema’s session starts at the 2:59:46 mark if the videos doesn’t start at the correct point. The embedded video should begin at his introduction.

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