August 3, 2016 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
People are impatient. We finish others’ sentences, whether in our minds or out loud, and we are always thinking of what we will say next in a conversation. There is a strong tendency not to listen because we are busy anticipating the “volley” of conversation and preparing a thought for when it’s our turn.
But it’s different with storytelling. Storytelling draws the audience in. They’re less able to predict the conclusion and, instead, anticipate it. It’s a powerful skill to harness because it’s one that can help your business build a loyal audience that is quick to share your content, provide word-of-mouth marketing, and make repeat purchases based on something other than price. With today’s steep global competition, differentiating your product or service on something other than price is more essential than ever before.
Business storytelling should not be relegated to your About Us page on your website. Your story should influence all pieces of your marketing communication. It’s as important as your corporate culture. While big businesses, such as Coca-Cola, use storytelling effectively, it’s one of the most democratic forms of marketing available. A small business can win big with storytelling just as easily as a larger business because the cost of entry is merely time.
Before you attempt to harness the power of the story, decide what you’d like it to do for you. Are you looking for more loyal customers, greater word-of-mouth, improved reviews, or better job candidates? Your goal will affect how and where you tell your story.
All successful stories contain similar pieces. For business, you needn’t get into the same depth of plotting an author would, but you should know the basics. Every story requires a person/hero (or if not an actual person, something that’s personified like what Pixar does with its characters). That person has a goal and is unable to achieve the goal because something stands in the way. Things look bleak. The hero nearly gives up. Something/someone reignites the fire in the hero to accomplish the goal. The hero achieves his/her goal and a happily ever after ending.
In a business story, you may be tempted to cast your business as the hero. Avoid this temptation. Instead, revisit your goal. If your goal is to gain more customers, make your current customers the hero and cast your business as the wise sage that helps the hero achieve his/her goals. If you want better job applicants, cast your employees as the heroes.
When you cast others as the hero, it’s easier for your intended audience to envision themselves in that role. Potential customers will hear your story about how you helped others meet their goals, and want to experience the same. They are currently struggling, and your story provides a proven solution that worked for others. It will work for them. If you cast your company in the role of hero, you miss an opportunity for connection and it becomes just another company bragging about itself.
Effective business storytelling isn’t fiction. You want to incorporate real stories of success using data. A recent management tip of the day from Harvard Business Review suggested, “Look for interesting patterns and find an angle that will be surprising to readers.” People remember stories, but the data behind them make them more believable and convincing.
A good business story contains recognizable human truths. This is not the time, nor the place, to create something with twists and turns. A simplified story arc will do as long as you have some type of friction and problem you assist in solving. The most effective business stories are those that incorporate common friction/problems and recognizable desires. Have you ever watched a storyline fall apart because you can’t understand why a character would do something they’ve done? Or how about a romantic comedy where one of the characters falls in love with someone you can’t stand?
These types of disconnects hurt a business story because unlike a romcom, you don’t have an hour and a half to make it up to your audience. According to HubSpot, 55 percent of website visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a site. Your business story needs to grab them within the first few words, images, or page title.
Pleasurable activities stimulate our brains to release oxytocin, the same neurochemical released when we are in love. Yes, stories can make us feel good, but there’s something even more important at stake here. In a study conducted by Paul J. Zak, a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, he found that a brain on oxytocin tends to make people more “generous, charitable and compassionate.” And not by a few dimes. The results indicated they donated as much as 57 percent more when oxytocin was present than when it wasn’t. This partly explains the success of sites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe, which help people tell their stories to secure funding.
Incorporating data into your business story should never replace the use of emotions in story. Aim for creating connections. You want to inspire, educate/challenge thinking, and/or entertain.
Business storytelling isn’t fiction. It’s a way to relate to your audience through a deeper level than mere advertising or pleasantries on social media. When used well, it shapes all of your marketing communications and influences their tone and content. It inspires your employees, helps you recruit top-notch talent, and entices people to join your team.
Business storytelling also helps you establish “know, like, and trust.” These are important components that influence purchasing decisions and customer loyalty. Building a strong following through storytelling also means your customers are less prone to the whims of pricing wars because they believe in who you are and what you do. Stories will also remain in their minds long after exact statistics leave.
Through effective business storytelling, you are creating content that connects and inspires others to share it. Your business becomes a resource for inspiration or education. That’s a pretty desirable spot to hold as people love to talk about what inspires and moves them.
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