"People do not buy goods and services. They buy relationships, stories, and magic."
~ Seth Godin
Throughout history, people have enjoyed sharing stories around a fire. Even today, this urge to tell stories persists. In the business world, storytelling is crucial to success. The art of storytelling inspires, influences, and persuades people to act. It has the power to lift today's struggles by revealing tomorrow's potential.
Despite differences in social status, ethnicity, gender, or background, customers form connections through shared understandings. Businesses create powerful emotional bonds by weaving these connections into stories. According to Search Engine Watch, corporate storytelling can be used to convert up to 30 percent of passive prospects into loyal customers.
To truly connect with customers, storytellers must create the right emotional tone. Like actors, storytellers need to stir the right emotions to effectively express them. For instance, to tell a story about hope, one must first feel hope.
Stories are more memorable than mere facts. The most impactful stories come from a place of authenticity and genuine conviction. Simply providing the best arguments, offers, and solutions alone is not enough to retain customers, whether they are C-suite executives or consumers. Cindy Childress, Ph.D. explains, concepts such as truth are too complex to appear only in facts or statistics. A good story helps customers uncover the meaning of facts to make better decisions. In fact, the mind is about 22 times more likely to remember facts when they are part of a story. Thus, instead of bombarding customers with more data, provide context and meaning to help them find their own wisdom.
Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer with the Content Advisory Board, suggests capturing the audience's attention by identifying the story they want to hear, see, and feel. In other words, what emotional journey should the audience experience from beginning to end that transforms the company's vision into the audience's vision?
As the litmus test of whether the story makes a connection, Rose recommends asking, "Why does the customer care?" Opening with a statement such as "We're innovative" starts on the wrong foot. Nobody wonders if their day will improve by hiring an innovative company. So, ask, "Why does the customer care that you're innovative?" Is it because they also have a problem, or the company can help them find answers?
According to Childress, storytellers should generate a list of possible angles to identify the audience's' needs, including results and pain points. For instance, readers interested in the global energy market may be concerned with pressing matters such as supply chain disruptions or oil market shifts should also be considered. Then, the writer can brainstorm possible narratives that address these goals and emotionally engage them. For instance, she recommends reflecting on when the business:
Stories have the power to create a lasting impact. Whether selling petrochemicals or pets, businesses should tell meaningful stories that audiences care about, explains Rose. In the midst of a story, people become less focused on hard facts and begin to shift attention to the story's underlying elements via a phenomenon called narrative transport. As a result, the story changes the way information is processed and retained.
For instance, refineries and petrochemical plants may have a diverse customer base, including distributors, plastics and fertilizer manufacturers, and more claims Childress. Each of these audiences has unique reasons for buying and specific outcomes for their stakeholders.
However, in a market with similar competitors, sharing stories can engender trust and loyalty. For instance, sharing a success story about a distributor who switched to another refinery due to optimized processes and saw increased customer satisfaction can connect with other distributors who value teamwork and excellence.
These stories can create a bond with the audience and inspire buy-in. Even mundane regulatory content like EPA rules for curbing greenhouse gas emissions from commercial trucks can be compelling when it shows care and concern for the reader's needs.
Storytellers should consider the following questions when writing a narrative:
Captivating the customer from the start begins by adding tension. A story without any tension or obstacles to overcome will fail to hold the audience's attention. For instance, Jose Monterrosa, CEO of Imagina Communications, shares how an arts organization targeting underrepresented artists made revolutionary changes to its grant application process to make it more equitable.
As an alternative, the story can commence with a line of dialogue, a question, or a myth that focuses on connecting with the audience. For instance, at a sales meeting, sharing a personal story about a life-changing sale can form a connection with other sales representatives. Similarly, a leader can connect with their management team by highlighting why the business exists. This connection is where transformation in business communication happens.
The power of story and authority cannot be underestimated. Like the mythical sword of Excalibur, an enchanting story needs no formal authority to work. Storytellers harness this power to connect people with a common goal and make sense of their world.
The four crucial components of a story are (1) the audience, (2) their concerns, (3) a relevant narrative, and (4) a call to action. Developing a unique voice is also important. This involves identifying the storyteller, whether it is the business or an employee. Using "we" helps avoid passive voice, which describes what happens without attributing it to anyone specific, while "I" can be used when a particular person, like a client or employee, is speaking. Although either option is acceptable, the former suggests more engagement, states Childress.
As a storyteller, it's crucial to use resources that help create a compelling narrative. Research, images, charts, and other tools aid in shaping the story. Relating these visuals to the story and ensuring they answer the audience's objections and questions creates a more memorable experience. Furthermore, a story should be able to stand on its own without any enhancements, explains Rose. For instance, Star Wars is an excellent book with a fascinating storyline. However, adding actors, sets, special effects, and music creates an unforgettable experience.
To make a meaningful impact, Childress suggests tailoring the visuals to the specific audience. If the audience consists of engineers, use graphs that illustrate data. On the other hand, business-focused executives often respond to concise visuals that demonstrate how market shifts influence revenue. Meanwhile, customers interested in performance improvement tend to appreciate images that showcase processes.
When including visuals, she proposes pondering the following questions:
The act of storytelling carries great responsibility. Stories have the power to influence others and are rooted in the psychological models of self-interest. Ultimately, customers are motivated to fulfill their personal desires and aspirations, whether it's profit, revenge, or justice. The psychological goal is to connect the company's goals with the audience's self-interest. To ensure an engaging narrative, it's crucial to be mindful of storytelling etiquette.
Do intrigue and captivate.
Don't act superior in an overt act of disrespect.
Do connect at the human level.
Don't bore your listeners and tell a pointless story.
Do leave people feeling hopeful.
Don't scare or guilt people to mobilize action, as this can backfire.
Every individual - whether a hobbyist, a billionaire, or a soccer mom - has their own set of desires that motivate their actions. Advertisers know this and often use jargon like "Buy our product and fulfill your desires." This approach hooks the audience and reels them in. However, if the audience does not respond, it's better to change the approach rather than blame them for not taking the bait.
Corporate storytelling is a potent tool that can enhance decision-making and propel buy-in. By revealing tomorrow's potential, it has the magical power to lift today's struggles.
Stories have endured for thousands of years because they resonate with people on a personal level. Customers want to feel like they belong, are recognized, and are visible. In today's technology-driven economy, human attention is a rare commodity. When you tell a story that resonates with someone, you give them the gift of human attention. Once a connection is made, the customer may be more willing to see the world from the company's perspective and take action step-by-step.