“We have an important story to tell,” is something I hear from business owners quite often. They then proceed to tell me about their story of value, their story of variety, or their important story of affordability. To which I respond, those aren’t stories. Value propositions, perhaps, but not stories. The idea of storytelling for businesses is a notion that has gained traction in recent years and yet the execution of the concept is misinterpreted and misplayed. Sadly, most business owners and marketers aren’t journalists and they don’t really know where to start when telling a story.
So, let’s set some ground rules — real stories have characters, not value propositions. They have a beginning, middle, and end, and they leave the reader or viewer better off, or more knowledgeable and connected, than before they discovered the story. In this post, we’ll discuss why stories are important, what makes a great story, and where to find your business stories.
Why Stories are Important
Stories are important because people remember stories. Some thought provoking research by Paul Zak, the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University found that real stories produce empathy like no other form of communication. In this post in the Harvard Business Review, Zak explains that people are more drawn to the transcendental purpose (how it improves lives) of a business than its transactional purpose (how it sells goods and services).
According to Zak, "Transcendent purpose is effectively communicated through stories — for example, by describing the pitiable situations of actual, named customers and how their problems were solved by your efforts."
Many businesses confuse this idea, creating transactional “stories” rather than those that are transcendental. Zak elaborates, saying, "Make your people empathize with the pain the customer experienced and they will also feel the pleasure of its resolution — all the more if some heroics went into reducing suffering or struggle, or producing joy.”
Ultimately, if you want to tell stories for your business, it’s important to understand the difference between stories and marketing messages — transcendent and transactional.
What Makes a Powerful Business Story
Understanding what makes a powerful business story begins with an understanding of what your reader or viewer wants or needs. Coincidentally, this is also the biggest pitfall for businesses trying to share their story. Too often, businesses tell the stories they would like to tell, rather than sharing stories that their customers and prospects would like to read or view. When ideating your best business stories, consider what questions and/or concerns your reader has and share stories that address those topics.
For example, if your readers frequently ask questions about the quality of your products, share a success story of a customer who had a similar concern. Avoid the temptation of sharing all the virtues of your business and instead talk about the success of your customer. Make sure your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Lastly, keep in mind all memorable stories have a conflict and a resolution, so share those aspects if possible.
Where to Find Your Business Stories
One of the most debilitating challenges people have in this process is unearthing these memorable business stories. Often, these stories abound in and around our businesses. It’s just that we don’t always take the time to identify these stories. Here are some easy places to find stories: Check with your customers, your suppliers and vendors, and, of course, your employees. So often, your employees have tremendous stories and they’re often the best sources for stories.
Some of our clients have begun having editorial meetings, or adding an editorial component to existing meetings. As they saying goes, many hands make light work and when everyone pitches in with story ideas, you’ll be surprised how many fabulous ideas surround your business.
Of course, this may all seem easier said than done and truth be told, the art of storytelling for business is more journalism than marketing. However, with some creativity and desire to unearth real stories that engage and inspire your target audience, rather than sell to them, you can begin to move the needle. Remember, online communication is a different animal, and in this kingdom, authentic information and stories reign supreme. And if you question this thinking, I ask you this — when was the last time you Googled a commercial when doing research on a product or service?