“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyser famously said. A seemingly ludicrous suggestion in a world where we seek proof that a + b=c. But in truth, our natural instinct to find a correlation between ‘a’ and ‘b’, is precisely why storytelling appeals to us, and indeed, sits at the core of our existence.
Storytelling in its simplest form is a connection of cause and effect. Narrative helps us make sense of the world around us. In fact, our conversations are dominated by stories; researcher Jeremy Hsu found 65% of our conversations are made up of personal stories and gossip.
The power of storytelling is something so many businesses fail to realise in marketing their brand and products. When information is communicated in story form, studies show people better relate and remember it. Stories have the ability to spark emotions, whether it’s happiness, empathy, trust or anger. When listening to them not only are the language-processing parts of our brain activated, experiential parts of our brain come alive too. Stories about food activate our sensory cortex, motion stories activate the motor cortex – fundamentally our brains are more engaged when listening to stories.
Brand storytelling isn’t new; companies have used advertising to evoke emotions through storytelling for years. However the landscape has changed, the digital revolution spurred new platforms, channels and devices through which to share and tell stories, opening up greater opportunities, but simultaneously greater challenges.
How do you cut through the noise, get your stories heard and resonate with the consumer? Here are my top tips for the art of storytelling in business:
1. Uncover your stories
This question is a common one: “What does our company have to say on social media, in a case study, in a newsletter etc. and why will anyone care?” And one that we are regularly asked by clients.
Firstly, everyone has stories. It’s the day-to-day things that you take for granted, which provide great content. From your customers’ stories, events you’re attending, an exciting project you’re working on, to a new product or service you’ve introduced, stories can be found everywhere.
And why will people care? By drawing on real life examples and telling stories through characters your audience will resonate with, the stories will be ones people want to hear.
2. Get your company values across
What is your brand and company about? Do you pride yourself on excellent customer service? Are you innovative, quirky, fun or you just really believe that your products or services are great? Define what makes your company great, work out how you are least like the competition and tell that story.
3. Make them colourful
The basic principles of storytelling apply: have a beginning, middle and end. In the beginning set up your story; who, what, why, where, when; in the middle present a conflict or dilemma, followed by a solution that ends in a happy-ever-after.
Above all, a good story is one that provokes an emotional reaction. Make the listener share the pains your customers were experiencing, illustrate how your product or service will make their life less stressful, lovelier, more luxurious, and get this across through your story. Remember it’s all about them not you. You need to understand your target market and audience and engage with them as you would in real life; appeal to people’s lifestyles, problems, interests and needs.
4. Use the appropriate format
Whilst content is king, how you make this content consumable is the crux of the marketing challenge. Your stories need to be not only relevant and engaging, they must be easily digestible – whatever format they take.
A story that’s right for Facebook isn’t necessarily the content of a customer case study. Remember stories don’t have to be words; pictures, videos, infographics, polyvores, can be fantastic ways of sharing a brand story and engaging the consumer. And how are you going to deliver them? Straight to someone’s inbox, via social media, or in a whitepaper perhaps.
Consider the shareability of the content too. Consumers don’t go sharing the technical spec of your product or listing your business services to their friends. Instead they tell the stories of the benefits; the impact your product or service has on real lives. Make your stories easy to share across multiple channels and good stories will speak for themselves.
Whatever the format, it is important to use experts who have the different skillsets required for each platform, including the ability to make the content consumable and shareable, and the knowledge of the media to get your stories across.
5. Leave people wanting more
Your stories need to give people a reason to come back. If you provide a service you don’t want to give away all your tricks before a potential client is engaged, but equally you need to give enough to hook them.
Consider teasers, “watch this space,” “see the sneak preview,” “like this page to find out more”. And remember when people come back for more they need to find more stories. You may have one really good customer case study but unless there are others, it’s not believable. Meaningful, consistent content across multiple channels, will give people a reason to return again and again.
In today’s fast-paced, multi-media and increasingly social marketing environment, stories have become an essential part of crafting valuable engagement with consumers. So what are you waiting for, tell us your story.