Discover the power of storytelling in business

Everyone loves a good story, don’t they? 

Of course, they do. That said, for the first time since I was a schoolboy, I had cause to ponder that question at a recent South West Business Insider awards evening in Exeter.  

That question was posed by the comedian hired to entertain us guests and what followed was his story about his day and his journey from hell. 

‘Once upon a time….’ he began, as he embarked on a story centred upon a breakdown on the busy A3 just hours before as he headed towards Exeter. 

It might not sound like the most riveting story – but it was the way he told it that got me hooked. 

Telling a story 

It was one featuring lots of the essential ingredients that form the basis for effective storytelling which are: 

  • People – stories should be about someone and this one focused on our unlikely hero’s ups and downs 
  • Places – take the reader to a location to put our people in context  
  • Purpose – this was to warm up the audience and get us on his side 
  • Plot – this is the emotional arc with a beginning, middle and end structure 

There was a long, long wait for a recovery vehicle, a few human encounters, and the realisation his car was destined for the scrapyard.  

That story endeared him to the audience because he’d shared a very personal story and one that most could identify with. 

Plus, it was great personal PR. His story showed that he was able to see the funny side of anything and it pulled on the heartstrings of those in attendance.  

It showed his resilience as well because he was entertaining us all despite having had a harrowing day. 

Our Canadian comedian proved to be the perfect face for the event because this fun-in-the-face-of-challenging circumstances story embodied the values of the organisers.  

And it proved that, of course, the answer to his leading question is a resounding yes. In all walks of life, there’s nothing like good storytelling and they can take the most unlikely forms. 

Good yarns are what make the world go round everywhere, aren’t they, but they can make businesses go from strength to strength, too.  

Stories told well have the potential draw people in and build relationships. The same can apply to the way companies operate and how they market themselves through their PR work. 

Applying storytelling to business 

It might sound obvious but, when it comes to business, what counts as storytelling? Well, for starters, one thing that it’s definitely not is rocket science. 

However, there is a science to robust storytelling but the good thing is that if you follow the ‘Four P’s principle’ you really can’t go too far wrong on your narrative journey. 

You should be able to bring your company to life through storytelling which charts where it’s come from, where it’s heading and how it’s going to reach that destination. 

Businesses should think about how they can make sure their storytelling fits the bill and has long-term benefits. As you embark on your narrative journey it’s worth bearing in mind a few simple questions – what, where, when and why? 

What is storytelling? 

‘A story is the telling of an event, either true or fictional, in such a way that the listener experiences or learns something just by hearing the story. 

‘A story is a means of transferring information, experience, attitude or point of view. Every story has a teller and a listener.’ 

So wrote Mark W Travis wrote on the Reuters website by way of definition. 

Storytelling is the perfect way for businesses to protect themselves and their brands positively in the commercial world, sharing tales that bring the company to life. 

Strategic storytelling acts as a powerful magnet to attract customers – in much the same way troubadours and minstrels drew people in during the Middle Ages as they went from settlement to settlement. 

But while those travelling storytellers could make up as they went along, strategic storytelling must have a clearly defined purpose and authenticity.  

It should go beyond facts and figures and be about flair and feelings and be weaved into your communications strategy 

Why use storytelling in business 

Good stories should be one that go right to the heart of the company if they are really going to pull on customers’ heartstrings.  

There will be countless stories for your company to talk about your people and your products and your progress. 

However, if businesses want to engage with other companies, then they need to focus on bringing to life their products and their services (rather than personal stories) to get cut-through.  

That is why story selection is vital. It makes sense, for example, to explain why your company has risen to a customer’s challenge with the delivery of a new innovation.  

A great example is James Dyson’s revelation in his memoirs of how he gambled his home on his revolutionary vacuum cleaner design. 

How to use storytelling in business 

The overall goals and key messages that form the backbone of communications should be intertwined within your story.  

It is only those stories that fit in with overall narratives and familiarise readers with your brand/build brand awareness that will have a tangible impact.  

By that, we mean building relationships with new clients and strengthening relationships you’ve been developing with existing clients.  

That should burnish your already sterling reputation and make you stand out because they have an emotional attachment.  

Overall, we know that storytelling will help achieve the key objectives of brand management, such as building connections between products, companies and their customers.  

As well as strengthening loyalty, effective storytelling can transform brands into legacies as part of a marketing strategy and increase your profits. 

When to use storytelling in business 

According to the Harvard Business Review, ‘every storytelling exercise should begin by asking: Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them?’ 

So, a good starting point is to consider which messages you want to share with your audience and what lasting impression do you really want to make?  

These messages could include: 

  • Our people work hard to understand what our customers need. 
  • We have the technical expertise to solve the most complex issues. 
  • We are proud of our track record of success.  
  • We get things done. 

Only the memorable will help you cut through the noise of the crowded marketplace. You can forget anything else. 

And there must be a human touch to your story to build that emotional bond with your audience. Connect and engage with people by bringing to life your brand.   

It’s okay to share ups and downs, challenges and successes – as long as those stories underline your key messages and show why you’re good at what you do. 

And it’s good to work with communications professionals to create the right content tease out the details of those stories that make them special.  

Who is your storyteller?  

The late Apple founder Steve Jobs was, rightly hailed in Business Insider as ‘the world’s greatest business storyteller. 

That is thanks to his ability to transform ‘the often unimaginative product launch into a theatrical production, complete with a cast, sets, props, and music’. 

Jobs certainly takes some beating, but the truth is, everyone can tell a good story when they put their mind to it and so it follows that, in theory, anyone can be your storyteller. 

Right from the CEO who leads your company to the new apprentice who’s on his or her way up the career ladder, and from the departmental heads to staff on the frontline, no one should be ruled out.  

Every opportunity should be judged on its own merits. Target audience, as well as authenticity, should be key factors in sharing insightful stories, so implement a strategy that will make the most of key company strengths and assets. 

And lest we forget, image is everything. It’s vital that you back up the words with top-notch videography and photography to make it look the part across the media spectrum, especially via social media channels. 

Telling your business’ story 

Everyone likes a good story and everyone has a good story to tell. With our support business leaders can harness the power of their own storytellers.

To book a strategy call to bring your brand and your people stories to life, do get in touch with the AMBITIOUS PR team by giving us a call on 0117 905 1177 or email Rob at [email protected]. 

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