storytelling in business

Discover the power of storytelling in business

Everyone loves a great story, don’t they? Storytelling is one of the oldest, most powerful communication tools we have as humans.

Our brains are wired for stories. As babies and children, we loved a good story. It promotes brain development and imagination, develops language and emotions, and strengthens relationships.

And storytelling in business is vital too. Telling stories connects people and builds trust in your brand, grabbing your target audience’s attention in a crowded marketplace. It is a ‘must do’ for effective content marketing initiatives

What is storytelling? 

Mark W Travis defined storytelling as:

“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.”

Strategic storytelling

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 – much like 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 can be woven into your communications strategy.

Why is business storytelling important?

Today, it’s not enough to have a product or service that just offers a solution to a problem.

If you want your brand to resonate with potential customers on a personal level, you need to go one step further and do what human beings do on a daily basis – communicate by telling visual stories that engage and create an emotional connection with your target audience.

In an increasingly competitive business world, where we are all bombarded by information, a great story helps businesses cut through the noise and grab the attention of potential customers.

Business storytelling benefits

Stories are not all created equal. Great storytelling in business is the act of using real-life examples and human connections to develop compelling stories that encourage an audience to take the desired action, such as buying your product or service.

Get the art of business storytelling right, and you can reap the benefits – engaging with customers and stakeholders to convince them your service or product is worth buying or investing in.

  • Business development

There’s bound to be a story behind an idea for your business or why you or your company founder developed a new product or service. Telling this story – warts and all – with all the pain points involved can be hugely motivating for other businesses and potential suppliers.

  • Competitive advantage

Consumers are exposed to so much ‘noise’ that it can be easy for companies to get lost in the melee. Stories that build a connection with your audience can help distinguish your business from your competitors. And because consumer decision-making is more emotional than logical, a story can increase the perceived value of your products and services.

  • Audience attention and understanding

A good story holds your audience’s attention during a business pitch, presentation, meeting or in your content marketing. That is why stories are a key tool for public speakers. A compelling story told well will also help to increase target customers’ understanding of your company and its culture.

  • Marketing, PR and advertising

Business storytelling can be a powerful tool in your marketing strategy. People want to connect with brands and businesses, and the best advertising campaigns are those that will resonate with a real person and are relatable and evoke emotions.

Great stories trigger emotions and feelings to encourage action.

An example would be the John Lewis Christmas ad which just works because it is on a deeply emotional level, pulling the audience’s heartstrings.

Using business storytelling as a key component in the marketing mix is effective, but you need to ensure your stories are consistent across all mediums – adverts, PR, social media, your website, and your employees.

  • Stories drive decision making

Business storytelling done well helps to answer the question, “Why should people care?” It helps to fine-tune key messaging.

Stories allow people to make better, more informed decisions. This is effective whether you are targeting small business customers, potential employees, new stakeholders or loyal customers.

  • Customer loyalty

Customers are more loyal to businesses that they emotionally connect with. Because stories communicate ideas in a way that customers are used to listening then, they are more likely to encourage loyal customers.

  • Employee engagement

Stories can help to engage employees and embed the right culture in your company. They dig deeper on a more personalized level, helping staff to connect with your business and encouraging more of a can-do attitude. Storytelling allows employees to better understand your story and the business’ values and morals.

What makes great stories for business?

You don’t need to be a professional storyteller to tell an engaging story. Effective stories should be ones that go right to the heart of the company if they are really going to pull on the heartstrings of your audience.

There will be countless good stories for your business to talk about. Whether that’s a story about your humble beginnings as a small startup, customer stories, anecdotes about your people, or stories about your products and your progress along the way.

However, if you are using your business storytelling to engage with other companies, then you will need to focus on bringing to life your products and their services (rather than your personal stories) to get cut through.

That is why story selection is vital. Success stories about how you’ve adapted or invented products or services to solve consumer problems or meet customer demand can particularly resonate with other businesses.

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

The art of business storytelling: a personal perspective

There is a real art to business storytelling. I was reminded of this recently at a South West Business Insider awards evening in Exeter.

The comedian hired to entertain the audience told us an amusing and compelling story about his ‘journey from hell’ to get there.

‘Once upon a time…’ he began, as he embarked on a story about his car having broken down on the busy A3 towards Exeter just hours before his appearance.

Now it might not sound like the most riveting of stories, but the way he told it got me and his audience absolutely hooked.

There was the long wait for a recovery vehicle, funny roadside encounters, and the realisation his poor car was destined for the scrapyard.

As the main character in his story, he endeared himself to the audience. It was a very personal story to share and one that most of us could identify with.

Plus, it was great personal PR. His story showed that he could see the funny side of anything, and it pulled on our heartstrings.  It showed his resilience because here he was, entertaining us all, despite his challenging day.

He proved to be the perfect face for the awards event because his humour in the face of adversity story embodied the organisers’ values.

Good stories in an authentic voice are a powerful tool, and those businesses that get it right can really reap the benefits.

Getting started in business storytelling

So how do you create a great brand story? Writing in Forbes, Mike Kappel, CEO of Patriot Software, has five top tips for effective business storytelling:

  1. Set parameters

Your business story should be engaging. Great business stories must have a compelling message with a clear focus.

Without setting the scene, customers won’t understand what you’re talking about, and you’ll quickly lose the attention of your target audience.

  1. Be authentic

Authentic storytelling and sharing relatable experiences are vital if you want to gain consumer trust, and, in turn, this leads to increased sales.

Sharing stories that aren’t too elaborate can be the most powerful. For example, a genuine narrative in the first person about how your company started and the pain points you experienced along the way is more likely to build meaningful connections with your audience than an over-the-top yarn.

  1. Have a clear outcome

Better stories usually have a firm conclusion. What lessons were learned in your brand story? What should your customers learn from hearing it?

A clear outcome with a thought-provoking message that encourages action and compels your audience to connect with your brand and build customer loyalty makes the most successful business storytelling.

  1. Be consistent

Business storytelling takes practice. Storytelling skills develop over time. You need to be consistent when you share stories about your brand. It’s important to know your business story inside out before presenting it to your audience.

  1. Get customers involved

Use business storytelling to strike an emotional connection with customers.

Stories engage when you talk about how an event related to your business affected you and what you learned. This grabs your audience’s attention, builds emotional connections and makes your story more memorable and shareable.

What are the 4 Ps of business storytelling?

Stories told well have the potential to draw people in, building relationships and brand loyalty. The same can apply to how companies operate and market themselves through their PR.

The four essential ingredients for effective business storytelling skills are:

  •  People – No stories are complete without people, as they are the main characters driving your company story. Great storytelling involves someone in real life, their journey, their ideas or concepts, and it is these stories that resonate with like-minded people.
  • Places – Take your audience to a physical location to put your business story into context and to persuade people your story is genuine and relatable.
  • Purpose – This is what you want your audience to take away from your story, whether that is a better understanding of your early days in business or to inspire a call to action.
  • Plot – this is the pillar of storytelling and is a crucial part of the process to create content that engages with your customers. It builds an emotional arc with a beginning, middle and end.

Powering up your business storytelling

To really hit the mark, your business storytelling needs to be powerful. A way to add power and gravitas to your story is to use clear, concise sentences.

Writing in a more direct, punchier way will help you add power to your story, making it more persuasive, dynamic, and interesting. This, in turn, helps you establish your brand’s credibility.

Effective storytelling: the rule of three

The objective of business storytelling is to persuade your audience. While decision-making is influenced by factors such as emotion, appealing to people’s logic is also important.

A highly effective way to convince your audience by using logical reasoning is to try using the rule of three to make your story more memorable.

If you group things in threes, it immediately makes them more memorable.

Big brands using the rule of three

Here are some examples of some of the world’s biggest brands using the rule of three to great effect:

  • Just do it (Nike)
  • Vorsprung durch Technik (Audi)
  • Every little helps (Tesco)
  • Taste the difference (Sainsbury’s)
  • I’m Lovin’ It (McDonald’s)

Using the rule of three in your business storytelling

Here are some examples of how you can structure a sentence in your story for maximum effect:

  1. “Our objective is to become a more socially responsible company, and to achieve this, we want to be more committed to fair trade, and we want to make sure the energy we use is clean. We also plan to be more sustainable in the years to come.”

Rule of three:To become a more socially responsible company, we are working towards being more committed, sustainable, and clean.”

  1. “The financial markets have been extremely volatile, and it is going to take time for us to achieve our revenue goals at this time. But we are determined to continue with our growth plans which will take a lot of hard work and perseverance.”

Rule of three: “In the volatile economy, to achieve our growth strategy, we need time, hard work and perseverance.”

Applying storytelling to business 

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

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

To gain a competitive advantage, businesses should think about how their storytelling fits the bill and has long-term benefits.

As you embark on your firm’s narrative, it’s worth bearing in mind a few simple questions – what, where, when and why?

How to use storytelling in business 

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

It is only those stories that fit in with overall narratives, familiarise readers with your brand and builds 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 effective business 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, stories can transform brands into legacies as part of a marketing strategy and increase your profits.

 4 key ways to get your stories across

Stories can take many different forms. Sometimes stories are read in books, or they are watched in TV ads. Other stories are listened to in pitches or podcasts.

Your chosen way to get your stories across depends on your story type and the resources available to you, such as time and money.

Here are four different ways you can get your story started:

  • Writing

Written stories can be in the form of thought leadership articles, blog posts, or books. They can be the most affordable method of telling your story.

  • Speaking

Spoken stories are told in person. Examples include a presentation, pitch, or speaker panel. TED talks are a great example of storytelling in business that generates significant interest in target audiences.

However, spoken stories usually need a lot of practice and skill because they are often delivered live in front of an audience.

  • Audio

Audio stories are spoken aloud and recorded. They usually take the form of podcasts. A podcast is one platform that is now more cost-effective and affordable than ever due to modern digital technology.

  • Digital

Digital stories come in a range of media, including video and animation. They can be expensive to produce.

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 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 and tease out the details of those stories that make them special.

Storytelling in sales pitches

Storytelling skills are essential when it comes to sales pitches and presentations. How you develop your story depends on where you want to tell your story in your presentation.

The advice is not just to plonk a story into your pitch. Weave your story into your presentation so that it supports your narrative.

Storytelling tips for pitches:

  • A story shared at the beginning of your pitch can really attract attention.
  • A story in the middle of your sales presentation can ‘wake up’ your audience and re-energise your pitch.
  • Your story shared throughout your pitch can help you get across your key features and benefits.
  • Sharing your story at the end of your pitch can create a memorable impression.

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 told stories that certainly take 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.

Stories are not just for senior management

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.

Evaluating your story’s success

So how do you know if your story is successful?

As any experienced stand-up comedian will tell you, it can take months, even years, to develop successful stories – from an initial idea to something that will resonate with others.

Doing a bit of market research to identify what people are interested in can help bring your material to life.

Of course, the good news is that you’ll immediately know if your story isn’t working.

During a sales pitch or a demonstration, if people are engaged, they will maintain eye contact and give you positive signals, like smiling or nodding. You will quickly pick up the vibe if your story is not going down well!

While it can be disappointing if your story isn’t landing as well as you’d like, it can be a crucial learning experience and will help you to improve your story performance in the longer term.

Telling your story 

Successful brands know the value of a great story. Whether they are action stories or a tale about your company’s history, they increase understanding, provide meaning, create context and inspire action. Most people are more receptive to stories than they are to a list of facts or data.

Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.” – Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow, The Storytelling Edge.

Stories help audiences relate to your brand, empathise with your message and remember you. This is why more and more brands realise the importance of storytelling.

What is your company story?

Everyone loves a good story, and with a bit of thought and consideration, we all have a good story to tell. With our support, leaders can harness the power of their own storytellers.

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