Telling an engaging and effective story is vitally important for the success of a business. A good story draws people in, fosters loyalty, and brings your brand alive.
“It’s important for brands to tell their story because the story is what actually resonates with humans,” said storytelling communication instructor Nathan Cody Young.
“We’re hardwired to remember stories. We have an emotional response to stories that we don’t get from the facts and features of a brand or product,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
We respond to stories in particular because they provide a path to understanding.
“Stories are how we make sense of the world and give it meaning,” said David Intrator, president of Smarter Storytelling.
“They tell us who we are, why we’re here, and how we should act,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Moreover, they tell us where we’ve been, where we are right now, and where we’re going. They give coherence, direction, and purpose to our lives.”
Good storytelling takes practice, but for effective brand building, it’s worth it. If you’re wondering how to get started, here are some tips.
1. Develop Your Characters
Engaging, interesting characters are vital to a good story. Characters are what pull us through the twists and turns and keep us engaged. We follow stories because of the people involved and the empathy we feel for them.
Who are the characters associated with a business? They can include the founder, the current leaders, the employees, the customers, and even fictional characters that represent some aspect of the brand.
To start identifying key characters, business leaders can “establish a selection of representative characters who will be part of their story,” noted storytelling consultant Jordan Bower.
“A few years ago, Apple did this beautifully with the ‘I’m a Mac, I’m a PC’ campaign,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “A sales team may use specific characters to represent customers or case studies. The CEO or other internal leaders might be ‘characterized’ to create a compelling, influential position on social media.”
Whatever characters you choose, it’s important that people be able to identify with them — and, therefore, with the brand itself.
“When stories are about someone relatable, they are far more engaging,” said Bower.
2. Describe Challenges and Choices
Challenges and choices are a key part of storytelling, since characters develop through the difficulties they face and how they respond to them.
If you’re telling the story of the founding of a company, for instance, you might want to focus on the obstacles encountered in the early days — and what choices were made to overcome them. If you’re telling customer stories, you might look at how your product assisted in working through challenges they faced.
“It’s choices that make stories compelling,” noted Bower. “Stories are about the process of choosing — the emotional ups and downs that mark the journey to result.”
Consider, for example, an employee’s story of improving a company’s sales process, as Bower related it: “When I was hired, sales were growing at only 5 percent. For my first six months on the job, I spent a long time listening to customers and co-workers, and I learned that a process implemented by the CEO was actually demotivating the sales team. I was faced with this challenging choice: Do I tell the CEO that he had done something wrong? Or do I keep my mouth shut? I had two weeks of sleepless nights before I finally decided to tell the CEO the truth.
To my surprise, the CEO responded humbly and willingly changed the process. Three years later, sales were growing at 15 percent.”A story like this draws in the reader and describes a journey, which is key to effective brand storytelling. Think about the journey you want to describe and use the story to bring people along on that journey.
3. Look for Meaning
To tell an effective story, you should know why you’re telling it — that is, you should have a clear understanding of its meaning or purpose.
“When constructing a story, leaders should think about the moral or lesson they want to communicate,” said Bower.
“Ultimately, those morals and lessons come down to what is called in storytelling language a ‘dilemma.’ Dilemmas, of course, are difficult choices between two mutually exclusive options. The more meaningful the dilemma, the higher the audience engagement,” he pointed out.
“For example, a story about going into a Starbucks and choosing between a latte and a cappuccino does not contain a particularly meaningful dilemma,” Bower said. “A story about choosing between a low-paying dream job and a high-paying corporate job carries an obvious dilemma. So does deciding whether to sell a morally ambiguous product. So does deciding whether to support one political candidate over another.”
4. Use Multiple Channels
There are many different ways you can tell your company’s stories — including through blog articles, videos, and social media posts. The interactions you have with people can help to further your company’s story, inviting them to come along on your journey.
“The new communications channels create new, more intimate relationships between businesses and stakeholders,” noted Bower. “Twenty years ago, a company would create one or two ad campaigns that would play repeatedly on TV or the radio. If those campaigns were good, we’d talk about them, but the campaigns themselves rarely changed. Remember Budweiser’s Wasssup? When a campaign was successful, it would be updated and re-launched, but at most a handful of times in a year.”
Things are different now, however — with many more opportunities for daily storytelling.
“Today, a business can talk to its stakeholders every single day,” said Bower. “It can provide personalized content based on buying habits, Web browsing patterns, etc. It can engage in an ongoing customer journey through all stages of the buying cycle.”
5. Don’t Forget Internal Audiences
People within your company benefit from good storytelling as well, so make sure to aim some of your stories at them. Stories can help to clarify your company’s mission and to inspire employees to do their best work.
“Telling an emotionally compelling story about a brand’s ambition for the future and the journey of change a business needs to take to get there will create an all-important context for the many components of a business’ journey: the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what and the ‘how,'” said Alison Esse, director of The Storytellers.
A story geared toward employees can help to give them a sense of purpose.
“It provides a framework which shows how each element links to one another, with a clear call to action, which can help people connect and relate to it in a much easier and more personal way,” Esse told the E-Commerce Times. “If they can see themselves as a ‘hero’ of that journey and understand the part they can play, they will feel involved and valued.”