Thursday, 18 October 2018

Reasons why a storytelling strategy can be good for business

One of the things that makes us human is the way that our brains are hardwired to react to stories.

Maybe it evolved as a way of keeping us safe? If you paid attention to the tribe elders around the camp fire, as they told you terrible stories about the dangerous sabre-toothed tigers, you might stay alive a bit longer.

We respond to stories that tap into our own hopes and fears. Some of us love to be scared by ghost stories and horror tales while others want to escape into romantic fantasy and stirring adventures.

We can also be moved to action by powerful stories told in documentaries and on TV charity telethons such as Children In Need and Stand Up To Cancer. Often it's because we can imagine how we would feel if we were in the shoes of those featured and we want to help them succeed in their journeys.

Good stories, told well, make us stop in our tracks and they demand our attention. They might strike a chord with our own aspirations and personal memories. They stir up our emotions and inspire us; they can excite us and keep us entertained.

What are the essential components of a good story?

Any good story needs a hero, a villain, a journey and a transformation or resolution – told with passion.

In business storytelling, that passion comes from the things you know your customers will care about, and your own enthusiasm for what you do and how you make a difference. 

The hero of your story could be a customer, a partner you work with or an employee.

The villain could be the problem that your business solves. What do you do that makes life better or easier for your customers?

Twists and turns in a story can keep us hooked so when you are telling a story remember to add the details that your audience might not be expecting. The surprise element can make your story stand out in the memory of your audience.

Your story could end with a transformation or a resolution. How is life different now for your hero because of your business?

One of my favourite examples of a brand using storytelling is the Dove Real Women campaign, launched in the UK in 2004. 

It was probably the first time that a major cosmetics or toiletries advertising campaign had featured women of all shapes, sizes and skin tones together. These were women that consumers could identify with instead of the traditional professional models who perpetuate air-brushed images of unattainable physical perfection.

Everyone was talking about the Dove campaign and it led to a 700% rise in sales of Dove in the first half of that year.

But there was also a perception that this was more than a gimmick - there was an authentic and genuine desire for change behind the campaign. This was emphasised when Dove launched a self-esteem project aimed at helping under-17s to feel happy and confident about the way they look.

But storytelling is not just a strategy for major consumer-facing companies with huge advertising and marketing budgets; it can work just as well for small businesses too.

How can we tell stories that make us memorable in business?

The starting point of creating a memorable story for your business is to think about your audience. Who are you trying to reach and influence? Understanding your audience is essential if you are going to tell the stories that they want to hear. The stories you want to tell as a business are not always the same as the ones your audience wants to hear.

Time spent getting to know your audience - their hopes, their fears their dreams, their interests - is never wasted. This is why many businesses now value social media. When you stop using it as a broadcasting medium and use it to really LISTEN to your customers and potential customers you gain valuable insights and build relationships.

Secondly, what do you want your audience to do after the story ends? What action do you want them to take? How do you want them to feel? If you are in tune with your audience, and you have told them a story they wanted to hear in a compelling way, they are more likely to pick up the phone, send an email, make a purchase and ultimately become a loyal customer and a valuable ambassador for your business. Happy customers talk to other people about how great you are.

Rather than talking about you, your business or your brand all the time, most of your stories should be about your customers, partners or employees. You want your audience to see themselves in the shoes of the hero in your stories, as women did with the Dove campaign, and relate to them and understand their journey.

If you want to tell customer stories you could make a start by seeking out the customers that you already have a good relationship with because they have left glowing reviews online or sent in thank you letters. Interview them to capture stories you can tell. 

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