Harnessing the Power of Storytelling for Businesses
“Tell me a story” may be one of the oldest requests from the dawn of human language. The presence of origin stories from widespread cultures around the world attest to humanity’s long-standing interest in “what happened.”
In today’s digital world we have many more platforms for telling our stories, whether these are for business or personal purposes. Yet why are the effects of storytelling so compelling?
Why the impact of storytelling is so strong
Cody C. Delistraty says in The Atlantic article “The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling”:
Storytelling could be an evolutionary mechanism that helped keep our ancestors alive.
The theory is that if I tell you a story about how to survive, you’ll be more likely to actually survive than if I just give you facts. For instance, if I were to say, “There’s an animal near that tree, so don’t go over there,” it would not be as effective as if I were to tell you, “My cousin was eaten by a malicious, scary creature that lurks around that tree, so don’t go over there.”
A narrative works off of both data and emotions, which is significantly more effective in engaging a listener than data alone.
In fact, Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says that people remember information when it is weaved into narratives “up to 22 times more than facts alone.”
In the following video Professor Aacker explains how storytelling can be utilized effectively by individuals. Watch the short video and consider how these same techniques can be utilized by businesses to share stories centered on mission goals.
(Note that Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg own story ignited the Lean In movement to empower women to achieve their ambitions. Her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is available on Amazon. Click here to watch her December 2010 TED talk.)
(Bonus tip: If you want to learn more about the power of story, check out Linda Nicole Blair’s book Virginia Woolf and the Power of Story: A Literary Darwinist Reading of Six Novels.)
Storytelling for imparting information
In TED talks the presenter often talks about himself or herself in an engaging story that captures audience attention for the information being imparted.
As an example, watch this video of Shane Snow at a TEDx talk speaking about the power of storytelling and concluding his talk with a very personal story:
Yet all stories for imparting information are not created equal.
Langevin Learning Services’ post “10 Best Practices for Using Storytelling in Training” offers these guidelines for storytelling in front of an audience:
- Know your audience and select stories that are appropriate to that group.
- Check your story for anything that may make someone uncomfortable. Even true stories can embarrass someone .
- Be especially wary of stories that accidentally make fun of a culture or belief.
- Make sure the story makes sense and is relevant to the course content.
- Make the story short and to the point. Even a good story that goes on too long loses steam.
- Find a way to get the learner involved in the storytelling. Provide them with clear instructions on what you would like them to produce as it relates to the course.
- Regardless of when you tell a story, there are several other delivery guidelines to keep in mind:
- Be real; tell stories that fit who you are.
- Pay attention to your tone, pace, volume, and non-verbal cues.
- Use the story to teach, not preach.
- Practice, practice, practice your delivery beforehand.
What is extremely important to keep in mind is the audience perspective rather than the storyteller’s perspective. This is the basis of persuasion.
Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com says in his post “Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques”:
Storytelling is really a catch-all technique—you can and should use it in combination with any and all of the previous nine strategies. But the reason why storytelling works so well lies at the heart of what persuasion really is.
Stories allow people to persuade themselves, and that’s what it’s really all about. You might say that we never convince anyone of anything—we simply help others independently decide that we’re right. Do everything you can to tell better stories, and you’ll find that you are a terribly persuasive person.
Storytelling to change perceptions
Consider all the societal perceptions that have been changed by storytelling, whether through nonfiction or fiction. Impactful stories enable us to learn about others in more powerful ways than simply hearing or reading factual information.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media understands that fictional portrayal of women can impact real-life opportunities for women. The organization’s motto is “If she can see it, she can be it.”
Watch this brief video now to hear how stories of real women can impact others:
Storytelling for branding
The use of storytelling for a company’s brand can be quite powerful.
The i-SCOOP post “Using Storytelling to Strengthen Your Brand” says:
Storytelling is not inventing a story. In fact, the very reason why your business exists, why you have developed products and services and why you do what you do is filled with stories. You want to fulfill needs, respond to questions, engage on an emotional level, connect, find your voice and listen to voices in the the intersection of brand and audience.
And the ways you have developed solutions and a value proposition is all about stories. It’s even possible to turn an internal sales kit about solutions in a narrative book, telling stories people can relate with.
Storytelling can be an approach in a specific project but also a way of writing and creating content, by coupling personal and existing stories to the brand narrative. Some people say all good content is storytelling. That’s a myth. Sometimes content just has to be purely informational.
Good storytelling isn’t even directly about you, your brands and your solutions/products. It’s about emotions, experiences, needs and the written and unwritten images associated with these emotions and needs, in relationship to what your brand evokes.
What stories do you want to tell about your business or organization? Are there authentic stories you can share that will resonate with your target audiences?
Storytelling advice from a master
Many people are aware of Joseph Campbell’s work on myths and on the Hero’s Journey. The stages of this journey (as illustrated in the first STAR WARS movie) can be helpful for storytellers. Campbell’s book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES was first published in 1949. Here is what Amazon says about the book:
As relevant today as when it was first published, The Hero with a Thousand Faces continues to find new audiences in fields ranging from religion and anthropology to literature and film studies. The book has also profoundly influenced creative artists—including authors, songwriters, game designers, and filmmakers—and continues to inspire all those interested in the inherent human need to tell stories.
Greg Koorhan says in his “10 Storytelling Mistakes to Avoid”:
Better stories mean better engagement. Here’s a handy infographic of 10 common yet critical storytelling mistakes that you can use as a checklist when crafting stories for your business.
His point number 10 is especially important — “Don’t tell stories that are interesting only to YOU.”
Storytelling in marketing
Companies are using storytelling in marketing and advertising to connect with their target audiences.
Rachel Gillet says in the Fast Company post “Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing”:
Our brains are insanely greedy for stories. We spend about a third of our lives daydreaming–our minds are constantly looking for distractions–and the only time we stop flitting from daydream to daydream is when we have a good story in front of us.
Top brands like LinkedIn, Coca Cola, Etsy–the list goes on–harness this science to their advantage through content marketing that focuses on the story.
In her article she links to Scott Donaton’s Fast Company article “The 10 Commandments of Content” in which Donaton says:
Few people enjoy conversations with people who talk only about themselves. Yet for the last 100-plus years, brands have interrupted consumer conversations to make the points they want to make about their attributes and efficacy. That approach no longer works.
Content must provide entertainment, education or utility. Stop focusing on what you want to say and start listening to what your audiences want to talk about.
And Donaton concludes his article with these words:
While there’s no one path to success, putting story at the heart of your marketing is your best shot at a happy ending.
Russell Working says in the August 18, 2017, PR Daily article “4 ways to boost your storytelling magic”:
We all know that storytelling carries power in communications. But how to find the right story — one that doesn’t just grab people’s attention, but matches the marketing efforts, the data and the facts?
Working discusses these four recommendations:
- Echo your hooks in your endings.
- Find your unique voice.
- Metaphors speak.
- Encapsulated messages in catchphrases.
Storytelling in digital signage for internal and external communications
Here at Enplug our digital signage software enables users to share stories with their employees across the globe and share stories with audiences at brick-and-mortar locations.
Want to announce that Mary is the top employee this week? Share a video of her explaining her “secret sauce” via Enplug’s Graphics and Video app.
Or want your customers waiting in line for their turn at your ice cream store to see themselves on your TV displays? Have these fans post hashtagged updates via Enplug’s Social Media Wall App and the Instagram App.
We all want to be the lead characters in our own stories. Enplug’s digital signage can enable businesses to give their audiences a leading role.