What does storytelling have to do with your business and what is the importance of storytelling in business? People crave the emotional and powerful connections that only come through telling a story.

Stories work because we are wired to want to hear them. Scientists tell us our brains become more active when we hear stories. Heck, we even build our days around the story arc with a beginning middle and end (morning, lunch and evening). We think in narratives all day. And when we hear a story, we relate it to one of our existing experiences.

So, when pitching your product or service to a prospective client, the chances that message will be remembered are improved if the pitch was built around a story.

Dan and Chip Heath refer to this concept as sticky messaging.

Stories have been used since the beginning of time to share knowledge, human history, and ideas. Stories can be incorporated into all your forms of content, including blogs, e-books, whitepapers, and your “About Us” page. The value of storytelling can also be employed internally to share lessons learned, explain your culture, and so forth.

Sure they contain facts, but that’s not what makes them work. The best brand stories are irresistible, compelling and provocative in a way that your target audience is going to hear, seamlessly and effortlessly.

Think about Apple. How many of its creation stories can you recall off the top of your head? There is bit about Jobs and Woz starting the business in a garage. Of course, the garage origins story seems mandatory for tech companies. Jeff Bezos of Amazon bought his Seattle home specifically for its garage when he launched Amazon. And Hewlett and Packard (HP) started in a garage. Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg had variations of the garage creation story when they started their empires in dorm rooms.

This applies to businesses that are not (yet) billion-dollar successes. At OpConnect, where I provide marketing services, we have successfully used story to explain our expertise in software communications, as well as in outdoor displays, both of which are critical components to our electric vehicle charging business.

At Seven G Media, I often use story when meeting with prospective clients who want to know why they should hire us for a particular project.

With today’s information overload, a good story can help you and your business stand out from the corporate speak and marketing jargon of your competitors and your previous elevator pitches and value propositions (hey, they are still valuable for their specific uses).

So what goes into a great business story?

Basically, a good business story has the same elements that any good story is going to have.

It needs to:

  • Fit the audience
  • Pose a problem and offer a resolution
  • Be engaging
  • Have clear meaning

Audience

Good stories don’t just happen. They have to resonate with an audience. And the first step to doing that is recognizing and targeting your audience. If I was to tell my story using sports metaphors, that message would be lost on my awesome wife who has no interest or vocabulary for sports. That is true in the examples below for Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, and Whole Foods Market’s sourcing sustainable seafood. Alba is speaking to fellow parents. Whole Foods is speaking to shoppers who care about the environment.

By knowing your audience, you will have a better way of crafting your story. At OpConnect, we will tell essentially the same story differently depending on whether we are talking to electric utilities, shopping mall owners, or electric vehicle drivers. All three have different points of view, use different vocabularies, and different things that matter most to them.

Read this earlier 7G blog post to better understand defining your audience. By understanding your audience, you are better prepared for the next part of developing your business story.

Problem/Resolution

Think of a well-known story. What was your selection? Three little piggies? Or was it this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Birdman? Let’s go with Birdman. The film, at its basic elements, is about a washed-up actor’s comeback bid. Strip away the craziness and the fancy camera effects, and you will see the classic story arc in which the hero meets a challenge, accepts the challenge, encounters challenges, perseveres and eventually succeeds. In Birdman, the hero is Michael Keaton, a former Hollywood action hero who over the years lost sight of why he wanted to pursue acting and now late in life has a chance to redeem himself for himself, his daughter and family, and his critics. We watch him pursue this goal, encounter setbacks and challenges, and in the end succeed.

If you watch this video about Jessica Alba’s Honest Company and its partnership with Target, you will hear early on about Alba’s problem to find healthy, non-toxic alternatives for the products she used as a mother. She then takes up the challenge of building a company that offers this solution to parents like her.

One thing to note is that you have to offer an authentic problem for the audience to get engaged. The audience – which includes you, me, and my grandmother – want to put ourselves in your shoes and ask how we would respond to this challenge (which if its your target audience, is probably already encountering and looking for a solution like that which you are offering). As I heard someone refer to this, “Your message is in your mess.”

Be Engaging

Have you ever been at a dinner party and had to hear someone recount a story that was long on setup? By the time, the presenter finally got to the meat of the story, you were already tuned out and looking for another glass of wine.

Far too often storytellers or marketers give way too much detail upfront. They start their story in chronological order, putting the audience to sleep before the exciting stuff occurs. In fact, you could adopt the Pulp Fiction style and tell us the story out of order, but tie it all up at the end. Or you could start in the middle of the story.

When you craft your story, write it all down and then go back two or three times and cut away what isn’t absolutely necessary to telling the story.

Alba doesn’t tell us more than we need or want to know. In the first five seconds, she tells us, “I came up with the idea for this company while I was pregnant with my first daughter.”

It seems counterintuitive, but by moving the story along quickly, you are then given the opportunity to slow down and add details to important parts.

Clear Meaning

A good business story has good flow and makes a point. If you have followed the first steps (tailoring to your audience, explaining the problem, and be engaging) you are on your way to having a successful story, business or otherwise.

The last step is making sure your story has a clear meaning that will prompt the desired action of your audience. That is a lot of wordy talk for making sure your story is going to get the listener to go buy something.

Watch this video from Whole Foods Market about sourcing sustainable fishing. If you watch the video, at around the 3:20 mark, you will hear one of the interviewed subjects say “The customers have a really high responsibility to show that this product has a good story. The customers can cause a lot of harm if they don’t care what they are eating.” Wow! That seems to me to be a pretty clear message.

If you are wondering how to craft your business’s story or have your doubts about whether whatever you do or sell is interesting enough for a story, please, please give me a call or send me an email. We can meet for a coffee or lunch and get you on your way to telling an engaging brand story that will position you and your company as a leader in the marketplace.

We all enjoy a good story.