People love a good story, especially one that resonates with them on a personal level. In a business context, storytelling can be a useful branding tool, drawing in customers, clients, employees, and other stakeholders who relate to a company’s behind-the-scenes stories and product tales.
Whether your company’s story is one of an entrepreneur’s triumph over adversity, a great leader’s commitment to compassion, or some other relatable turn of events that impacts the customer experience, finding and telling your business story can positively impact your overall business performance, leading to greater success.
This article covers everything you need to know to find and leverage your company’s most compelling business stories.
- What is business storytelling?
- Why is storytelling important?
- Business storytelling purposes
- A simple storytelling structure
- What makes a good business story?
- The 5 steps for business storytelling
- 3 examples of business storytelling
What is business storytelling?
Business storytelling involves building a narrative around your company to engage, uplift, or intrigue your target audience. A compelling business story should form a bridge between your company and your intended audience so they connect with your mission, products, or services on an emotional level.
Why is storytelling important?
With storytelling, you create opportunities for your company to stand out from the crowd. This engaging activity shifts the focus from the utilitarian to the personal. Instead of focusing exclusively on what your products or services do or how your company makes money, storytelling invites your customers and others to understand the driving force behind why you developed the solutions they rely upon.
Business storytelling purposes
Effective business storytelling can support objectives like:
- Developing and growing the business
- Creating and maintaining a competitive advantage
- Creating a strong impact that holds the customer’s attention
- Boosting marketing strategy results
- Making decisions
- Humanizing your brand
- Creating customer loyalty
- Increasing employee efficiency
- Creating a memorable brand
- Motivating stakeholders and customers to take action
Developing and growing the business
Every new business idea begins with a story. As you think about the ways to solve problems, the challenges of entering new markets, and the work that must go into building new relationships, you’re creating stories.
When it comes to problem-solving, you’re actually creating a story of triumph over adversity. When contemplating entry into new markets, your story is about transforming an underdog into a contender for business and market share. And when strategizing about building new relationships, your story contemplates breaking through barriers and achieving acceptance—no longer existing as a stranger in a strange land.
Once you find your stories and act on them, you can create messaging to open the doors for new business development and growth.
Creating and maintaining an emotional competitive advantage
With all of the competition for consumer attention, a business can easily get lost in the noise. Even if you’re selling a better, more effective, and less expensive product—all differentiators that should put you ahead of the competition—your message may never be heard if all you’re doing is pitching tangible advantages.
To break out from the pack and create a truly memorable pitch, you need to wrap your message in a story that gives you an emotional competitive advantage. The goal is to help your customers connect with your brand on a personal level, which occurs best when you engage in compelling storytelling.
Creating a strong impact that holds the customer’s attention
People are naturally drawn to stories. Stories provide context and color, inviting the reader’s mind to engage with the storyteller and their narrative.
While bees have complicated dances to communicate within their colony, humans seem to be the only animals that construct narratives and develop identities through stories.
In essence, our stories are what make us human. As long as the story is interesting and the message is relevant, storytelling offers an ideal way to engage and hold someone’s attention.
Boosting marketing strategy results
Storytelling is the essence of marketing. People crave connection. They want to interact with your business and your brand. That’s why storytelling is so compelling. When you tell your story with an integrated content marketing strategy—through infographics, search engine optimization, and more—your business can reap measurable results.
One of the primary goals of storytelling is to drive action, particularly in the context of decision-making. Whether the goal is to make sales, hire new employees, increase your social media footprint, or commit to some other forward-looking action, the point of storytelling is to make it easier for your target audience to buy into some type of decision that furthers your business objectives.
Humanizing your brand
People connect with people, not companies. Experienced marketing professionals know how to leverage this fact by humanizing brands through storytelling.
Storytelling gives your business a personality and shows that it has different sides. Whether you’re looking to humanize your brand by using humor, by tearing at heartstrings, or by showing courage and commitment, the way to achieve this connection is by telling stories that your audience relates to.
Creating customer loyalty
It’s human nature for customers to be drawn to a brand they like and trust. Business storytelling offers an excellent means of getting people to know, like, and trust your brand.
A compelling story engenders customer loyalty and invites followers to share your story through social media and other user-generated content. This encourages their network to join them in knowing, liking, and trusting you. Nothing helps a brand organically grow its followers than customer loyalty through business storytelling.
Increasing employee efficiency
Employee efficiency and employee experience are connected: The more engaged your team is, the more you can expect from their performance. Connecting with your employees through storytelling is a powerful way to get their buy-in to your mission, goals, and success. Your stories become part of the corporate culture. Once your employees become true believers, they can’t help but pass that enthusiasm on to your customers.
Creating a memorable brand
Consumers are constantly inundated with facts, figures, metrics, and statistics. All of this information is often received as white noise they ignore or mind-numbing irrelevancies they reject. However, when you wrap your brand messaging inside a story, you can break through the incessant chatter and share a memorable experience with your audience.
Motivating stakeholders and customers to take action
Storytelling is motivational; it’s designed to make people think, feel, and act on those thoughts and feelings. There’s a reason that before a big game coaches give team pep talks riddled with metaphors and enlightening tales of success over adversity. Coaches know that reminding their players to follow the playbook will only go so far. It takes motivation to get the team to a heightened level of play that wins games.
Think of your customers as members of a team you’re coaching. If you want to entice them to act positively toward your business, offer them a truly compelling story.
A simple storytelling structure
Good storytelling generally follows a three-step story structure, often referred to as a story arc or narrative arc. Its basic components are a beginning (the hook that engages the audience), a middle (where a dramatic turn of events often occurs), and an end (where the storyteller leads the audience to a conclusion, usually resolving problems or inspiring action).
An engaging beginning (the hook)
Storytelling begins with a hook to capture the audience’s imagination and trigger their attention. This hook can be a problem to be solved or a journey to be undertaken. The goal of the hook is to pique the reader’s curiosity and engender feelings of empathy with the main character.
The middle part of the story provides more information about the challenges or conflicts the character is experiencing. On an emotional level, this element of the story shares how adversity impacts the characters and details the changes or journey they must pass through before a resolution or solution can be found.
The ending of the story should inform and inspire. The audience has taken the journey with the main character from initial engagement to dramatic evolution and is now ready to learn how the scene plays out.
Is the problem solved? Was what was lost finally found? How did the journey end and what can the audience take away to apply to their own lives and challenges? The best endings answer these types of questions.
What makes a good business story?
When putting together a business story, how you convey your narrative is as important as the information you impart, like traits, characteristics, etc. Make sure your story has these critical components:
Be authentic. Consumers, employees, and company stakeholders will see through smoke and mirrors. If you stumbled, say so. If you were inspired to shed tears, own your emotions. The more you connect authentically with your audience, the more likely they will relate to your story. Sharing real-life experiences while telling your brand story is a great way to lend a needed level of authenticity.
Don’t lead with a slew of facts and figures or get so deep in the weeds that you lose your audience’s attention. Use active and engaging language. After all, storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment.
Of course, you don’t want to omit all the salient facts for the sake of entertaining your audience. If you do, you’ll lose credibility quickly. The goal of business storytelling is to engage people so they’re more inclined to act in a way that benefits your bottom line. Offer enough information to solidify your expertise and highlight your reliability.
Good stories draw the audience in on an emotional level. Be sure that your story is relatable. You want your story line to engender empathy and understanding. If you fail to provide this level of emotional connection, you’ll miss your chance to tell a truly great story.
Nothing turns an audience off more than a rambling mess of disorganized thoughts. Relay your business story in a clear, concise, and organized manner.
The 5 steps for business storytelling
These five tried-and-true steps can help you make the most of your business storytelling technique.
Step 1: Understand your target audience
Before crafting a story, you need to understand your audience and what resonates with them. One of the best ways to approach this is to create a fictional version of your customer or buyer, a kind of avatar referred to as a persona. Start by asking questions like:
- What is this person’s age and gender identity?
- What is their marital status?
- What type of work do they do?
- What’s their annual income?
- Do they live in the city, country, or suburbs?
- Where do they receive their news and information?
- What social media platforms do they frequent?
Now, create a fictional person to tell your story to. Keep this person in mind as you construct your story and decide where and how to share it.
Step 2: Define your purpose and message
Think about why you’re compelled to tell this story. What is its purpose? What do you want to happen after you disseminate the story? If your content doesn’t convey your articulated core message, it won’t produce the outcomes you seek.
Step 3: Define how to tell your story (written, audio, video, etc.)
Looking back to the persona you developed at the beginning of the process, think about which medium is most likely to reach this audience. Let this help you decide how to tell your story.
Whether you convey your story as a blog post, printed ad or article, podcast, or video will depend on where your audience is most likely to receive it.
Step 4: Provide a strong call to action
Never lose sight of why you’re engaging in this business storytelling exercise in the first place. Be sure to conclude your story with a strong call to action (CTA) specific to the next step you want your audience to take.
Whether it's subscribing to your email list, purchasing a product, engaging you for a service, or leaving a review, end your story with a request.
Step 5: Share it
Once you’ve crafted your story in the format appropriate for your customer persona, it’s time to share the story with your audience. Regardless of format, provide your story in a way that encourages your audience to reshare it with their network. If you create a story that touches the hearts and minds of your target audience, the chances are good that they’ll know others who may also find value in your message.
3 examples of business storytelling
The following case studies or storytelling examples demonstrate how three well-known brands have leveraged best-in-class business storytelling to reach their marketing goals.
P&G “Thank You, Mom”
In 2010, P&G’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign was the biggest and most successful marketing campaign in its 175-year history. It achieved 76 billion global media impressions, over 74 billion global views, and more than 370 million Twitter interactions. Importantly, the effort pushed $500 million in global incremental P&G sales, an outstanding result.
Even though the stories told in the “Thank You, Mom” campaign were simple, they exemplified great storytelling, resonating with P&G’s target market—moms around the world—while tying into the excitement and anticipation of the upcoming Olympic games.
The video begins with moms providing steadfast and unwavering encouragement to their young Olympic-hopeful children as they experience the highs, lows, bumps, and bruises that come with pursuing athletic excellence. The story continues with scenes of now-grown athletes performing at the Olympics and then hugging their moms after successfully completing their competitive events.
The video concludes with simple and emotional text appearing on the screen: “For teaching us that falling only makes us stronger. Thank you, Mom.” The hashtag #BecauseofMom appears at the bottom of the last frame.
Nike “Dream Crazier”
The goal of Nike’s 2019 “Dream Crazier” commercial—a 90-second spot narrated by tennis star Serena Williams that featured highlights of trailblazing female athletes—was to bolster its brand connection to women and allies who support female empowerment. Nike released the TV ad during the Oscar awards telecast while also deploying the video on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
The campaign—as measured using television viewers, social media impressions, and share of voice—was an unmitigated success. The ad received over 31 million views, 665,000 mentions on Twitter, and 19 million Instagram views. Influencers sharing the ad garnered more than 81 million views across social media platforms.
Warby Parker “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair”
Warby Parker’s philanthropic “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” campaign leverages business storytelling by making the customer the protagonist in the story of alleviating the problem of impaired vision for people who can’t afford glasses.
The direct-to-consumer eyeglass brand hit a home run in 2022 with its public relations campaign, generating headlines with its press release announcing that it had distributed 10 million pairs of glasses to people in more than 50 countries.
Start working on your business storytelling today
If you want to leverage the power of storytelling as an integral part of your content marketing and business communication strategy, Upwork can help. Whether you’re seeking assistance with a single project or hope to engage new talent for a long-term relationship, Upwork gives you access to the best independent storytelling professionals to help meet your business objectives.
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