Monday Mornings with Madison

How Good is Your Company’s Storytelling?

Word Count:  1,229 

Estimated Read Time:  5  min.

Today’s sales and marketing efforts require good storytelling.  But storytelling is nothing new.  Even before people could write, they were telling each other engaging stories to share information.  That’s because no one is – or has ever been — interested in absorbing dry information.  Even with today’s technology, dry information is still unpalatable whether it is delivered in a print ad, a radio commercial or video. Information is simply more likely to be accepted if it comes gift-wrapped in a story.  Storytelling has the power to transform drab business details into something interesting.

Why do people find stories more compelling than other information?  It’s physiological.  When we listen to a standard presentation presenting dry information or hear a boring lecture, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated. This is in the side of the brain that deals with language and logic. However, when we are told a story that is rich with meaning and visual cues, there is a dramatically different response in the brain. Both the right and left lobes of the brain are activated. In addition to engaging the left part of the brain that handles logic and language, a good story also engages and stimulates the right side of the brain– what is deemed as the creative part.  Stories grip us and help us experience emotions.  It is those emotions that help us connect with a brand, service or product.  Storytelling helps shape the narrative surrounding a product or service.  The goal, then, should be for a business to wrap every effort within a compelling story.  Here’s how to start.

Storytelling Starts with Finding a Good Story

When done right, storytelling uses narrative to interpret brands, customer experience, products and events.  Today’s storytelling can be written, verbal, and/or visual.  It can be based on fact or fiction, as long as it is clear.  The most important thing is that it should be dramatic, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Case in point.  In pitching a pen, a pen is not just a pen.  To sell a pen, marketing materials shouldn’t focus on the ink, grip, weight or color.  And a salesperson selling pens should not discuss the price, smoothness or design style of the pen.  Instead, sales and marketing efforts should focus on the power of a pen.  The greatest moments, big and small, are confirmed and memorialized by putting ink to paper.  It was a pen that was used to sign the peace accord that ended World War II.  It is a pen that delivers two people’s signatures on a marriage certificate, uniting two lives in one.  So a pen is not a commodity, but an extension of the hand that converts intent into action.  A pen seals deals and captures ideas.  A pen becomes a tool to convert will into word and turns thoughts into deeds.

Finding Good Stories

The first step in storytelling is finding good stories begging to be told.  Every company has them.  They simply need to be unearthed.  Common sources of stories for businesses are:

1. Staff Action Stories – There are great stories to be told about the exceptional actions of employees in their everyday job. These “I am” stories create a crucial connection between the brand and its customers. Customers will know the company employs the type of people who go above and beyond.

2.  Brand Symbol Stories – A company can develop a story about its brand symbols.  The story can explain what the symbol means.

3.  Company Stories – These stories share knowledge and inform others. To be effective these stories need a “wow” moment.  The story needs to teach something that the audience never heard or considered. In the context of a story, it will be remembered forever.

4. Staff Expertise Stories – Customers can be wowed with the science, technology or expertise that goes into a business.  If the company employs some of the leading experts in a particular area, there is a wealth of stories related to the problems they solve or the innovations they spearhead.

5.  Stories about Acts for the Global Good – These stories communicate how a brand’s vision, products or services helps others. For instance, a company that developed affordable mosquito netting helped families in Africa to protect from malaria.  They can describe what they did to make the world a better place.

6.  Customer-Centric Stories – These stories explain how a brand fits into the lives of its customers.  Sports shoe manufacturers, such as Nike and Reebok, have made this type of marketing storytelling into a fine art.

7.  Vision Stories – These stories are about what a company is going to do… its vision for the future.  Space X’s story is about finding new places to live beyond Earth.  For Space X, it’s a lot easier to develop stories about what it’s going to do than what it has done, since it hasn’t done all that much yet.  That hasn’t stopped Elon Musk from painting a compelling vision for his brand.

8.  Stories about Events or Causes – These are stories about a company’s participation in events or about their sponsorship of support of causes.  Many companies sponsor events just for the opportunity to tell stories that pull on those heartstrings.  Charities and worthwhile causes give companies an opportunity to show that they are about more than just making money.

9.  Stories that Share Amazing Facts – These types of stories speak for themselves.  These stories are usually about companies that are highly innovative.  AeroFarms’ stories about their vertical farming initiatives dazzle with their litany of amazing facts.  Here is a sample:

AeroFarms is wild about efficiency.  Our growing method is 130 times more productive per square foot annually than the crop-yield of a field farm.  An AeroFarm uses 95 percent less water than a field farm, 40 percent less fertilizer than traditional farming, and no pesticides. Crops that usually take 30 to 45 days to grow, like the leafy gourmet greens, take as little as 12 days.

10.  Innovation Story – This type of story explains how a company invented something new.  Or found a solution to a problem under difficult circumstances.

11.  Business Stories – These stories share a company’s path to business success.  It can be about the founder or the process.  McDonald’s recent movie is about how Ray Crock turned a company with a few locations into one of the largest fast-food chains in the world and likely the most iconic brand ever.

12.  Celebrity Endorsement Stories – These are stories in which a celebrity endorses or supports a company brand, product or service.

Turning a Good Story into Storytelling

The good news is that most any information – even really dry information — can be wrapped in a compelling story.  The bad news is that storytelling is not necessarily easy.  Storytelling starts with good writing, and writing is a difficult job. Perhaps one of the toughest.  To make it as a professional writer takes talent and perseverance. A writer needs to write and write and then write some more. Writing even half decent marketing copy is a difficult skill to master.  A good writer is to be able to make even the most mundane thing sound interesting.  To become a really good business or marketing writer is a process of practice and continuous feedback.

Next week, we’ll look at how to take the seed of a story and turn it into refined business storytelling.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Robert McAfee Brown



© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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