“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.”
~ Seth Godin, best-selling author of the definitive Permission Marketing and “the godfather of modern marketing” (Contently)
Because storytelling is how human beings relate to one another. It’s communication that is emotionally engaging. It can make abstract concepts concrete; transform facts and information into something that is meaningful and memorable. It humanizes brands.
What makes a story?
- A story has an arc. A beginning, middle and end. (Other pieces of content may have different narrative structures depending on format: for example, a slideshow typically reads more like an outline, or a press release will conform to the “inverted pyramid” style so the most important information comes first and is less likely to be cut if a news organization picks it up and decides to shorten because of space constraints.)
- During the journey, something transformational happens. A conflict or challenge is overcome.
- A hero, maybe. But effective business storytelling doesn’t need to be a classic hero’s journey. It just needs to be anecdotal, illustrative and engaging.
- Uniquely revealing and true to you or your organization. Effective business storytelling requires that you’re credible, believable. Truth and authenticity build credibility.
For good business storytelling
Follow the general rules of good writing:
- Use active voice vs. passive
- Engage your readers’ emotions and senses
- Relate to your audience; make the reader care
- Take the reader along on a journey
Resist the urge to sell. Storytelling for business isn’t selling. Maybe “soft selling,” if at all. Like social media, the tone and content here is more about creating positive influence, “friends,” goodwill, eventually even loyalty.
Stories that are engaging are memorable. And memorable is shareable.
In today’s world, sharing is exponentially big and important since “…technology has democratized the power to share our stories with the world.” (“Storytelling: The New Strategic Imperative Of Business,” Harvard Business Review April 6, 2016)
Once you’ve captured and expressed your organization’s stories – your origin story, informational stories that explain for people who you are and what you do, stories about your mission and vision – you can leverage technology (online search and social media, mostly) to land your message well beyond the audience you’re currently reaching and to further engage certain readers or visitors to become ambassadors for your brand, not just customers.
Two weeks ago during “The Big Game,” where we see some of the most expensive storytelling efforts anywhere (ad buys costing $5 million per 30 seconds), family-owned and first time Super Bowl advertiser 84 Lumber presented a poignant immigrant story that was actually censored by the Fox Network and, consequently, abridged. The last screen of the 90-second TV spot directed viewers online, where the brand used their “owned” media – the 84 Lumber website and YouTube channel – to show the full, uncut piece. The resulting web traffic – millions of hits (reportedly, 300,000 views within minutes of the spot airing and more than 6 million in the first hour) – overwhelmed the 84 Lumber website.
In messaging or storytelling terms, the informal vote seems split down the middle, whether this effort was a “hit” or a “miss.” So, you can debate the quality or execution. But with those numbers, certainly, 84 Lumber used storytelling for business to good effect in terms of boosting brand awareness and generating engagement.
For further reading on the topic of storytelling for business, see the Storytelling links on my Resources page.