What is Storytelling in Business?
Storytelling isn’t some fanciful, creative act reserved for a certain type of “feel-good” company. Rather, it’s a powerful tool that helps businesses and individuals stand out from the competition, generate trust, convey purpose, and better connect with their employees, partners, and customers on a more personable, meaningful level. Stories help us organize potentially incongruous bits of information in a way that is easy to understand and recall. Simply put, it’s the process of communicating a clear, compelling narrative rather than listing facts.
In her book, Resonate, author Nancy Duarte states, “Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form.” The author differentiates between the static nature of information and the dynamic nature of the story. The key is visualization. Stories make ideas “more readily manifest as reality in people’s minds” because they help an audience visualize what you do or believe. When ideas feel real, they are much easier to connect with, put into action, and share with others.
Another reason stories are so effective is because of the human brain’s preference for simple, easy-to-understand concepts. Many marketing and communications strategies fail because of overcomplication. In contrast, the clearer and more orderly the information, the easier it is for our brains to process and understand. Stories, then, are a sort of ‘sense-making’ instrument, helping us take complex ideas and details and making them easier to digest and remember.
What's in a Good Story and How is it Used?
Stories can be used to explain technical details, demonstrate a process, communicate benefits, spread ideas, connect with people, and help an audience to clearly see (and feel) why they should choose your brand or offering over another.
To this end, a good story can include details like:
- The company or team’s history, purpose, and motivating factors
- The values, morals, and beliefs of the business and why it exists
- An understanding of the customer or employee; their struggles and desires
- A simplified, chronological flow of information and details
Good storytelling leaves out details not crucial to decision-making when choosing a business or understanding an idea. Therefore, it’s imperative to understand your audience and their needs. Your story will help you communicate this understanding, generate excitement, and show that you are not just some faceless brand.
Effective storytelling involves more than just words. A strong story can help you streamline and connect all communication types – visual/graphical, auditory, written, and so forth - for more clarity, cohesion, and impact.
More Benefits of Storytelling
The benefits of storytelling in business are wide-ranging and crucial in today’s hyper-competitive, data-laden environment. Here are a few.
- Stories speak to us emotionally: People base many of their decisions on how they feel. Customers and employees are more loyal to brands they emotionally connect with.
- They increase trust and engagement: Stories engage people on a personal, values-based level. They can also help “humanize” a brand (people connect with other ‘people,’ not faceless factories), increasing trust and compelling customers and employees to become brand advocates.
- They offer a competitive advantage: Stories leave lasting impressions, and since everyone’s story is unique, they can work to differentiate a brand or prevent an idea from being lost in the “noise” of competing messages.
- They encourage action: Because stories help people better visualize a way forward and understand the implications of taking action, they feel more confident in doing so.
- They create memories: Stories linger in the mind because they are easier to remember than disparate concepts and details. People are more likely to buy into an idea or become a customer when they have more exposure to that idea or brand. Stories increase this exposure because they are easily recalled long after they are shared.
As you might have realized, storytelling is not just for marketers. It’s a powerful mechanism for all types of communications from individuals to large brands – both externally, by resonating with potential customers and business partners and internally by helping to share ideas, make connections, build more passionate teams, and cultivate a stronger culture.