Storytelling when done well, can move mountains and plant trees for businesses - Not really!!
But it can certainly help companies bond with their customers, differentiate from competitors and most importantly drive revenue and profits.
Storytelling has been one of the oldest yet most effective ways of human communication. It has been a powerful tool in the hands of businesses to communicate about their products, vision, and value. The most common factor for all successful businesses that have built a legacy is “storytelling”
Business storytelling may sound abstract, but in reality, it is the process of communicating facts and figures in the form of clear, well-structured and engaging narratives aka stories.
Talking to marketers and business storytellers across the world, we hear great tales of how powerful storytelling has been for them. And how and when did they see storytelling manifest in their communication strategy. Summarizing the experience and learning from these great tales, here are the four reasons why businesses must communicate through effective stories and storytelling:
1. To stand out - differentiate your brand from the competition
Internet and social media have made it super easy for businesses to connect and communicate with their customers. Every day, millions of content pieces are being created and shared by businesses. It is way too easy for your customers to miss your content and so creative storytelling is important to capture your audience's attention.
For example- In 2009, two journalists Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn demonstrated the power of storytelling by listing inconsequential objects on eBay. While listing, they paired each of these objects with an emotional and purposeful short story about the item. The items, which were purchased at a garage sale for an average price of $1.50 a piece, were resold for nearly $8,000. Stories about these items connected with buyers, thus magnifying their perceived value multi-folds.
Businesses may have a better product or service than a competitor. But the fact is human buying behavior is way more illogical, intuitive, and perhaps emotional. Storytelling packs immense power for a business to stand out amongst its competition.
2. To connect - switch on empathy
Businesses often talk about their customers' challenges, struggles, and successes to demonstrate their understanding of their customers and be empathetic to their needs. However, businesses are hesitant to tell their own stories, fearing getting judged or losing customer confidence. But empathy is never one way…is it?
Creating content with stories by and about people and their challenges, successes and setbacks can help your brand humanize and build empathy.
One of our favorite examples is Formula1and its Netflix docu-series “Drive To Survive”. The behind-the-scenes narrative gives a sneak peek into the struggles and successes of FI drivers and teams. A sport which is often attributed to speed, adrenaline, and weekend results, was layered with deep human emotions of happiness, pain, and grief. ESPN said in a report that the first 14 races in the 2021 season had 53% higher viewership than the average viewership in 2020.
The most successful companies have deep and thoughtful stories behind them that stir a sense of larger purpose and meaning in what they do. Empathy in humans is what sets us apart from the bots.
It is absolutely fine for businesses to humanize themselves through their content. Don’t just inform, emote as you inform.
3. To create loyalty - turn your customers into champions
People are social animals. We crave connection and stories create bonds. Brands that can tap into this human need and tell their story in an engaging way, will be more successful at creating loyalty and product stickiness.
Studies have shown that when consumers feel an emotional connection with a brand, they are more likely to recommend it, brag about it, buy from it again, and even forgive mistakes made by the company. And in fact, storytelling plays a critical role in making customers your brand ambassadors.
One of the best examples is Airbnb's content which is focused on people—on the people who lost their homes and the travelers who go there. They focus on human bonds and their very importance of it. Think about the first time you discovered Airbnb. Did you tell others about it or did someone tell you?
4. To drive action – inspire people to act
Bronwyn Fryer from HBR states that “Persuasion is the centerpiece of business activity. Customers must be convinced to buy your company’s products or services, employees and colleagues to go along with a new strategic plan or reorganization, investors to buy (or not to sell) your stock, and partners to sign the next deal”
Storytelling is the magic wand of persuasion. They give the audience a reason to heed their attention, an argument to agree on, and a motivation to act. Whether it's making a purchase or becoming involved in the company culture, stories have the power to trigger conversions.
One of the best examples to get inspired is Hubspot’s way of using product case studies as customer success stories. Their case studies make the customer, their problem and the solution real, thus enabling prospective customers to relate with others and act.
Storytelling is indeed a skill that great brands leverage to tie everything back to their business and in turn drive action. You can be a phenomenal brand storyteller and still drive high revenue and profits. In the end, people find tons of reasons to not buy from you. Through stories, you can effectively turn people's objections into reasons to buy from you.
How do businesses use storytelling today?
Stories and storytelling take many shapes and forms, from text, and oral to visual and digital. The choice of Storytelling depends upon the medium, content use case and of course resources, like skill, time, and money. Considering all the factors, simplified binary classification of business storytelling would be:
Epic Storytelling – TV commercials, Brand Acts, Digital advertisements
Informational Storytelling – SM Post, Blogs, Case studies, how-to videos etc.
B2C and DTC companies have understood for a long time that storytelling is essential to a successful business. Storytelling is often embedded in their advertisements and advertorials. The question for them is whether storytelling should be always promotional. A perfectly crafted epic TV commercial or AD campaign can move customers, but alas there are only so many you can create. How do you build a persistent connection with your customer?
On the other hand, B2B companies have been an absolute laggard when it comes to storytelling. It's often seen as more complex and less exciting than B2C brands. But with the right approach, storytelling can be just as powerful in the B2B world as it is in the consumer space. At the end of the day, there is a human being who would be using/buying their product and there is a need to connect with them.
People don’t buy because they are rational beings. They buy because they are die-hard emotional beings. It’s hard to recall numbers, data, and analytics, but stories - they light up in our heads and hearts instantly!
Stories have been used for centuries to communicate and engage with people. They inform, inspire, educate, and entertain people of all ages. In a business context, storytelling is the most effective way to connect with customers and employees.
As Ira Glass said, “Great stories happen to those who tell them”. Are you telling yours?