The Power Of Storytelling
As some of you will already know, once a year I teach business skills to storytellers at Emerson College to assist them in bringing their storytelling in to the world. The students are from all over the world and range in age from 20 to 70+! When they finish the course many plan to use their storytelling skills for activism, or some kind of social enterprise. They may use it as part of a bigger project they are already working on, or it may be that they are using storytelling to bring together fractured communities. Whatever the ultimate aim, my role is to show them how they can use business skills to make those projects a reality.
However, to say that I have learned as much from these storytellers as they have learned from me is an understatement. What they have taught me is how we can use storytelling in our lives and our businesses to enable emotional connection and bring about significant changes. This is because the human brain is hardwired to process stories.
What is story telling?
Stories are how we transmit information and share common values. We tell stories to children not only to entertain them but also to get them to grasp the notions of good and bad and to think about how other people feel.
Stories allow us to develop empathy towards others as we emotionally connect with the story’s protagonist. Therefore, what stories really do, is to tell us about ourselves so using storytelling well in our businesses really tap in to all these ideas of empathy and connection.
The image I chose for this blog is the beautiful painting of Charles Dickens dreaming of all the wonderful characters he created. His storytelling was so effective, not only because the language is beautiful, but also because he drew his characters so well and got the public to empathise with them so deeply that his books changed the way many people thought about the poor.
His books sparked debate and encouraged people to think differently about how society was set up. Some argue that they played a major role is bringing about reforms and maybe even planted the seed for what would eventually be called ‘The Welfare State”.
All by simply telling stories.
How do businesses use storytelling?
Choose a web site of a company or organization that you buy from or support, something you are emotionally invested in, and when you land on the home page ask yourself three questions:
Is it clear what they do and why they do what they do?
Is it clear what problem they solve, what issue they deal with?
Do you feel an emotional connection to what they do and their story?
The businesses and organisations that use storytelling effectively have a clear narrative that weaves itself through the web site and sets up that emotional connection right from the home page. They will do this through developing a tone of voice that is congruent with the brand so you feel connected not only to what they do, but also to who they are.
When you read their content, it feels like they have something fresh to say, because it is coming from a place of clarity and understanding. All too often we see businesses in the same industry all saying the same thing so it makes it hard for the customer to differentiate what they do because the businesses are not clear about why they do what they do.
So when the storytelling is poor, it sets up confusion in the customers mind making it harder to understand what the business does, or what it stands for. And you don’t need me to tell you that confusion is one of the main reasons that a customer will leave your web site. If they don’t understand what you offer, and importantly, why you do what you do, it is hard for them to form an emotional attachment to what you do, so they are more likely to seek other options to solve the problem they have.
This is what Consumer Psychologist Peter Noel Murray has to say about emotional connection:
So how can we use storytelling effectively to convey what we do?
Let’s look at just three ways you can use storytelling in your business:
1. The ‘About’ page – what story do you choose to tell about yourself? We often think we need to tell people everything about ourselves and our qualifications, where we studied and our entire professional life. The thing is, beyond an understanding that we are qualified in some way for what we do, when it comes down to it, no one really cares about the details of where we studied, and if they do they can ask to find out more.
What they really want to know is why we do what we do. Why we chose this rather than something else. When we explain this with clarity the customer gets to connect with and empathise with us, and how we talk about our clients and our work.
As I often say to clients, you think your ‘about’ page is about you, when in fact it is about your client, and what it tells them about themselves.
2. Establishing emotional connection – the stories we tell get clients and potential clients to connect with us. We can do this not only though our ‘about’ page, but also in our blog, social media, case histories – all these places require us to tell stories and encourage people to tell their stories.
Blogs are especially good for this as we get to tell a story in more detail about a particular client (confidentially of course) or situation and how we dealt with it, and this taps in to people’s empathy. In fact, I will often tell stories about myself, or my clients in my blogs and that will often be the part that people remember because it tells them about themselves and how they identify with that story.
Equally, social media, when done well, is all about telling stories and getting people to connect with your values, and what you and your business stand for.
3. Images and other visuals – it’s not only words that tell our story but also what visuals we choose to share. My wonderful web designer and photographer Katie Van Dyck of 100 Designs says that we process images 60,000 times faster that words so what photos and images we use are extremely important in how we tell our business story.
So think carefully about what images you choose to use. Where possible use bespoke images if you can, but always be aware that the images you use must match the tone of voice you are using.
Let me give you an example; a while back I wrote a blog about Imposter Syndrome; something I myself, and many clients have grappled with. But I was struggling to find an image to go with it when I found this:
It worked on many levels; firstly it was funny; secondly it was nostalgic (who hasn’t seen Star Wars or heard of Elvis?!) and because of that I knew the people I work with would get it, and thirdly, it was positive because the Elvis figure is enjoying himself, so it worked and people loved it.
Hey I just told you a story….!
So remember these wise words, “People forget facts, they never forget stories.”
Use storytelling well in your business, and people will naturally gravitate towards what you do and tell others about you!
If you still need some help with brand or business storytelling then book a 30 minute phone call here and find out how business coaching can help.