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5 Effective Business Storytelling Techniques You Need To Use

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5 Effective Business Storytelling Techniques You Need To Use

Which of these statements is more interesting to you?

Coffee is a beverage brewed from the ground, roasted seeds of the coffee berry. Coffee has been grown since the 15th century in the Arabian Peninsula.

Or this one?

Legend has it that coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian goatherd. One day, Kaldi noticed his flock munching on the red berries of a tall shrub—and frolicking energetically to the next bush. He tried a few of the berries for himself, and shortly he was dancing right along with the goats.

A monk who happened to see Kaldi’s coffee-induced dance decided to gather some berries for his brothers – who found that the fruit took them to a higher spiritual plane.

business storytelling techniques

The second one sounds better, right? Not to mention you’ll never forget how coffee was (possibly) discovered. That’s the power of story over facts.

Now for the tough question: Which example does your brand story resemble more?

Hopefully, this exercise served as a reminder that you aren’t a collection of products and features.

Your brand has a story, and you need to tell it.Click To Tweet

Stories cause deep emotional triggers and speak to us all the way down to a basic, primal level. Storytelling, on the other hand, has the power to influence your audience by making connections, illuminating their struggles, and touching on their passions.

Facts can be interesting, but they’re rarely moving. They might prove a point, but they aren’t going to make your visitors feel deeply.

If that’s the case—why are most landing pages, email blasts, and marketing videos filled with copy that relays only what your product or service can do… which are, you know, facts?

You (probably) already know people buy with their emotions. Which is exactly why you need to harness storytelling.

Let’s talk about how to do just that.

Find the Intersection

storytelling in business

Your story comes to life at the intersection of your brand’s identity and your audience’s needs. Without successfully connecting your company to the lives of those you hope to help, you won’t gain traction.

Imagine if Willie Wonka had never found poor Charlie and changed his life. Or if Westley had never made it back to the Princess Bride before she married the wrong man. Could you even live in a world where Han and Chewie didn’t help Luke blow up the Death Star?

You and your audience are in this delicate dance where you’re both heroes. You come to them in the midst of their pain points, solve their problems, and give them the tools to become heroes themselves.

A story that doesn’t emotionally connect your solution to their problem isn’t a story. It’s information.

Story Tip: Tell your audience what they’re feeling, explain how you deliver a solution, and paint a world where you live together in harmony. Of course, when you tell them what they’re feeling – make sure you know what you’re talking about. The worst brand stories are the ones solving a problem that doesn’t exist.

Tell a Story That’s Bigger Than You

We’ve already established you’re more than your features. Your story is also bigger than your company.

Here’s what that means.

The story you tell goes beyond your products or services and connects to the wider world. A good story always has an opportunity to start a movement. Think about the film examples a little further up the page, they all have cult followings.

So do some brands—why?

Because they have a great story, a great group of customers, and common goals that they’re tackling together. That’s why you start a platform to confront and improve a known issue related to your industry, like Patagonia did. Or rally around a great cause, like TOMS does.

Rallying around an existing cause is a popular method among many entrepreneurs. It’s led to great charities, like Pencils of Promise, getting excellent exposure to make a larger impact.

But Don’t Be Afraid to Get Personal

 

get personal with your brand

If you’re a small company, it’s tempting to hide behind anonymity in the hopes people will think you’re a larger company.

But don’t be afraid to let your audience know who you are. In fact, showing your audience who you are is one of the most effective ways to increase your social share of voice. If you’re afraid of the spotlight, you can start by answering questions to get the juices flowing.

Who are you as a founder?

Tell your audience the path that led you to their inbox, and why you came up with your gizmo in the first place. It may not be the coffee bean, but people relate to stories. So make it interesting.

How did you get here?

PayPal started out as a podcasting company, and Nintendo sold playing cards. What kind of twists, turns, or pivots did your company or even your products take to get where you are today?

What makes your team amazing?

Your team is just as much a part of your story as you and your customers. Don’t just put silly animations on your site telling how many cups of coffee they drink. Take pictures of them in the office, record them talking about why they love working for the company… you can even let them help tell your story!

Tell Your Story by Way of Analogy

Part of telling your story is getting your audience from their current understanding (point A) to where they need to be (point B – or more often, point X or Y). One of the most powerful ways to help your audience “get it” is through metaphor.

Metaphors activate the same parts of the brain as story.

It’s essentially creating a quick picture instead to make a comparison. Kind of like our Han/Luke bit from earlier was to help you understand bridging the gap between the helped and the helper.

Story Tip: Metaphors are more effective when the reader can relate them with their other senses (smell, sound, etc.) or even memories. Use descriptive words, themes, and other tidbits to make them that much more powerful.

Spill Your Story All Over the Place

Story isn’t just copywriting. Or video. Or whitepapers. Your brand story should bleed into everything you do.

Jeff Bezos once said, “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Try arguing with die-hard fans that their favorite movies are just stories. They’ll laugh at you. They’re obsessed with the universe, they quote their favorite lines, the plot advances in their mind beyond the words of the script and shots on the screen. When the movie goes off, they’re still in that world.

That should be your goal for your brand.

It should move into your customers’ everyday thinking, and into your co-worker’s mindsets. It should slowly begin to roll off of their lips to create an infectious environment of referrals and satisfaction.

It should begin to see results that are measured by impacted lives and not just balance sheets. It’s not your content, it’s your brand. And it has a story.

Putting It All Together

brand

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking “Cool, thanks for all these general storytelling tips. But what does brand storytelling look like in practice? How do I do this?”

I’m glad you asked. Let’s see what it looks like for you to apply these suggestions in real life.

Let’s say you make granola, and you’re really passionate about inspiring people to live healthier lives by providing them with organic, all-natural food choices.

But for some reason, people just aren’t catching on. They’re not interested in your brand. You know your granola is delicious and there’s a huge market opportunity for you—so what do you do?

Tell a better story.

First, find that intersection.

Maybe you thought that your primary demographic would be hippies and crunchy types, but you’re realizing that the people who can’t get enough of your granola are actually upper middle-class fitness buffs.

So, what’s the story that matters to them? They probably don’t care as much that you’re helping the environment and reducing your carbon footprint (which could certainly be true); instead, the story that would stick is that when you eat healthy, earth-friendly foods, you feel better. And when you feel better, you perform better.

In other words, by eating your granola, those fitness buffs can run, lift, cycle, or CrossFit—better.

This is also your opportunity to tell a bigger story.

See, it’s not just about granola. It’s about living healthier, balanced lives—an approach that Nature Valley is really great at.

But you also shouldn’t shy away from getting personal. Tell your customers why you started a granola company. Where are you from? What are you passionate about? Where is your granola made? Why do you exist? Post pictures of your team to social media and give your audience a look behind the logo.

Because when you do that, your audience will likely identify with your story and your passions which makes them more likely to get on board and love your brand.

Because everyone already knows what granola is, you may not need to use an analogy to get people to understand what you do. But this is where your brand comes in. What do your brand name, logo, and color palette say about you? What emotions and images do they evoke?

Whatever that story is, you need to spread it everywhere.

Your story about fitness, health, and wellness should shine through every aspect of your company from your packaging, to your website, to your email offers. Every touchpoint you have with your customers is a chance to reinforce your story!

I realize you probably don’t make granola. You may create software or offer business consulting instead. But trust me, these strategies work for any business.

5 Effective Business Storytelling Techniques You Need To Use

The fact is, humans are storytelling creatures, so we will always filter information through the lens of narrative.

The companies who understand that, and tap into the power of story, will reap the benefits.

So, what’s your story? What storytelling tips do you use in your business? Let us know in the comments below.

Business Storytelling Techniques Cheat Sheet

About Eric Hinson

Eric Hinson is the Founder and CEO of Explainify, which makes short, animated brand videos that tell stories, engage customers, and drive sales. Oh, and he has a free storytelling guide you should check out, called Cut the Crap and Close More Deals.

23 comments

  1. Seriously awesome business nuggets wrapped in a a couple of thoroughly toothsome stories….I juggled being a late night club DJ with a supper hour weather woman job and ended up with a successful voiceover business. The last couple of years my local market has evaporated, but thankfully I made the switch to working remotely online without any income loss. It’s a whole new marketing game though and I’m grateful for your tips and insight. Going to start looking for ways to implement this immediately. Thanks Eric!

  2. I really enjoyed your article and the tips – easy to read and helpful. Your article and the comments shared by others inspire me as I venture into the new (for me) world of “selling” myself as an investment advisor. Thanks for sharing!

  3. When my husband and I started our own computer business back in the 90’s, our story was what brought us the majority of our clients, simply through us sitting down and talking with them – no media advertising was needed. We were a small business, people knew that, liked that, respected that. By all means, tell your true story! This article is dead on!
    Thanks!

  4. Eric,
    As a champion of storytelling for my company, I couldn’t agree more. From the time we told stories around the campfire in caves, reliving our hunts and exploits, to the storyteller at today’s local bookstore surrounded by a crowd of children, humans love a good story. It’s how we’re wired to remember. Nicely done!

  5. We are launching a company to sell top of the line kitchen equipment. Our site will be Bakers Dozen Kitchen. See, we are the parents of 13 children and have cooked and baked with all of them. We believe that wholesomeness starts at home. Memories are built, life skills are learned, traditions are carried on and created in the kitchen. Our slogan will be Healthy Lives Begin at Home. Can’t wait to share our story and use your tips to make it powerful and impactful.

  6. When I am with a client and am trying to pull their story out of them I love awkward silences. This occurs whenever I ask a simple question and they give a simple answer. I’ll just stare at them with the facial expression and nodding of the head that non-verbally says “and what else?”. It squeezes a more intimate answer out of the client, because they fear the silence.

  7. So…where were you when you first read the fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk and how captivated were you by the magic of the story? I mean think about climbing all the way up into the clouds and finding a castle loaded with goodies including a goose that could lay golden eggs.
    Well, you will find just as many and valuable goodies if you climb all the way up the “beanstalk” of this post by reading and acting on the tips in this outstanding article. Oh…and there is no big, bad giant to worry about either! Just some “giant” ideas to help you build your brand.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Gary! I was in my childhood home in California when I first heard that story. Way to bring me back to that moment in time.

      Also, you showcased my point as to just how powerful stories really are!

      1. I am not an English native speaker, neither an entrepreneur nor a businessman but I understood perfectly your post.
        There’s a verse in my culture that confirms what say( I translate):
        He who fears climbing mountains will live for ever among holes.
        Thank you.

  8. Eric, I don’t have a storytelling technique right at this moment (at least not one that you did not mention), but, I really felt like I wanted to tell you “Thank You” . . . I am so totally tired of clicking on emails to learn some techniques or information and all they do is lead me to something to PURCHASE. You gave me great inspiration. . . Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I have been a verbal storyteller for years, however, putting it all down in writing is completely different. I would say it is like speaking Spanish, and then writing it in English….they are similar, but a whole new set of rules apply. Learning how to make written words build excitement when before I used my voice and my motions – well, I love the challenge and plan on really working your techniques.
    Again, thank you so much for really ‘telling’ me something right here on the first punch of buttons!!! Whopeeee!

    1. It’s funny – I feel like I’m the complete opposite. Not great at putting it into verbal words, but much more confident writing (or typing). It allows for a lot of revision. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words. You’re awesome!

  9. Story telling to me, as a teacher and trainer is that powerful quiet space where the audience is quietened and transported to another land. Where we create , emotions arise and then there is impact and transformation. How to do it ? Believe, love , relate to the story myself. Use emotion and imagery and voice. Find timelessness, connect to struggle or ease or hope or dreams or beauty. Stories are magic, aren’t they.

    1. Indeed, stories are magic! Whatever you do with emotion, you have to strike hard – make them cry, laugh, be disgusted, inspired, etc. I bet you are such a great teacher!

    1. Hey Eric – this blog spoke to something that is just so close to my heart. I love stories and I love working with people to help them tell theirs, whether it’s business, personal, success, whatever.

      Working with businesses, I know alot of them look at me strangely when I ask them about their story, exactly as you’ve described. How did you get here? What struggles have come up? How did you get over them? What is great is to watch them transform before your eyes when they read their back story. Their physical posture changes, because they’re like, “Uh, yeah, that’s me, that’s us, we did that?” It changes the way they feel about themselves and their business. Even more impactful, though, is they start to understand how they can connect with their audience, irrespective of the medium.

      So my number one storytelling tip is asking the right questions and listening to the answers. Then repeat.

      Thank you for generously sharing your tips. I really appreciate it.

      1. Stories that change the way people feel are stories that win. I personally love asking questions. You can dig so deep with them. Just don’t forget to listen! It’s key.

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