Humans love stories. They’re how we make sense of the world. Stories present events and actions in a timeline, allowing us to follow cause and effect, and helping us see how different events relate to each other. And as stories progress, we want to know more, we want to know what happens. Who hasn’t stayed up well past their usual bedtime reading a page-turner or watching just one more episode of a TV series on Netflix?
When you launch a business, it’s important to have a compelling story to tell. This wasn’t always the case. Go back a few decades, and all that mattered was having a product or service that was different, but now, the landscape is so saturated that having a good story to tell about your business can help you get noticed, attract investors to take a chance with you, and help build your brand.
How Stories are Structured
Everyone tells stories; stories are how we communicate. At the water cooler in the office, you share stories all the time: What you did over the weekend, how your favorite sports team played, and the funny things your kids did. You set up a story by laying out the situation: This gives the listener points of reference to understand what to expect in the story.
You then relate events that occurred around that situation, weaving a narrative – a tale that unfolds over time, where each event is related to the previous event – until you reach a climax, a moment when something can change.
Finally, your reach the denouement: the end of the game, the funny thing that someone did, or the way a problem was solved. The art of storytelling in business is almost identical to the art of telling a good story to your friend. The structure is the same, and the goal is to pique the interest of your audience. The difference is the end result, which should not only evoke an emotional response, but also personify your business and create brand awareness.
Why Storytelling in Business Works
Stories work because we expect them to lead somewhere, to resolve, and the listener or reader knows that a resolution is coming. If the story is interesting enough, that person will want to hear more, and will even ask questions, such as, “What happened next?” This should be the goal when drafting a business story, foster an engaged audience that seeks more information from you, the storyteller.
Stories also work because our minds expect events to follow patterns, and we are reassured when they do. Humans have empathy and can project themselves into the story, sharing feelings with the characters, and often want to know if the characters would act the same way they would. Understanding the elements of effective storytelling and why they work is the first step to learning the art of storytelling in business.
Storytelling in business is successful when it makes the business look human. Unlike with faceless multinational corporations, the story of a business founded by one or two people is the story of those people and how what they do is helping individuals, businesses and communities. And it’s that personal element that you need to highlight when mastering the art of storytelling in business.
Why You Need to Master the Art of Storytelling in Business
When selling your business – to investors, or on a website where you want to highlight your brand, its history, and its values – you use a different technique. You tell its life story, its biography.
Started in a garage by two hackers, this company went on to create computing devices that changed the world.
Okay, this might be a bit hyperbolic; did Apple really change the world? Perhaps, perhaps not. But the story itself is interesting. And expanding on this story, telling more about the two founders, their desires, the hard work they did, tells much more about Apple than arid descriptions of its first computers.
So what’s your business story? Did you start your business in a basement or a garage, or in a hut on a beach in Hawaii? What drove you and your co-founders to start this business? Don’t say that you wanted to change the world; that’s hackneyed. Talk about how you wanted to simplify something, make a better widget, or improve the way a service is provided to people so they can save money or live a more fulfilling life. Tell how you wanted to create something that matches your values, your ethics.
Highlight personalities: what makes you as a founder and your team so perfectly suited for this business? Why could the company not exist without you and your team? What drives you to take risks? What events in your lives prompted you to launch this business?
How the Art of Storytelling in Business Creates Brand Awareness
Here’s an example of a business story.
Alice Weatherby started selling pickles, jams, and chutneys at farmer’s markets in Seattle as a way of making some extra money while raising her twins. She had always wanted the best ingredients for the food she made for her kids, so she sourced the finest organic fruits and vegetables from local farmers, creating a relationship between those who work the land and the people who ate her foods.Alice made her products in her basement, and struggled to meet demand. Alices’ Pickles was so successful that she opened a store in downtown Seattle, and as word spread not only about the quality of her foods but her insistence on using only the finest ingredients, she decided to seek funding to expand to different states, and to start selling online.Alice has always been very clear that she won’t compromise on the quality of her ingredients, no matter how big the company becomes, and that the food she makes will always be good enough to feed to her own children.
Your business may not have such artisanal roots, nor the same commitment to quality ingredients. Yet if you dig into the motivations behind your idea, you can find a business story that expresses your personality and the personalities of your team, and show off your desire to do something differently. The art of storytelling in business can help forge the identity of your company, create brand awareness, and help people understand it as more than just a seller of products and services, but as a personal adventure that other people can relate to.
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