Storytelling in business: how to get it right – and the mistakes to avoid

Storytelling in business is in vogue these days. And it’s no wonder - finally, business leaders and marketers have cottoned on to what journalists and ad giants have said for years

Storytelling in business

Without a compelling brand story, even the most incredible product or service risks being overlooked. Mastering the art of storytelling is not easy but get it right and you’ll unlock a powerful force to captivate your audience.

Story SELLS. 

It’s a simple truth with a powerful punch. But the idea of “storytelling” gets tossed around as something innate to us humans – a basic skill we should all be able to wield.

But crafting a story that truly resonates is deceptively complex. Miss the mark and you risk your brand message falling on deaf ears. Countless businesses have learned this the hard way, squandering marketing resources on narratives that do not chime with potential clients.

How to tell a story that sells

As early as the 1960s, psychologist Jerome Bruner unlocked the secret through his groundbreaking research on learning and cognitive development. His studies revealed a staggering difference in recall when information was conveyed as a story versus dry facts and statistics. Participants who received narratives were 22 times more likely to remember the content.

This phenomenon exposes an innate truth about the brain – we are wired to engage with and retain stories in a way numbers and facts alone cannot match. It’s a superpower that, when harnessed effectively, can supercharge marketing efforts to sublime heights.

But Bruner’s work also highlighted two crucial requirements for story to work its magic: resonance and fidelity. A narrative had to not only relate to the audience’s experiences and emotions but also be believable. Crafting a tale that does both is what separates stories that sell from ones that don’t.

Your business story isn’t about you

Why do so many businesses struggle to unlock the full potential of story? In our experience as brand messaging specialists, it usually traces back to one critical misstep – businesses get too caught up in telling their own story, not their customer’s.

Customers don’t care about your origin story. Their interest lies in something far more primal – their own quest for survival and fulfilment.

The human brain instinctively prioritises information critical to meeting our foundational requirements, as per Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. Anything not directly serving those prime directives gets filtered out by our ever-efficient neural networks.

So while we’re busy celebrating our brilliant brand, customers’ minds have tuned out. We’ve lost them before we even really began.

So how do we write a story about our business that people will pay attention to?

First, make sure your message is laser-focused on the customer. This is where audience segmentation becomes absolutely critical for content and email marketing. Try to serve up generic content to a broad audience and you’ll quickly lose them.

Story has the power to transform a business

The next step is to laser in on the problem your customer faces that your product or service can solve. In his best-selling book Building A StoryBrand, Donald Miller dives into how businesses can tap into these customer pain points to position their solution.

Miller’s research unlocks scriptwriting techniques so magnetic they can captivate for hours. He found that by introducing the customer’s problem early in your brand’s narrative, you set the crucial hook that makes prospects far more invested in what you have to say.

Only then do you finally get to take centre stage as the guide with the solution to the customer’s problem.

Miller goes on to outline his simple 7-step storytelling framework that has already been adopted by tens of thousands of businesses worldwide to resounding success. We’ve seen compelling evidence of these impacts first hand.

Remember – you’re not the hero

So remember, in the narrative of your business, you’re not the hero. Your customer is. You’re their guide, who will solve their problems with your product or service. 

Show them you understand their challenges and that you can help them solve it. Then paint a picture of what success looks like for them after using your product or service. When you make the customer the undisputed focus, you forge a connection they’ll forever be grateful for.

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