How telling stories will save your business — and the world
Human beings have been sharing stories for possibly 300,000 years. From our ancestors telling tales around a fire, to the literary boom of the printing press era, stories hold a special place in our history.
But too often we neglect — or simply do not see — the value of storytelling when it comes to business. We think of successful companies as making shrewd financial decisions, but let’s dig a little deeper.
The importance of storytelling in business
It’s highly likely that the biggest brands you can think of right now have a story to tell, and they’re telling it well. Tech giant Apple springs to mind.
In Apple lore, we have our hero in the form of Steve Jobs. His is a tale of the tortured genius, struggling against adversity and illness. He started in his garage and went on to create a company now worth $900 billion. At one point, he even got fired from the very company he built.
Apple is in a pretty unique position. Their products are so ubiquitous that one in every six smartphones is an iPhone, yet somehow they remain the choice of rebels and artists worldwide. Not everyone can pull off that narrative.
So Apple isn’t just a computer shop, and your brand isn’t just about the products you sell. You might not be aware of it, but there’s a story attached to your company. Either you’re controlling the narrative, or you’re letting someone else do it for you.
Take it from us: you don’t want to let someone else tell your story.
Why storytelling will save the world
So maybe the facts aren’t all that matter. As humans, with our rich storytelling history, we need to hear those facts in new ways.
Communicating the effects of climate change, plastic consumption and species extinction is more important than ever. We’ve seen great success in the past year or so in the battle against plastic, largely thanks to how the problem has been presented.
When David Attenborough speaks, the world listens. So when he issued a rallying cry on plastic in an episode of Blue Planet II, the ball started rolling.
We started paying attention because he’s told us stories for decades, educating and inspiring generations of nature lovers. For years he’s told us about the lives of individual animals, and we became invested in this snake, that bird. We trust him to tell the truth and to try to make the world better.
So while the coming years will be fraught with fake news and anti-science, we’ll continue to depend on trustworthy voices. Your brand, whatever it may be, has the power to shape the conversation going forward.
How to use stories in your marketing
Now we’ve dealt with saving the world, it’s time to look at saving your business.
1. What’s your story?
Let’s start with the basics. To tell your brand’s story, you need to know what it is. That means taking an important first step: listening.
Listen to how your sales team presents your brand to potential customers. What words do they use? What anecdotes come up again and again? If there’s something charming about your product or company, trust that your sales team will be the first ones to know about it. They feed off it!
Next, see what your customers are saying about your brand. Read reviews, search online forums and speak to the real people buying your stuff. If you’ve made a few sales, there’s a good reason. Rarely is it enough that good products trump the overall brand experience. Does your website give off a warm, welcoming vibe? Maybe you’ve got great customer service reps that speak like old friends giving helpful advice.
Once you have an idea of what makes your company unique or attractive, start to build your story.
2. Iron out the inconsistencies
Having a consistent voice means getting everyone on the same page. You need your board of directors to agree on what makes you you. When the message is clear at the top, it trickles down.
All your staff — and even your suppliers — should know what you stand for. If one salesperson is taking a ruthless, sell-at-all-costs approach while the rest of the team is more relaxed, it’s time to set things straight. Your brand’s message might be ‘long-term, sustainable growth’, but one person veering off course can jeopardise that.
Find out which stories are being told, and which stories need to be told. Use the listening exercise to collate words, phrases and anecdotes that are currently associated with your brand, and shape that into a narrative.
3. Using RACES to share your story
Reach, Awareness, Conversion, Engagement, Sustain — RACES.
Implementing a story into real-life marketing can be split into these five steps. Importantly, each step has its own key performance indicators (KPIs), from traffic to conversions.
It’s an old acronym with a fresh twist. ‘Sustain’ is now a necessity, whether you’re a startup or global corporation. Tracking and improving sustainability within your company will not only benefit your profits, but also ease the burden on the planet.
Once you have a basic outline of your story — be it ‘friendly neighbourhood cafe’ or ‘multinational tech company with an eye on sustainability’ — it’s time to communicate it.
Going through each letter, state how you will present a consistent message throughout your marketing campaigns. Think about how your methods tie into your story — does printing thousands of flyers tally with your eco-friendly message? Does using clickbait marketing complement a message of honesty?
Having a strong brand story is largely about consistency. Spend the time now figuring out where you came from and where you’re going. Stay true to those principles and you’ll be grateful in the long run.