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Why Storytelling?

As a business communications discipline, it’s more important than we think

Storytelling, as a business communications discipline, has been getting a lot of attention lately. And for good reason. It’s an effective way of communicating with people and reaching them on a human, emotional level.

But it’s even more important than that.

Here’s why.

Getting into an Exclusive Club

For a long time, we’ve known that stories are an effective means of marketing a product, or a service, or a brand. People don’t like to be sold to. They want to be entertained. They want to be informed. They want to have their emotions tugged on.

The appeal of storytelling lies in in the primal part of our brains, in our subconscious. When we appeal to people on an emotional level, we’re dealing with an ancient part of the human brain and the subconscious that’s only beginning to be understood by scientists.

The act of engaging in storytelling reconnects us to that human element.​

For decades, we marketers thought that humans make decisions, especially purchase decisions, rationally. That went double for business to business purchase decisions.

Because of that, data, facts, and logic were paramount. We as marketers thought we needed to provide customers with the right data, and they would make the right decision.

But that’s not the case.

Rational thought does play a role, an important role. But not until the messages are filtered through an emotional lens.

Think about it like getting into an exclusive club. Inside the club is where the action is. It’s where the drinks are, where the music is, the dancing, the party.

Once you, as a marketer, get into that club, you’re set. That’s where the sales happen.

But you can’t just walk right in. You need to get past a bouncer. The bouncer, in this metaphor, are emotions.

Every message we see, hear and read is perceived in our subconscious first, where our primal emotions live. So you have to get past that to get to the rational brain.

And nothing carries emotions like a story. To get back to our metaphor, if the rational decision party is inside the club, and the bouncer is the emotional subconscious, then stories are your VIP entry pass.

The point is, storytelling is an excellent way to communicate with your audiences by appealing to their emotions. But that’s not terribly new.

There’s so much more to storytelling, and it has to do with reconnecting to the human side of business.

Storytelling is Strategy

In nearly all aspects of business, there has be a systematic dehumanization process. In the pursuit of scale and efficiency, companies are turning to automation and algorithms to rule their marketing processes.

And it’s not just marketing. Even in human resources, resumes are being sorted by automated systems and machine learning. That’s ironic, considering human resources has the word human right in it.

That’s not to downplay the importance of technology, as it provides critical tools to help businesses grow and scale.

But at the same time, we’re losing something. We’re losing the humanity of business.

Work is an inherently human pursuit. If I create a product or offer a service that helps another person solve a problem and hence live a better life. It might be trivial and mundane, it might be profound and important. Most likely it’s on the continuum in between.

The act of engaging in storytelling reconnects us to that human element.

Knowing Your Audience

When you’re engaging in a storytelling approach, the first thing you have to do is look at the people you serve, and really understand where you fit in their lives.

You have to look at the challenges and problems they have, and how you solve those problems. And you have to look at what solving those problems really means for them. What does solving those problems really allow them to do? How does it impact their lives?

Finding the Right Channels

The storytelling process also forces you to look at where and how you should be communicating with your audiences. Where do your audiences consume information and content? What formats do they prefer?

Understanding Your Purpose

You also have to look at your product or service and understand the true benefits of what you offer. Very often, that benefit is not the obvious or direct benefit, but a larger, deeper, more human benefit.

That gets to the point of purpose, which is a topic that’s getting a lot of attention these days.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review asserted that people will often take less pay in order to work for a company that has a strong sense of purpose. Now, that typically is taken to mean the company’s corporate social responsibility, but again, I think it goes beyond that.

Smart companies know what their purpose is. How they impact people’s lives. They know the change they are trying to create in the world. And they align all of their efforts toward that purpose. Storytelling helps them to communicate that purpose throughout their organization, getting alignment among employees or volunteers. More importantly, storytelling helps companies stay in touch with that purpose

Finding Your Voice

The other thing storytelling often forces you to do is to find a unique voice for your company, department or brand. This is critical for organizations that want to stand out and be notices, which should be just about all of them.

When you’re going through the exercise of developing the stories you want to tell, or of determining where you fit into your audience’s stories, a personality, or voice, that’s unique to your organization can emerge. By embracing that voice, and keeping it authentic to who you are, you will be able to better relate to your audiences and gain their trust.

Storytelling goes beyond creating compelling narratives and engaging images to capture the audience’s attention and appeal to their emotions. Those things are important, but they’re almost beside the point.

Not every piece of communication needs to have a story-driven approach.

Storytelling is about understanding your brand, your company, your culture, your benefits, your customers, your voice, and how and where to communicate with the people you need to reach.

In other words, storytelling is about the most strategic thing you can do as a company or an organization.

In today’s world of algorithms, automation and optimization, storytelling keeps you connected to the human side of your business.

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