• Why Storytelling: A Manifesto

    Episode 8

    Over the last few months doing this podcast, I’ve learned is that storytelling as a business communications discipline is more important that I realized. In this episode, I explain why, and I also make an announcement.

     

    Read this episode’s blog

    Transcript

    In the course of doing this podcast, in the short time I’ve been doing it, I’ve already learned a lot. I just mentioned that that’s the real purpose of the podcast. To learn.

     

    What I’ve learned is that storytelling as a business communications discipline is more important that I realized. Let me explain.

     

    I’ll start by going back a few years.

     

    For a long time, I’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.

     

    Now, let me be clear. We don’t always really know that’s what we want. 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.

     

    For decades, we’ve 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.

     

    The way I like to think about it is with the metaphor of 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.

     

    At least I assume that’s what it’s like. I haven’t been to many exclusive clubs in my life.

     

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

     

    But you can’t just get into a club. You need to get past a bouncer. The bouncer, in this over-wrought metaphor, are emotions.

     

    To bring it back to reality, 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. So 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.

     

    Okay, I think I’ve beaten that metaphor to death. The point is, storytelling is an excellent way to communicate with your audiences.

     

    But I feel like that’s pretty common knowledge.

     

    There’s so much more to storytelling, and it has to do with reconnecting to the human side of business. Let’s take a short break, and I’ll get into that on the other side.

     

    I mentioned before the break that I felt that storytelling does more than help us communicate more effectively. It goes much deeper than that.

     

    I think that it brings us closer to the human side of what business is all about.

     

    Again, allow me to explain.

     

    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.

     

    Now, I’m not downplaying the importance of technology, as it provides critical tools to help businesses grow and scale.

     

    But at the same time, I think 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 something. Most likely it’s on the continuum in between.

     

    It’s my belief that the act of engaging in storytelling reconnects us to that human element.

     

    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?

     

    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?

     

    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. An easy example are the Nike running shoes I wear to train for and run in half-marathons.

     

    Sure, they’re light, they have great cushioning and support, and they look good. But the deeper benefit is that they have been a part of a lifestyle change for me. I lifestyle change that includes having more energy, feeling stronger, having a healthier heart, and not feeling so bad when I have that extra beer.

     

    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

     

    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.

     

    So for me, 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.

     

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking all of this. Maybe I’m just seeing the world through the eyes of someone who peddles storytelling in order to make a living.

     

    But it seems to me storytelling is critical to every company’s and every organization’s communication.

     

    What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments or thoughts, whether you agree, or especially if you disagree. Get in touch with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter by finding the links on this episode’s show notes, or on my website at storytellingcompanion.com.

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