Next to branding, storytelling recently became a buzzword in the business world.
Stories perfectly fulfill the basic goal of branding – they create a personal connection with your customers. They make you immediately stand out from the crowd of similar businesses.
Why is that?
Storytelling is emotional! And people are naturally drawn to that.
But how to create a business story that sells for your business?
In this article, I will give you guidelines to use when creating your own storytelling campaign. Keep in mind that these are just general advice – every story is different and can be told in different ways!
Read on and get the know-how!
Storytelling and branding
Branding is all about creating a connection between your business and your customers. But how to establish such a connection? First of all, answer this question: What connects you with your customers? What are the features of your business that your target audience would find appealing? Finding the answer to that will guide the direction of your storytelling. Because of their emotional capacity, stories are a great medium to carry your brand. They allow for exploring your motivations and goals as well as your struggles and successes – that brings people to relate to you!
A business story that sells is not about your successes
The whole point of storytelling is to be able to relate to people and create a tighter relationship with your customers.
It’s important for you to realize that your customers and prospects are normal people with normal lives. And some of the biggest characteristics of our lives can be encapsulated in two things: growth and struggle. That is – your journey.
It’s fine to talk about that one great conference with high profile guests where you were the keynote speaker. Or hitting that sales record. Or any success story your business might have. But do so in a context! You need to show the cause and effect chain to the people, the path that has taken you from point A to being a keynote speaker.
People don’t like overnight success stories. They’re great and all, but it’s virtually impossible to relate to them. An average person works hard for a success. Heck, even people who are considered geniuses and boundary-pushers usually need to work to achieve their status. David Bowie didn’t just become a legendary rock star in a day – it took him years before he was even noticed and then decades of constant hard work and reinventions.
How to create a story that showcases your journey
Social networks are a great place to build a storyline around you or your business. They allow to show each stage of your growth with a description and a piece of visual content, be it photos or videos.
You can also use your content to share your story. A blog, a video channel or a podcast are great for that purpose. Similarly to social media, you can really show the process that took you from point A to point B.
Have a look at Dunk!Records. It’s an independent music label. They recently started building their own vinyl press. All the process, from the initial idea to every stage of construction is meticulously described. You can clearly see that they are passionate about the things they do. Their story is absolutely relatable – a bunch of people loving what they do, working hard to achieve their dreams.
Authenticity is the key!
Storytelling is all about building a closer relationship with your customers. And that requires huge amounts of trust. If people don’t trust you or feel like you’re hiding some shady stuff behind the cloak of passionate storytelling, they will refrain from doing business with you.
How to avoid this? Well, it’s simple – don’t do shady stuff! In the age of the Internet, people have more than enough skills and tools to uncover any dark secrets you might be hiding. And unless you’re a massive, transnational corporation that’s embedded in many cultures, like McDonald’s, such revelations might be particularly harmful.
Another important thing is to share everything with your customers and followers – you can use social media and content for that.
Don’t add to your story
Every business has its own unique path. Not every entrepreneur has a story that’s as dramatic as Bill Gates’s one. Dropping out of Harvard and writing an entire interpreting system in eight weeks – not everyone does that! And it’s fine if you don’t – you don’t need big gestures to create a business story that sells.
Let’s suppose you’re opening a small baking business that’s going to focus on cheesecakes. How to separate yourself from every other confectionery and create a unique brand? You need a story! You are a newcomer and can do literally anything. So, you go with:
I spent five years in Tibetan mountains learning the craft of baking from the monks in a monastery. We woke up at six every morning and would bake until dusk. We made our own cheese from wild yak milk.
That sounds cool, doesn’t it? It might get a lot of people to visit your store. But remember that in order for a business story to sell, it needs to be reflected in reality. It creates a certain expectation and if you produce typical cakes and back them with that incredible story, no one’s going to believe you.
How about telling the real story that really inspired you to open a baking business? Something like:
I used to bake with my mum every Saturday when I was a kid. We would do fantastic cheesecakes, which we’d then eat with the whole family watching cartoons.
Just like myself when I was a kid, I want everyone to be able to come to my bakery and have a little moment of happiness and relaxation in their busy days.
See? Much better and much more believable. The story omits the fake ‘coolness’ and instead focuses on things that make your business very genuine and relatable. People don’t expect crazy cheesecakes made out of imported yak milk. Instead, the story highlights the warm and cozy feeling of baking with your mum.
How to craft your business story
Not all of us are Hemingways or Tolkiens – that’s fine! You don’t need to be a professional writer to be able to create vivid images with your stories though. I believe that writing about something you’re passionate about comes much more easily – you simply know what you’re writing about!
You can consider hiring a copywriter to write the stories for you. However, make sure to brief them properly – you still want that genuine touch that will set you apart from others! Not all businesses have the budget to hire people for branding though. With small companies, such duties are usually done by the founder.
If you are the one creating the story of your business, but you’re completely new to writing, here are some points to keep in mind:
Appeal to senses
Let’s come back to the cheesecake bakery example. Once you’ve outlined your motivations for starting the business, it’s good to go into more detail.
What’s the smell like when people enter your bakery? What’s the taste like? What will they see? Describe all that! Don’t shy away from using pictorial and vivid vocabulary. That is, a lot of adjectives! If you have problems with coming up with words to use, go to an online thesaurus or search for synonyms. Try to find phrases that carry your message in the clearest and most coherent way.
Don’t overdo it
Emotive vocabulary is crucial for creating a business story that sells. However, if you happen to be utilizing a particular type of sophisticated wording structures is a much bigger capacity than a sense of good taste allows for, you stand a chance of leaving your readership perplexed and risk being labeled pompous!
Just like I did in this sentence!
How to avoid that? Reread your writing after finishing and more importantly – have someone else read it and give you feedback.
Double-check for any errors
People on the Internet are quick to notice any grammatical mistakes, even in longer pieces. They rarely shy away from aggressively pointing that out in comments. And there’s nothing worse than having your credibility reduced by such silly errors.
To make sure your writing is flawless, reread it a couple of times. In that way, you will be able to spot inconsistencies, typos, repetitions, etc. These are the things that we usually don’t notice when writing, but they are clearly visible as we read.
If you want to be extra-sure, use spell-checking tools like Grammarly. It’s a very intuitive application that will underline missing commas and typos as well as “the” and “a” distinction.
Be consistent with your story
Every storytelling campaign needs to be like a book. That doesn’t mean it needs 500 pages – what it needs a strong structure and a plotline so that it’s consistent.
Unless you brand your business as completely random and constantly surprising, your story needs a strong focus. Everything needs to click seamlessly.
A business story that sells doesn’t have to be linear to be consistent though! You can introduce new characters, events and places, but do so in a clear way. That is if it’s your habit to post on social media everytime you hire someone new, stick to it with every employee!
Use stories in several ways
Of course, the primary function of your business story is to tell about your company and improve your branding campaign. But it goes much further than simply talking about the history.
Stories of your employees
How have your employees ended up working with you? What was their journey like? What are their passions and goals?
Keep in mind that business is primarily the people that create it. Without them, there would be nothing. Sharing their stories will only make you more genuine. After all, people tend to trust other people more than they trust businesses. It’s great if you already show your face as a part of your business’s story. However, showing more faces makes your company even more believable. The more the merrier!
Stories of your customers
You might think that sharing stories of your customers is pointless. After all, who cares, right?
Well, everyone cares!
Have a look at Marketo’s website. It’s a marketing automation tool that offers customized solutions for businesses. There’s a section named “Customer Stories”, where companies that worked with Marketo (including Nokia or Panasonic) have shared their impressions of using the platform as well as data on performance improvement.
This is exactly the point of sharing customer stories. It increases your credibility. There’s nothing more believable than an opinion of someone who already used your services or bought your product.
Ever wondered how things are done at that green store you buy your fruits and veggies at? Where do they get their produce from? What are their inspirations?
Now reverse that. Let’s think the way your customers would think. How it’s done in YOUR business? How do you get your products made and what are your aspirations? Your customers don’t really need to know that. But they want to know that! And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t show them!
How to do this? If you have the means to do it, shoot a video – it’s the best way to showcase processes in your business. And it will do wonders for your online exposure! An article would be fine as well!
Examples of great business storytelling
As you will see, the best storytelling in business is the one that makes you stop thinking about a company and instead start thinking of deeply entrenched values (which are automatically attributed to the company).
The 2014 Christmas ad by Sainsbury’s is one of the best examples of a business story that sells. It merges the famous story of World War One English and German soldiers who played football together with a moving Christmas message. It truly is storytelling at its finest, as it’s unusual for an ad to carry such a massive emotional load.
Another Christmas-inspired ad (seems like ‘tis the storytelling season!) was done by Allegro, a Polish equivalent of Ebay. It depicts a grandpa buying an audiobook with English lessons. We see him struggle with the words and follow him among many hilarious situation. As it is revealed by the end, he started learning English only to be able to talk to his grandson in the UK! The ad went viral, made headlines and had been praised as one of the best examples of storytelling in business.
With their slogan “Don’t go there – live there”, Airbnb’s blog express values such as hospitality and wanderlust. On their blog, they share stories of hosts and travelers from all around the world.
Airbnb storytelling campaign is a perfect example of user-generated content, or stories derived from customer real-life experiences.
Creating a business story that sells requires both time and skills. Anything can be a part of the story – a photo, a video, an article, a slogan. It’s how you use them that counts.
Not every story needs to be long. Sometimes a single sentence or a single picture can tell more than several pages of copy. That’s why storytelling can be really demanding. It is, however, more than rewarding! If the price of establishing a tight and very personal relationship with your customers is spending time on putting your business into words, then it’s worth it!
In this article, I gave you some insights and inspiration on where to get started. Now, it’s up to you to go out there and write your story!