Turning dry data into compelling narratives: how storytelling drives business success

Imagine you’re shopping around for a specific product. You might be impressed if a brand tells you that 87% of customers find their product effective, but you’ll probably forget that statistic pretty quickly. Knowing the product isn’t always effective, you might even turn to a competitor.

But what if that same brand told you a customer story? This customer struggled with a specific problem for years, trying different products without success. They were frustrated and overwhelmed. Then, they found out about the company’s product and decided to give it a chance. Their problems were solved immediately, and they are part of the 87% of customers who are satisfied. The product works. The customer is happy, and you could be, too.

While efficacy rates and sales numbers matter, turning that data into a compelling narrative is a better way to sell your product.

Storytelling works, whether you are selling a stain remover, a customer relationship management (CRM) database or internet services – and it doesn’t just work for sales. Storytelling works when dealing with employees, stockholders and even your senior leadership team. Stories appeal to your audience’s emotions. They can convince an audience to take a desired action, whether you want them to make a purchase or give you a raise.

You can drive business growth in incredibly effective ways when you master the art of business storytelling.

What is business storytelling?

Business storytelling uses stories to connect to a business audience in a way that engages their emotions. That audience might be potential customers, returning customers or even employees and stakeholders.

The story’s goal is to encourage potential customers to take a desired action, whether that’s making a purchase, investing in the business or filling out a contact form.

The story communicates information about your brand in a memorable and shareable way, helping it stick in the audience’s mind and empowering them to share it with others, which can expand your audience.

Business storytelling can be a powerful marketing tool, but it may also be used as a business strategy in other areas of the company, including the following:

  • recruitment
  • employee onboarding
  • stockholder communication and annual reports
  • business development opportunities

Why is business storytelling important?

Storytelling is one of the original art forms. It’s just as essential now as it was when we were cave dwellers huddled around campfires.

Here are some of the reasons why business storytelling is important today:

Stories engage your audience

Most people find it challenging to connect emotionally with hard data. However, stories that evoke emotion make data more accessible. A more engaged audience is more likely to take a desired action.

Stories are easy to remember and share

Our brains are good at remembering stories. We have passed information to each other for millennia in this way. When you give your audience a story they can connect with, they are more likely to pass it on to others who could join your audience. In other words, telling your current audience a good story encourages word-of-mouth advertising.

Stories make your brand unique

Your product or service may be similar to another company’s offering, but telling your audience a unique, authentic story can help your brand stand out from the competition.

The story can revolve around why you started the business, why you do this work or who your business serves. It shows off your brand’s personality and character. It also makes people care about your business.

Stories help build trust and loyalty

Connection fosters trust and loyalty, and it comes from a good story.

People buy from, invest in and work for brands they trust. They want to find that connection. Stories can show your audience they can trust you and give them a reason to stay loyal.

Stories drive action (and your bottom line)

Most buying decisions are emotional, even when they shouldn’t be. You can get your audience to take a desired action by influencing their emotions and justifying their decisions. You can increase conversions and sales by appealing to people’s emotions.

Who should use storytelling in the business environment?

Anyone wanting to communicate more effectively in a memorable, shareable and accessible way should use storytelling in the business environment.

Everyone in business can benefit from incorporating more storytelling into their work and creating a more authentic connection with their intended internal or external audiences, which include leadership teams, marketing departments, human resources, customer service teams and more.

How to tell a good story that aligns with your brand

Want to start using more business storytelling? Learning more about the art of storytelling can help you create a powerful narrative that aligns with your brand and enables you to meet a specific goal. Let’s walk through how you can create better stories for your business.

Choose the right story to tell

Selecting the right story is an essential first step. You can tell many stories about your company, but which will resonate with your audience?

Answering the “who, what, why and how” questions below is a good starting place for storytelling.

  • Who are you? People want to work with and buy from brands that align with their values. Show your audience who you are and why they can trust you. This is the perfect place to let your brand personality shine.
  • What do you do? Bring an element of storytelling into the “what” of your business. Instead of reciting facts, take a deep dive into what makes your brand unique among your competitors.
  • Why do you do it? Explain the larger mission behind your business. It’s not just a skincare company. The brand helps people feel beautiful inside and out. Creating that emotional connection to why you do what you do can set you apart.
  • How do you do it? Be transparent about how you do what you do. Tell a story about creating your ethical supply chain or the struggles you overcame to design the perfect product for your customers. This is a great way to show your passion for your brand and how you put the audience first.

You can also apply these questions to other areas of your business. For example, when developing a story for a product, you could answer the following questions:

  • Who is this product made for?
  • What does it do for the audience?
  • Why does the audience need it?
  • How can they get it?

Who, what, why and how questions can help you select an impactful story for your audience. Keep asking these questions until you find a story your audience will want to hear.

Understand the five Cs of storytelling

Crafting a good story starts with the five Cs.

1. Circumstance

Set the scene. Establish who is involved in the story, where it takes place and why you are telling it.

For example, your HR team may want to attract more highly skilled candidates to their applicant pool. You craft a story to share on social media about what it’s like to work at your company. The setting is the office, the people involved are the people who work there and you are telling the story to show what a great place it is to work.

Establishing the circumstances surrounding the story can give you a framework for the rest of the process.

2. Characters

Add a human element by sharing personal stories. People connect with stories about characters they can relate to in some way, either through shared traits or aspirational ones.

For our HR example, you might follow a day in the life of a specific employee in the company, showing what their days are like, what they enjoy about the job and why they love working there. The aim is to help potential employees imagine themselves working for your business.

3. Conflicts

Every good story has some conflict. It adds to the tale’s drama and tension, hooking your audience.

In business storytelling, conflict is often a problem someone tries to solve. Our HR story might explore why someone didn’t like their previous job or wanted to find a new one. Maybe they wanted to build a better life for their family or feel they were making a difference in the world.

4. Curiosity

Many storytellers find building suspense the hardest part of crafting a story, but it’s also one of the most essential.

You need to keep your audience curious about what will happen next. Think about the story from the audience’s perspective and consider what they want to know. Give them answers as you continue telling the tale, inspiring new questions simultaneously. For example, once they know how the employee got their position within your company and what the hiring process was like, they may be curious about the benefits and perks.

5. Conversations

A conversation in your story could take place between two people or you and the audience. Think about the tone you want to convey through this conversation. It might be formal, informal, jovial or serious.

Consider who is telling the story and how the audience’s perception could change based on their tone. Ideally, the tone should align with your brand and remain consistent throughout the story. Your employee’s story might be informal and friendly but informational, conveying the laid-back style of your workplace while giving job seekers the information they need to write their application.

Create a narrative

Your narrative is your storyline. A traditional approach is giving it a beginning, middle and end.

  • The beginning: what problem is someone experiencing that you can solve?
  • The middle: show how the audience can overcome that problem.
  • The end: explain why your product is the best solution.

Your narrative needs to engage the audience’s emotions. Positive emotions can hook your audience and inspire them to action.

Deliver your story in the best format

While storytelling naturally lends itself to the written word, visual storytelling can also be incredibly impactful. Even the images you choose should contribute to the story.

Your chosen method will depend on your target audience. Consider incorporating storytelling in your website to encourage conversions or add storytelling to your social media campaigns to gain followers. You could include it in a presentation to your leadership team or a slide deck for a conference. Think about your intended audience and the best way to reach them.

Align your story with your brand

Your branding guidelines should heavily influence how you create, tell and share your story. Ensure elements like your tone, images and story style align with your branding guidelines. This will enable you to create a more consistent brand voice, encouraging audiences to connect your story with your brand and remember you.

Five tips for better business storytelling

Want to polish your business storytelling skills? Here are five quick tips that can help.

1. Know who your audience is

Carefully consider who you are trying to reach with your story. It may help to visualize telling the story to a specific persona so you can match the message, language and tone to that person’s specific audience segment. Who are they? Why are they in the room? What do they want/expect from this engagement?

2. Focus on why you are telling the story

Your story needs a purpose, and your audience should know why it matters to them. Clearly defining that reason in your mind when you start crafting the story will help you show why it matters.

3. Show, don’t tell

This is a classic piece of advice for all writers, and for good reason. You must show your audience why your story matters instead of just telling them.

Use vivid language to create your narrative, painting a picture with your words and evoking emotion without telling the audience what they should feel. They won’t care about what you have to say until they know you care.

4. Maintain structure in the story

Meandering stories will lose the audience’s interest. Keep it structured with a clear beginning, middle and end. This will make it easier to remember and share while clarifying your message.

5. Be authentic

The more authentic your storytelling is, the more people will connect with it. If you can’t bring yourself to care about the narrative, neither will your audience. Being authentically passionate about your story will make it more powerful.

Resources to get started with corporate storytelling

Storytelling is an in-demand skill within the business environment. The better you are at it, the more effective you’ll be at your job.

Look for books, podcasts and blogs that explore this idea to hone your storytelling skills. Online courses can also teach you how to become a better storyteller.

Study websites that excel at storytelling, such as Airbnb, Warby Parker, Mailchimp and Burt’s Bees. See if you can spot how these companies use storytelling to connect with their audiences.

The Pip Decks Storyteller Tactics deck is another excellent resource for business storytelling. Have this deck on-hand to help you build better, more memorable stories for your customers and teams.

The deck offers clear step-by-step instructions that help you develop your story, no matter what audience you’re writing for. You’ll get access to videos that reveal story-building tactics and show you how to implement them in real life.

It’s like having an experienced storyteller by your side, helping you create your story in a manageable, step-by-step way.

How are you using storytelling in your business?

Narratives create connections. Connections drive actions. Actions move your business forward.

Embracing business storytelling can help you build more engagement and a stronger connection with your audience, no matter who you try to reach. Stories can do so much more than share information. Creating compelling narratives instead of relying on facts and figures alone builds a shared experience, evokes emotion and inspires action.

Focus on storytelling in your communication and see how it can transform your business.

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