Tips for effective storytelling

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Storytelling has been used since the dawn of human existence to convey events in words, gestures, images and sounds. Stories express thoughts, explain the unknown, detail history, imagine the future, bring context to situations and caution of consequences.Storytelling in its most basic definition is a form of communication. It’s how we make sense of the world around us and our place and relationship to others. Stories provide stimulation—the knowledge to act—and inspiration—the motivation to act. Sometimes our stories are fictional, while other times they’re not… but regardless, they all have value.

In a business and marketing context, storytelling has many uses and a multitude of benefits:

  • Stories—about products, customers, employees—make brands relatable to stakeholders. “That girl in the commercial is frustrated with her car insurance, just like me!”
  • Stories—about business approaches, attitudes and promises—build brand loyalty. “That guy in the testimonial was so happy about his purchase; I’ve got to check that company out.”
  • Stories—about recent events and announcements—create awareness. “I just read on their blog that they have a new program and it sounds like it could be fun. We should try it out!”

Storytelling can also be used to pitch new ideas, to demonstrate expertise, to explain complex issues and problems, to change behaviours and to create brand champions, especially when your brand leverages the stories about you that others are creating and sharing. Storytelling is a powerful tool that business and marketers everywhere need to know how to harness and once they do, the benefits will become apparent.

For an in-depth look at how your business or organization can use storytelling most effectively to communicate with employees and target audiences, check out our Blue Paper® and podcast, The Art of Storytelling. In it we discuss tips for branded storytelling and more, like the following:

Seek the story to rule them all
Great brand stories stem from the reason a brand exists. Apple® wanted to free creative spirits while crushing the competition. Coco Chanel set out to re-invent fashion and liberate women from tradition. WestJet® aims to be the friendliest low-cost airline in the Canadian skies. Dig into the history, people and promises of your brand to uncover its Unique Story Proposition (USP). Make this the anchor for every other story you tell.

Great stories come to you, if you listen
Once you have defined your USP, use every opportunity to listen for supporting stories from your staff, clients and customers. Zappos® created an entire ad campaign based on recorded customer service calls that showcased happy customers and attentive service reps. Encourage your own team and customers through surveys and feedback cards that capture comments and stories, maintain a review tab on your brand’s Facebook® page, allow comments on your blog and more. Incentivize participation with giveaways, like cool tumblers or an Outlook Tote Bag or thank employees for sharing stories with nice gifts such as lunch cooler bags or an Apollo Backpack.

Amplify those stories that others can tell
As you discover stories that match your USP, select those that are simple enough to remember and fun to recite. Minimize plot-twists and complex layers and highlight those aspects that reinforce your overall brand message. Test what sticks best, and when you’ve got it, put the weight of your media behind them so they can start living a life of their own. Take testimonials from surveys, reviews and blog comments and imprint one or two on banner pens or T-Shirts for staff to give out or wear at events and trade shows.

Connect your story efforts to your bottom line
A great story is nice, yet it has to convert a listener to a buyer. For this you need to ensure that your story hits on the age-old behavioural triggers like emotion, contrast, egocentricity, the power of beginnings and others. Use them, and people will respond.

Let your customers fill in the blanks
If you want to promote word-of-mouth, leave a little mystery. People love to guess the end of the novel.  Use your story as a prelude or epilogue to the actual experience of using your product or service. If you truly live your USP, people can fill in the blanks themselves.
Every brand has a story to tell and that story could be the difference between a one-time sale and a loyal customer. Tap your network and begin your brand’s once upon a time.

Thys, Alain. “The Ten Truths of Branded Storytelling.” Futurelab | We Are Marketing and Customer Strategy Consultants with a Passion for Profit and Innovation. 6 July 2006. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.
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