Storytelling and business writing: they’re apples and oranges. Or are they?
When you’re writing up that blog post, company brochure or promotional flyer, you could just give your clients facts and figures and be done with it.
But whether your clients will take interest in something that pedestrian — let alone even remember what you’ve said — that’s another matter entirely.
Jonathan Gottschall, a scholar who has researched the anthropological and neurological basis of storytelling, has written that, “humans evolved to crave a story.” Think about it: would you rather read a novel or a company report?
TED Talks show experts from all over the world using specific storytelling methods to engage individuals on an enormous range of topics. In writing about these techniques, Nayomi Chibana reminds us that factual presentations — which can include the spoken, the written and anything in between — can be informative and entertaining.
Whether you do it in front of a live audience or for online visitors, storytelling works because it grabs people’s attention. It’s also fundamental to the way we make sense of the world: according to Gottschall, the need to tell stories is hardwired into human DNA.
So how can you use storytelling as part of your marketing strategy?
Define a story’s aim
Most people think of stories as recreation. But you need to think of narrative as a way to convince your audience to take action. For that to happen, you need to stick to details that will be the most important to your target audience.
What that means in practice is: no extended backstory on the person/people involved or on any events you touch upon. No detours into unrelated topics. Just get to the point.
You can help stay on track by asking yourself two simple questions before (and even while) you write your narrative:
- how will my story show the benefits of what I do?
- how will it help promote my business?
If you can add a dash of humor, do it. Just don’t let that dash turn into a full-blown comedy sketch that leads attention away from what you’re trying say about your business.
Think narrative arc
Every great story has exactly three elements: (1) a setup, which introduces people and situations, (2) a conflict or problem to be solved, and (3) a resolution.
Say you are a fashion/style consultant. The bones of a story you might tell in a blog post or brochure could go something like this:
- You set up the story by introducing the person and the situation: “Elle was a 40-something teacher and mother of three looking to move into the business world.”
- You introduce the conflict: “She juggled a high school teaching job, a busy family life and certification seminars in project management. Elle had no time to go shopping for herself, let alone do an entire wardrobe makeover.”
- You resolve the problem: “After just a few style consultations, Elle went from frumpy functional to freaking fabulous. She’s since landed a job she loves — and done it all in amazing style.”
Use relevant visuals
Nayomi Chibana notes that visuals are key to successfully immersing a TED Talk audience in narrative. They add an extra sensual dimension — and one that is perhaps the most powerful for humans — that helps people remember what you say.
Elle’s story is one that absolutely cries out for images, especially those that document how she looked before and after her style consultations. That way, an audience can see for themselves just how good she looks…and remember who made that transformation possible.
Including even one image that speaks to a story theme or other major narrative point can make a huge difference.
Twitter, for example, allows users to post up one picture per tweet. Site statistics show how tweets accompanied by an image can result in 300%+ more audience engagement than tweets without visual enhancement.
Keep it real
By “real,” I mean authentic. Does your story touch upon the experiences that other members of your target audience might have in their own lives?
Let’s go back to Elle. She has more than her share of responsibilities. Yet she still works, often without thought for her own needs, toward greater professional fulfillment.
Because the story and situation are typical, they have audience resonance, especially among women like Elle who might be in need of a style consultation.
One thing to remember is that “real” does not necessarily mean coming directly from your lived experience. You can still tell a compelling hypothetical story — a fiction, in other words — that could happen to people like your clients who are in need of the kinds of products/services you provide.
But be careful. If you make up a story, don’t embellish, especially when it comes to what your business can do. Your goal is to inspire trust in that your brand is what will lead members of a target audience to happy resolutions of real-life problems.