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How to use storytelling in business: Tips, examples and benefits

20 min read
How to use storytelling in business: Tips, examples and benefits

Once upon a time, a small but fearless advertising agency tried to come up with a brilliant idea for their client – cornflakes manufacturer. They tried different approaches like “cheaper than competitors’”, “eat and lose weight” and “two packages – one price”. Savvy marketers even added a sweet little kitten to the promotional video to attract more views. People were moved when watching it, but they didn’t buy the product.

Then one smart guy said: “Why don’t we craft a touching, interesting story around our product? Thus, we’ll plant thoughts about purchasing cornflakes in our customers’ brains by sparking emotions and increasing the level of the “happy” hormone”. Others had nothing to say and agreed as they’d tried everything but in vain.

Over a few months, the advertising agency has managed to increase cornflakes sales significantly. And that’s because they added the storytelling technique to their marketing campaign.

The ability to tell stories is among the most crucial strategic components of successful marketing campaigns. And you’d better nail it now to develop a vibrant business strategy and get stop-in buyers in the nearest future.

So, pick up your pen or open up the Google Docs file, and let’s get going.

What is business storytelling: The easy-to-understand definition

Business storytelling is all about creating an alignment between your brand and your customers by crafting engaging stories. They can be used in blogs, promotional videos, case studies, emails, guides and social media posts. When telling a story that appeals to your audience, you can even change the way they think and feel about your brand. So, storytelling has truly an enormous potential you’d better tap into.

It is impossible to nail storytelling in one sitting. The process of mastery requires time and practice. But never fear. Crafting breathtaking stories is a process of trial and error, and over time everybody can get there. In the world of business, folks like content managers, copywriters, marketers and PR specialists tell stories on behalf of their companies.

Before going any further, let’s see what a story is not:

  • a story is not just the history of your company but a vision why you’re doing what you’re doing;
  • it is not about logic and data but about emotions that are better appealed, remembered and shared;
  • it isn’t pushy advertising, a business model or a sales pitch but a narrative where your customer is the main hero and your brand is a helping component;
  • a story isn’t something exciting that happened to you or your organisation but a narrative that has its concept, beginning, conflict and resolution.
The importance of storytelling in business
The importance of storytelling in business

Probably the best thing about storytelling is the ability to spark all sorts of emotions. If handled right, narrators can tap into customers’ feelings, experiences and fundamental motivations like the desire to succeed in life, feel secure and appreciated (more about emotional motivators – in the upcoming section). Why does that matter? Because research shows that the best way to enhance customer value and satisfaction is to communicate with them at an emotional level.

First-class products and affordable prices are fantastic. But when your client feels something right after interacting with your brand, that is truly valuable. People see all types of products at every turn. They hear about reduced prices, excellent quality and top-of-the-range features, but they fail to remember any of that.

Storytelling, on the other hand, activates such areas of the brain that make a person immerse themselves deep down into the plot of the story and feel like the main hero there. Such an experience is hard to forget. And that is the perfect scenario for every brand as you can craft your story, build good tension through emotions and make customers treat your product just the way you want. Sounds manipulative? Maybe yes.

Anyway, you should use storytelling wisely. Customers won’t believe any word you say if you don’t mean it. And on this note, we move to a series of useful advice on how to tell a good story.

Tips for business storytelling

Creating a truly memorable story is a breeze when you know the following secrets. Here they are.

Trigger the right emotional motivators

The human-to-human connection is fundamental for business success, and it’s possible only when you talk to your client’s heart, not mind. Emotions are the key factor that drives customer behaviour. You can encourage people to do what you want in terms of your brand when sparking reactions. Here are the most powerful emotions, motivations and desires that affect humans’ behaviour:

  • succeed in life – personal and professional;
  • stand out from the crowd;
  • feel secure;
  • be free in what they do and how they live;
  • be confident about the future;
  • live according to their ideal self-image;
  • enjoy lack of stresses, threads and health problems;
  • be a part of a group.

Those are the triggers that will invite emotions – happiness, sadness, anger and others. It depends on how you present your story and what the central conflict will be.

Sure thing, people may also respond to such primitive triggers like sexual excitement, fear, disgust or bathroom humour. But don’t exploit those reactions as they disrespect and manipulate your audience. Instead, give your customers genuine and engaging content that will make them think, analyse and sympathise with characters.

If you spark emotions with your storytelling, you’ll get a customer who:

  • is likely to become your brand advocate;
  • doesn’t care much about the price of your product;
  • recommends you a lot;
  • often purchases from you.

To build an emotional and developmental dynamic in your story, you should work on the conflict. And that’s what our next tip is about.

Conflict is the king, drama is the queen

Imagine a portrait of a happy family – mother, father and two kids. They are sitting on a lovely, big sofa and smiling. Their house is cosy and well-equipped, and nothing can ruin their happiness. Sounds boring, right? Do you want to know how this family spends their weekends? Not really! Every story needs drama, and the main hero should suffer or at least deal with the ups and downs of their life.

If your story has no conflict, you’re probably not telling a story. It might be a pitch, unique selling point or just a statement. From the marketing perspective, this approach won’t resonate with your audience and get views, likes, shares and conversions.

To introduce a jaw-dropping conflict, you don’t have to be overdramatic. There is no need to kill someone in every blog post or show starving kittens in YouTube videos. All it takes is to investigate the buyer’s journey and the problems your client may face on each of its stages, especially at the awareness one.

Outline the main challenges and show how the main character transforms through them. You can demonstrate the external conflict like the lack of time, arguments with parents, troubles at work, difficulties when taking public transport, etc. Or you can emphasise the internal conflict which is low self-esteem, anxiety about a new job, nostalgia, sorrow and so on. If you mix external and internal conflicts, your story will hit the spot.

And remember that the brand isn’t a magic pill that changes your client’s life dramatically but a tool that helps resolve the problem. So, avoid such statements as “If you have a low self-esteem, buy our perfume and get confidence in every day of your fabulous life!”.

Put a premium on your characters

The rule of thumb is: every story revolves around at least one character. And your content shouldn’t be an exception to that. The easiest way to go is to make your customer the main character. Start with your buying persona. Think of your ideal client and their challenges and goals. For example, if your buying persona is a full-time worker, they might lack time for their family. If you sell to a young mother, she is likely to be confused about her newborn baby. So, the point is to identify different types of customers and dig deeper into their pain points.

To embellish your character and make them more eye-catching and head-turning, turn to the split personality disorder. That doesn’t mean your main hero should be sick or something. Just think of the Gregory House character or Good Will Hunting. What do they have in common? Their social roles contradict their genuine desires and natures. For example, House is a doctor, but he hates people. In fact, he is a sociopath. Will Hunting is a wunderkind, but he is aggressive and has family issues. He doesn’t even want to be a math genius. You can do that to your character as well, just make sure their social role and true desires are at opposite poles.

The structure wins

The worst thing you can do to your audience is to present a story with a wishy-washy structure. To ensure the sought-after flow of your narrative, make sure it answers three questions:

  • what?
  • and what then?
  • so, what’s the point?

When done right, your story will have a comprehensive structure. Here is how it may look:

  • The “What” part – This is where you introduce the character and their problem, in other words, the conflict. It will be your exposition and rising action.
  • The “And what then” part – Here you should provide the solution to the conflict. That will be your climax and falling action.
  • The “So, what’s the point” part – It’s a final part or a resolution. That’s where the conclusion, results and the outcome of the story get into a game.

You can change the order of those parts, and it will be a nonlinear structure of your narrative – or fractured. The story can be circular, meaning that it ends where it began. Why not? Whatever is good for your audience will work just fine for your brand.

Storytelling for business: examples that inspire

Good stories don’t just crop up out of nowhere. To come up with something exciting, you should learn from the best. So, let’s get an eyeful of some great examples.

Mercedes-Benz – The Journey

That is a lovely linear story where a little boy runs away from home at night. He comes to the police station and asks a kind police officer for a favour. He wants him to take him back home in the Mercedes car.

Why it is a good story:

  • until the end of this video, a viewer doesn’t understand why a kid leaves his home at night and walks a long way. We have an unexpected ending of the story which is very cool;
  • the video asks a customer – “And what will you do to drive Mercedes?”. Maybe you can work harder, or squirrel more money away? The advertising encourages a viewer to purchase the car because it’s worth it.

Watch the advertising by the link.

The Heinz “Get well soon” soup

Heinz marketing campaign doesn’t ordinarily present the story. They don’t have a narrative that starts with an exposition and finishes with the final part. It is a story made up by customers themselves.

Whoever buys the “Get well soon” soup becomes the main hero. The person who feels under the weather is another character of this story. The disease is the bad guy or the problem that needs to be dealt with. The soup is the resolution.

As you see, this storytelling campaign has all the required ingredients, and no video is involved. A simple idea can work wonders for your brand if it has the potential to become a story.

Johnnie Walker, “Dear Brother”

Warning: this content contains an eye-watering, incredibly touching story about two brothers. Brand Jonnie Walker shows us the way that brothers walk together. They are going somewhere, but we don’t know what exactly their purpose is. At the end of the video, you might cry your eyes out because of the unpredictable outcome. Follow the link and watch it yourself or go to the next paragraph for the spoiler.

We see only one man who’s going to the cliff to scatter the ashes of his brother. The man who accompanies him is his brother’s spirit. Even after his death, he is by his side. The story shows us that we should keep walking and have the ones we love in our hearts no matter what.

Bells “Reader”

The Bells storytelling campaign shows us a black old man who can’t read. He finds out that his son’s book is gaining public approval, and he decides to learn to read. That’s how he’s going to express love to his boy.

It is a fascinating story with a conflict that encourages the main character to act. Whisky is not a magic pill there but a small yet important detail. It represents the self-victory that means the world.

Watch the video by the link.

The Warby Parker wiping cloths story

Don’t just lazily say that your products are the cheapest on the market but prove it. First off, your prices need to be low, and secondly, you’d better explain why they are so. See how Warby Parker manages that.

The company manufactures glasses that are of high quality but with reasonable prices. They’ve written a short story about that, explaining their motives, values and goals. Then they’ve printed it on the wiping cloths. By putting such an accessory to every pair of glasses, Warby Parker adds a personal touch to every shopper’s experience.

And they lived happily ever after

Storytelling is an effective tool to deliver your message in a vivid and not boring way. This technique is must-have for small businesses and large corporations alike. No matter whether you sell one product or you’re a big service provider, stories can connect you to your audience, immerse your customers in the thoughts and feelings you want them to. Use storytelling wisely and see your sales go to the stratosphere.

And one last thing – your brand can be #1 on the market and your products may carry low price tags. But if your clients can’t pay easily and with no extra moves right on your website, even the power of the storytelling won’t help. Sign up for Tranzzo to offer the most convenient payment methods to your customers.