Storytelling 101 – Building a Business Narrative
Storytelling is an essential skill
If you are an entrepreneur, a business owner, or part of a marketing department and are trying to tell your company’s story, this article is for you. Storytelling is a skill, and it can be learned.
At the same time, storytelling is an art!. It’s a fairy tale!.
While there is many storytelling techniques, it’s indeed more of an art then engineering! Those who excel in the art of storytelling, whether it’s online storytelling, digital storytelling or the “politician-like” storytelling infernt of crowds develop a competitive advantage in communications.
But, yes, storytelling is an artful skill, AND it can be learned.
Business narratives are a much misunderstood but valuable part of creating and marketing a business. Many companies mistakenly use their narrative as a way to advertise their heritage, growth or offering. This is a complete and finished way of telling a story, with no room for the reader to be complicit in the outcome. Hence it’s also a good way to alienate your potential customers, employees or investors. Instead, what should be created is a narrative to include and involve them. A good narrative (and good business) understands that the story isn’t finished. There’s always room for growth, development and progress. Making the audience feel as though their decisions are crucial for the business is integral to the creation of a following.
Your audience doesn’t care for numbers, but the story
Inevitably, your audience will not care for numbers; they care for stories. If your story is persuasive enough, people are hardwired to care. Consider how invested you are in your success. Wouldn’t it be great if your customers, employees and investors were so invested? If you can persuade your audience to understand your vision, you’ll end up with true advocates for your business. This is where your storytelling skills will play a big role.
In a competitive market, your narrative will help to separate you from your competitors. Creating a persona for your brand to emphasise your unique selling point, your USP, will help to do just that. So what is your USP? Are you the friendliest option, with an emphasis on the personal touch and customer satisfaction? Are you the big brand with the resources to get things done more efficiently? Are you the aspirational brand with a luxurious and more poised positioning? Understanding how you are placed will lead you to the persona of your brand.
If your product has no competitors, providing a new solution to a problem – congrats! You’re in a great position already. Your USP is obvious, but your story is just as crucial. With storytelling, you have the chance to make your audience feel like they are innovators, advocates of change.
Let’s talk through a couple of examples, and how they should best position their stories:
I recently heard of a product in development called ‘PushMe’ – it’s a bike add-on, which kicks in when going up hill and effectively gives riders a boost when they most need it. This product is currently unique in the market, but it’s solving a problem people didn’t even know they had – cycling uphill. Whilst it’s a struggle getting up an incline, it’s not a necessity for leisure riders to get there quicker. Cycle couriers however, can make more money and save energy by using the product. Whilst these facts are all true, and useful, they do not create a narrative. An example of a narrative they could use plays on the idea of making work less stressful, rather than more profitable:
“Working as a delivery rider for a food company, I often arrived to the customer exhausted and stressed with the pressure of delivering the food hot and on time. At the end of a long shift, I got my last job of the night. It was up the steepest and longest hill in the city. I had to summon the energy to push past the barrier but rather than delivering with my usual smile, I handed over the food tired, sweaty and ready to finish my shift. I pride myself on doing a good job, so I figured out a way to harness my pedal power and get the extra boost needed to make work happy and productive until the restaurants close. By choosing to be a part of the PushMe community, you’ll be a rider who loves his work. Whether it’s delivering a bouquet to put a smile on someone’s face or food for empty tummies, you can enjoy what you do and do it faster.”
Software as a Service is big business, and having a unique idea is relatively uncommon. Services are now looking to supplement rather than solve, to cover details rather than the big picture. A great example of this is Cavalry. They created software which uses a pool of dedicated researchers and writers to create custom prospecting emails on behalf of sales teams. They’re not looking to replace salespeople but to help them do their jobs better. Instead of focusing on ROI or comparisons, a great company narrative could focus on the ability to build better relationships with customers.
“Call in the Cavalry! How many cold emails or spammy templated outreaches do you receive in your inbox every day? As a CEO of a successful business, mine is in the hundreds, and most of them get deleted. If you received an email saying “Nice work on the completion of the firebucket project” or “Your app launch party last week” you’d be more likely to open it right? Obviously. In an ideal world, every email we send would be meaningful, but when your job is selling, you don’t have time to effectively research and craft a handwritten note to every prospect. Cavalry can take the time to understand your needs, and the needs of the recipient to appeal to them on a personal level. Broaching that first step to building a relationship with a client is crucial to closing the deal. Make people feel valued – make them want to reciprocate.”
In both of these examples, they’ve identified their audience and tapered it down as though they are talking to just one person. One real conversation that embodies the vision. So how can you do that?
Create your own story
- Nail down your vision. Ask yourself if your head and heart are aligned. Often our logical goals and our ideals are not aligned, and any contradiction here will show through. Consider:
- Who you are
- What your goals are
- How you want to achieve them
- Write down all of the words and phrases you associate with your story. Fill a page with them.
- Take a break from the brainstorming and come back to it with fresh eyes. Circle the five most key takeaways.
- Use these to create five focal points for your narrative, in order to construct a cohesive story.
- Identify your audience, describe the person you are talking to in great detail. When you write your story, write it only for this person. It will feel more like a genuine conversation.
Once you have created your narrative, don’t be averse to improvements or changes. As your business progresses through its journey this may be necessary. The key to keeping your audience involved going forward is continuity. Consistency in tone, phrasing and vision doesn’t rule out new goals or growth. Ensure you celebrate the wins, and commiserate the losses with your audience. Involve them in decisions, and ultimately, don’t lose sight of who they are. Relationships are a two way street and so should yours be with your audience. This increased sense of involvement and shared purpose will keep them along for the ride.
This article was written by Lauren Williams.
If you’ve liked this article, have a look at the next one about Copywriting, which is another essential skill for digital nomads, freelancers and entrepreneurs of all kind.