Storytelling is a powerful business tool and a skill that every business building a powerful and lasting brand should master.
We have been telling stories for as long as we’ve been human–they are an absolutely essential part of our day-to-day communications. When done well, storytelling can do wonders for a business: such as turn a brand into a legacy, create a robust marketing strategy, generate profit and win the loyalty and affection of audiences, to name just a few.
I spent a year traveling the world and building a brand around storytelling, as well as working with clients to help them tell their story, and I was amazed by how many businesses completely lack a clearly communicated story that positions their brand, vision, and values. Storytelling conveys purpose, and businesses with purpose are the ones that ultimately stand out and capture consumer’s hearts and wallets.
Here are four reasons why businesses looking to grow need to cultivate a strategic storytelling practice:
A clearly communicated story is the backbone of a strong marketing strategy.
While every business has a story to tell, too many fail at doing so with marketing communication that is clear, captivating and effective. I frequently work with clients who have grandiose ideas, visions, and dreams for what their brand should convey and stand for, but when it comes to communicating this story via their online channels, the content is confusing, ambiguous and inconsistent.
Businesses should invest in developing a clearly communicated story for a couple of reasons: first, stories create a blueprint to organize content that would otherwise feel scattered and random. When a brand’s marketing strategy is created under a story, every piece of content produced should ideally have an intention, value proposition that feeds up to and supports the business’ overarching vision.
Secondly, a brand story helps simplify the complexities of a vision and conveys a business’ purpose to the outside world. As John Kotter and James Heskett demonstrated in Corporate Culture & Performance, companies that convey purpose and value can outperform their counterparts in stock price by a factor of 12 and have a profit performance ratio 750x higher than companies without shared values.
In other words: having purpose and values as a business sells, but to do that, they need to be communicated with a story that captures people’s attention.
Heartfelt storytelling is both profitable and human.
The most successful companies in the world have profound stories behind them (often deeply tied to their founders) that instill a sense of bigger purpose and meaning into what they do. For example, Apple, Tesla and Google are so much more than companies – they are legacy brands created by visionaries who aspire(d) to change the world.
Perhaps a business doesn’t aspire to be the next Apple, but it is worth asking: should the business just be a product or service provider, or a vision that an audience believes in and subscribes to?
It’s no coincidence that brands mentioned above have been ranked among the top 10 most empathetic companies in the Global Empathy Index, and are amongst the most profitable and fastest growing in the world. Additionally, the top 10 companies on the index generated 50% more earnings and increased in value more than twice than those in the bottom 10, showing that there is a strong link between empathy and commercial success.
People would rather invest in a human than a company, and in fact, some of the most admired and financially successful companies are known for delivering financial returns and building people and society. It is both an ethical and strategic move for businesses to do the best they can to humanize themselves through their messaging… and mean it.
Storytelling is a competitive advantage
There are tens of millions of content pieces being created, and even more being shared, every day. Consumers are oversaturated with information. As a business, it’s all too easy to blend into the noise.
A business may genuinely have a better product or service than a competitor, but at the end of the day, decision-making is much more emotional than it is logical. The ability to tell a good story is essential and can make or break how well a business differentiates itself in the market as well as makes a profit.
Just like individuals can become more influential and fast-track professionally by having a strong personal brand, a business with a remarkable story can win over its audience and raise the perceived value of its brand.
A few years ago, researchers Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn showcased the value of storytelling by listing insignificant objects on eBay with a heartfelt, well-written, and purposeful short story about the item in the description section. The items, which were originally purchased at a garage sale for no more than $1.50 apiece, resold for nearly $8,000–highlighting how a smart storytelling strategy can contribute to raising the perceived value of an item and generating massive returns on investment.
Stories emotionally connect people and create brand loyalty
Storytelling connects us, helps us make sense of the world, and communicates our values and beliefs. A good story makes us think and feel, and speaks to us in ways that numbers, data, and presentation slides simply can’t.
The strongest stories tap into people’s emotions, genuinely connect with them, and help them believe in a business and what it stands for. Businesses should not be afraid to tell the full story – the struggles, conflicts, setbacks, successes, etc. to help people understand the passion and heart that went into creating and building the brand.
Long-term brand loyalty is created by businesses that understand this inherently human craving for connection, can wrap their vision into a beautiful and captivating story, and clearly communicate this story to their audience using an effective and heartfelt marketing strategy.
Originally published on Forbes.