Brenda Peterson
Brenda Peterson
What Is Storytelling and How to Use It for Business?
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Do you think good stories are only found in books and movies? Not at all. Stories are everywhere if you think about it. Even a regular morning commute can sometimes turn into a story of its own!

Now when it comes to business, an original and truthful story can add a new facet to your brand, make it more approachable for the audience, and inspire your customers.

But not every story will do. Creating and telling stories is an art which takes a long time and practice to master. Especially in the context of marketing. To help you grapple with the basics, we will take a closer look at storytelling as such, try to figure out what makes a good story, and see how it can help your business grow.

The concept of Storytelling

In its broadest sense, storytelling is nothing but the process of sharing information in a way that is engaging for a recipient. However, nowadays the term is more often used in its narrow meaning, typically associated with content marketing. In this sense, storytelling is a strategy that implies building a narrative around a brand with the purpose of engaging customers and cultivating a brand image. In modern conditions, storytelling is typically implemented through blogging, social media outreach, public relations, advertisement, etc.

Indeed, storytelling has become a major marketing trend as more businesses apply it as a part of their brand-building strategy. Reportedly, 81.5% of marketers consider storytelling to be their top content marketing priority. And rightfully so.

Stories as a form of a narrative are so popular that they seem to have penetrated in all areas of life. This is not to say that storytelling is something new by any means. In fact, it is probably the oldest way of passing information from one person to another, or better to say from one generation to another. Legends, myths, literature, poetry, even the official history – all of these are nothing but stories at the end of the day.

However, nowadays, stories are as relevant as they can be. They are in a great demand too. Whenever we go to the movies, we want to witness a breathtaking plot to unfold; when we play a video game, we want to see more drama going on between the characters, even if all they do is shooting aliens. Even social media is getting more story-driven: just think of Instagram Stories or Snapchat.

No wonder that storytelling has caught the eye of marketers as it is truly a universal tool for building engagement and creating the emotional connection between brands and customers. Especially today, in the era of information technologies.

Why is storytelling perfect for business?

Creating a business from scratch is full of risks and challenges, ups and downs, disappointments and gratifications. If you’ve ever built one, you should have a lot of exciting stories up your sleeve. Or at least one story that tells what is behind your brand: history, values, ambitions, vision, goals, etc. Skillful storytelling can mix all of these into a coherent narrative that will help your customers understand your business better and get captivated by what it has to offer.

This is possible due to the inherent ability of storytelling to:

  • Convey complex ideas in simple words: Your message may not always rest on the surface, so don’t expect everyone to grasp it immediately. Concepts are largely abstract, while stories are pretty much concrete words in their substance, the words that can be heard (or read) and easily “digested” by your audience. Furthermore, stories can visualize certain concepts through particular imagery, which is extremely useful for your brand-building.
  • Humanize your brand: As a business owner, you know there’s much more behind your brand than just products or services: people, emotions, inspiration, motivation, and so on. But your customers can hardly know this per se. Implementing storytelling in your marketing strategy can add a human side to your business and bring more transparency to your relationships with customers. In turn, transparency leads to trust and loyalty.
  • Make your brand more relatable: Good stories are capable of triggering strong emotions, and emotions are something people can remember and relate to. Using stories to evoke certain feelings is a great way to establish a strong emotional connection between your brand and customers.

What makes a good story?

There’s certainly no universal benchmark for evaluating stories. Whether you like a story or not depends mostly on your own life experience, emotional condition, and personal preferences. A great story for you is not necessarily as great for another person and vice versa. Apparently, it’s an entirely subjective matter.

However, there are certain criteria that define the quality and value of a story. Sticking to these will get you closer to creating a solid story that would appeal to your audience:

  • Informative value: A good story should educate the audience. While the emotional charge is undeniably important for storytelling, stories are not just about making people feel the certain way. A good story should also enrich one’s knowledge. As a matter of fact, 68% of users find educational and informative content to be the most valuable.
  • Entertainment factor: A boring story is doomed to failure almost for sure. While some people seek stories that would offer knowledge, others just want to be entertained. A good story triggers emotions, keeps you excited, builds suspense, and throws unpredicted twists and turns at you.
  • Balance between uniqueness and universality: No doubt, a story must be special to intrigue the audience. Mundane or trivial stories are just incapable of touching the right chords in people’s hearts and minds. But at the same time, a good story should be something everyone can understand and relate to. Staying true to the facts while complementing the story with unusual or vivid details is one of the ways to engage the audience without sounding fake or cheesy.
  • Uniform structure: Every story has a distinctive arrangement that allows the author to present facts in the logical order. Stories usually follow the classic narrative pattern that includes an introduction, conflict, climax, denouement, and conclusion. At times, the structure can be reorganized to match the author’s creative vision. The same techniques apply to business storytelling, but in this case, the entire narrative works toward the final part, a call-to-action.

How to write a good story?

As said before, storytelling is less of a method but more of an art. And like any other art, it requires practice to get better at it. Needless to say, it also takes a lot of patience, as well as talent and creativity. Even more so if you try to implement storytelling in your marketing strategy. No doubt, as a business creator, you know plenty of interesting facts you could share with your audience. But how to make a story out of them?

First of all, don’t rush it out. Take a step-by-step approach and nurture your story until it is ready to meet the world. Here are the basic steps you have to take:

  • Define your audience: Think who exactly will be interested in your story. What kind of people are they? What do they like and what goals do they pursue? Why would your story make a difference for them? Answering these questions will help you get started.
  • Specify your message: When you know who your audience is, it’s time to figure out what ideas you want to convey to them. Do not create a story blindly. Otherwise, your efforts will end up being wasted. If you have a clear goal in mind, think what message can help you achieve it. Try to formulate your idea in one sentence and adopt it as a foundation to build upon.
  • Decide what kind of a story to tell: Depending on your objectives, audience, and message you want to impart, define how exactly your story should be presented. Whether it would be a tale of rising up to success and overcoming hurdles, a case study, an anecdote, or an introduction to what you do. It can be anything that comes to your mind.
  • Outline your call-to-action: Your CTA is fully determined by the goal of your story. Make sure you know what exactly you want your audience to do after hearing or reading the story. This can be buying a product, subscribing for a newsletter, sharing content on social media, donating money, etc. As long as you’re clear about the CTA, it will be easier for you to implement it organically in your story.
  • Select the medium: Typically, when we talk about stories, we mean the written text. Nowadays, the easiest way to tell your story is to create your own blog. However, stories can be told through the variety of other media including video, audio, images (e.g., comics, Instagram Stories, etc.), interactive digital media (like video games).

  • Get creative: When all is set, it’s finally time to get to business. Take your time to write your story and try to be as descriptive as possible. Include the most intriguing details but avoid being exceedingly verbose. Remember that the most memorable stories are concise and easy to follow.

Practice makes perfect

Storytelling is a versatile tool for engaging the audience and promoting your business. However, creating a truly captivating and yet honest story is a challenging task that requires both talent, knowledge, and skill. The latter can only be acquired through diligent work. So if you think that storytelling can help you in any of your undertakings, don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. The more you practice, the better results you will achieve.

Brenda Peterson

Brenda is Technical Specialist at Ning