Break the Rules of Boring Business Storytelling
Updated: Apr 27
Create Stories Your Customers Will Love There are myths about business storytelling that need to be broken: Myth #1 — Business stories are boring.
Myth #2 — Storytelling does not apply to my industry.
Myth #3 — My business does not have “good” stories to tell. We want to attract customers with interesting and REAL stories. In product marketing, it is the art of taking something inanimate and making a human connection with them. We want to craft business stories that are going to stand out in a tsunami of content. Emotion How DO we connect to stories? We do this on an emotional level. We remember stories, we don’t remember facts. Except maybe this one — 90% of purchasing decisions are based on emotions. “Stories stimulating positive emotions are more widely shared than those eliciting negative feelings, and content that produces greater emotional arousal (making your heart race) is more likely to go viral. This means that content that makes readers or viewers feel a positive emotion like awe or wonder is more likely to take off online than content that makes people feel sad or angry.” — Scientific American Disney Who tugs on those emotional heartstrings the best? Disney. Does Disney have a hard-and-fast formula for emotional story success? You betcha. Character — At the heart of every film Disney and Pixar make, are the characters; they’re the individuals we follow on the journey of every story. We need to craft entire stories around a character. Let’s call them the “Hero”. That hero is not your company, nor is it your product. The hero of your story is your customer. Who are they? What makes them tick? Do they have flaws? Sure. Things that aren’t working in their business? You bet. Here’s the big question, “Will your potential and other existing customer relate to your character easily?” Drama — There’s no emotion without drama. Did a customer just achieve a great win? Did they save crazy amounts of time with your product or service on something they used to do manually? Did they face roadblocks to achieving success? Is software implementation an arduous process, but worth it in the end? You don’t need to make it crazy complicated, just make it real. Ending — Your audience needs closure. It doesn’t need to always be a happy ending, but it does need a call to action. After all, there’s a reason you’re telling stories to begin with. You want your customers to DO something, like download, opt-in, follow, sign up for a free trial, or ask to speak with a sales rep. Experiential We’ve all seen and heard about VR headsets, and AR with Pokemon Go, and Wizards Unite. But in business? Don’t’ doubt their use in business. Kids play All. The. Time. Adults like to too. Experiential is immersive storytelling. Because VR storytelling is interactive, it allows your customer to be both involved in the message and to live it out in real time. As a technology that enables a 360-degree visually immersive experience, VR is changing the way in which information is processed and categorized. This information revolution is being embraced by news publications, governments, advertisers, filmmakers, and corporations. Maybe armchair AR will work for you, like it has for the Weather Channel. Until recent years with hurricanes and earthquakes, the weather was perhaps the most boring part of the news. If your product isn’t glamorous or flashy, what can you do to spice up your storytelling? Put your customer, or even your narrator into VR/AR.
Enjoyment (Humour) We love stories that make us laugh.
What do people pick? Marketers pick keywords, and people pick their noses. Why not put them together and create something hilarious? The comparison could continue in long-form blog posts about digging for gold and finding the keywords that will separate you from your competitors. Failure Can Be Funny People, whether our customers, our developers, and our marketers, are not infallible. Everyone drops the ball at some point. We’re only human. Failure is part of our growth as individuals in our jobs, our companies, and our daily lives. Sometimes that failure can be hysterical. When told with the right voice and tone, we share part of ourselves that makes us unique. Telling stories about our failures also builds trust with our customers. If you don’t have a “good” story to tell, tell a bad one! Doug Kessler — #Insane Honesty Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners tells stories about what he calls #InsaneHonesty. When your organization knows who it is, right down to its ugly core, and tells it in stories, guaranteed it will set you apart in that Tsunami of Content.
Source: Hans Brinker Budget Hotel Enjoyment doesn’t just come from failure. When you put two things together in a story that don’t ordinarily go together, your customers will enjoy and remember it. Opposites Attract Take Valentine’s Day. What do you and your sweetie get each other? Jewellery, flowers, a quiet dinner out, or do you carve your initials into a tree with a heart around it? (Please don’t hurt the trees). What don’t you give them? Appliance or cleaning suppies. Cisco took their ASR9000 router, which by any account is NOT a romantic gift, and paired it with Valentine’s Day. They used this story in a video “A Special Valentine’s Day Gift… from Cisco.” Want to surprise that special someone? Give them a router. Examples/Educate Some of you might be sitting back saying, “oh, here we go, case studies, and success stories. Everyone does them. They’re boring.” But your competition doesn’t have YOUR customers, and each of them has their own unique story and blend of experiences. These are ways to increase your brand’s perception by building authentic trust. Potential customers want to know who already works with you and why. They want to know if someone else has had the same pain and how you helped them. Case Studies Case studies are a perfect way to showcase your stories in long-form. Incorporate emotion and enjoyment so people really connect with your story and your brand. It’s been said so many times, but keep your customer as the focus. Go beyond the data and statistics to create something thought-provoking. Without “pitching” your product as the solution to every problem and talking to your niche market(s) you’ll quickly become THE authoritative voice in your industry. Success Stories — Customer-led stories Those things you don’t really want to write about, like a failure or how awful one of your company’s experiences was, lays the foundation for a success story. From something you said or did wrong, how a product may have really missed the mark, or even how your product was used in a completely unintended way — there are consequences AND lessons. Share those lessons. An authentic brand makes for authentic customer experiences. There are four key things to remember for your next success story.
Tell the story from your customer’s perspective — Let them LEAD it. If you tell the story with YOU as the focus you’ll lose credibility and the value of the story is lowered.
Tell the truth in all its ugly glory — Don’t ever get caught in fictional data, misrepresentation, or lies. Guaranteed they WILL come back to bite you in the bottom.
Use it as a teachable moment — There’s no point to sharing something that didn’t work if you don’t share what you learned from it. Show that thought leadership. What impact did it have? How did things change for your customer?
Storytelling connection — Your success STORY should have a beginning, middle, and end. Like any story it should have action. When, how, and why did it happen? And universal appeal to give them a reason to connect to your story.
John Deere John Deere is known for agricultural, forestry, and construction equipment. The company was founded in 1837. Let that sink in for a minute. They’ve been in business for 182 years. Is it the product they sell? Will there always be a market for it? Isn’t there competition? Of course, there is. The single, solitary, only thing that John Deere does differently is storytelling. They have a few publications like the Homestead Magazine, The Furrow, The Dirt, and the Landing, with, how-to’s, farming issues, about their people, interesting things their customers have done and found, anything not directly pitching their products. They are trusted because they are authentic. From their website, “On August 15, 1942, less than a year after the United States entered World War II, Deere & Company issued a bulletin to John Deere employees and dealers and their employees. “The War Department,” it stated, “has asked us and our dealers to form a U.S. Army Battalion, made up entirely of men enlisted from our organization, for service as a maintenance unit for keeping mechanized combat equipment constantly in order at an established base.”
These things have zero to do with farm equipment, and everything to do with how their customers see their brand. By providing real-life stories about the people who use their products, they’ve managed to thrive. Are there new lawnmowers, thrashers, balers, and new features on each? Naturally. Although you can browse through the product pages, it’s the stories that make the company as great as it is. Evolution What about Evolution? The structure of evolution is the answer to the question, “what do you want the audience to know, and when?” If you get the order wrong, it could be a real problem. What if Elsa from Disney’s Frozen had embraced her powers right from the start instead of hiding them? There wouldn’t have been any conflict or a problem she needed to solve. Her story needed to evolve, much like your business stories. If you start with the customer outcome right away, they may not understand the benefits of what you’re talking about. So, customer Triple A bought product XYZ from you. That’s the outcome. That does not tell the whole story. Remember the success story beginning, middle, and end? You need that. And it’s okay for your business stories to evolve along with your brand. You will get better at it. Bonus — Easy Whatever your story, make it easy for your customer to follow. Don’t throw around complicated tech terms or complex regulations. Give them a reason to talk to you about that sort of thing. Make it easy to navigate, with your call to action at the end. They’ll thank you. Experts agree: Seth Godin — “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.” Philip Pullman — “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Dale Carnegie — “Your purpose is to make your audience see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Relevant detail, couched in concrete, colorful language, is the best way to recreate the incident as it happened and to picture it for the audience.”