We’re not talking fantasy or fiction here – we’re talking about authentic business stories.
After all, if fairytales can capture the imaginations of children century after century, and fiction writers can sell blockbusters by the multiple millions, why can’t business people use the very same elements to sell their products and services?
They can, and here’s how.
There are stories everywhere in your business. I pointed out last week that there are stories in your CEO; employees; founder; product or service; success/failure milestones; and customers’ experiences, to name a few. These are sources for authentic stories that will cause your target audience to listen, consider, and ultimately act.
So how exactly do you use these stories to help your business grow?
In a nutshell, stories:
- grab attention
- stimulate the listener by showing them how to act (as demonstrated by the characters in the story)
- then inspire or motivate them to act by allowing them to put 2 + 2 together in their own heads and hearts
When you tell a story that illustrates the core values of your company, you aren’t telling your audience what to do. They figure it out for themselves as they are inspired and motivated.
People will listen to, and maybe even remember, your story. And if they need or want what you offer they’ll take some sort of action, whether it’s researching, contacting, purchasing, bookmarking, or sharing – which is why it’s essential to target those who are most likely to need or want your product or service.
What’s in a story?
Something happens that causes a problem to someone and the story tells how they go about solving the problem.
There are 4 main ingredients in every story:
- A message or theme – what the story is about
- Characters – usually one main character who has the challenge of solving a problem
- A conflict – the problem to be solved
- A plot, or a pathway through the story from beginning to end showing how the conflict was overcome and the problem was solved
By the end of the story things have changed from the way they were at the beginning, and they’ll never be the same again (otherwise nothing has happened).
Here’s a ‘founder story’ about love and loss:
When Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Computers with Steve Wozniak, it grew rapidly and was becoming very successful. A conflict arose internally between himself and another important person, and the Board of Directors sided with the other person. They fired Jobs from the company he had founded and nurtured. He was devastated and humiliated by his loss. After a few months of licking his wounds and soul-searching he picked himself up and continued doing what he knew and loved. He went on to create the NeXTSTEP operating system (upon which the World Wide Web was first built), and built Pixar Studios, which created the world’s first computer-animated film – Toy Story. That’s also where he met his wife. Eventually, Apple started falling apart without the genius of Steve so they bought NeXT and asked him to come back, which he did…on his own terms. The rest is history.
- The story is about love and loss
- Steve Jobs
- Steve Wozniak
- The other important person
- The Board of Apple Computers
- Steve’s wife
- There is a conflict
- between Steve and another person in the company
- Within Steve after he was fired
- He has a problem – no job doing what he loves
- The plot – Steve starts up a successful company, gets fired, is down in the dumps for a while, then goes about solving the problem by doing what he loves and eventually the company that fired him begs him to come back
Here’s a link to a short ‘product story’ video about how Tide, the world’s first heavy-duty synthetic detergent, almost never happened.
- The story is about believing that something can work and persevering against the odds until you succeed
- David Byerly
- The other scientists
- Proctor & Gamble management
- Conflict, or problem
- No results after over 200,000 hours of research
- The project was closed down
- The plot – After big hopes for the idea of a heavy-duty synthetic detergent, but no results, the project was closed down and all the scientists reassigned. But Byerly believed so strongly in the project that he persevered in secret for 4 more years until one day he had a counter-intuitive breakthrough. He presented it to management who were unhappy that he had acted in secret but thrilled at the result. Tide went on to dominate the market and has kept up the spirit of innovation by continuing to be the first in many categories.
These are two high profile examples of stories in business, but there are stories everywhere, big and small.
Every worthwhile product or service solves a problem, addresses a need, or caters to some ‘pain point’ in the marketplace. And because you have a problem to be solved you have the potential for a story, either from the customers point of view, or the company’s.
Storytelling is certainly not the only tool in the leadership, marketing and sales toolbox.
But it is one of the most powerful and effective ways to communicate with other human beings simply because we listen to stories, and we love them.
About the Author: Robin Kirkley helps business owners and companies create remarkable content for their brands so they enjoy a profitable return on their marketing spend.