Brand stories are important for telling people who you are and why that’s important. But when you infuse your stories with real life they become more powerful.
What does storytelling have to do with business?
“Storytelling” is one of those words that is impossibly squishy in a business context. It always conjures up more performance art than industry; more fiction than fact.
But the idea of storytelling as it applies to business isn’t about spinning a yarn or fairytale. Rather, it’s about how your business (or its products or services) exist in the real world: how people use your products—how they add value to people’s lives, ease their troubles, help shoulder their burdens, and meet their needs. Think in those terms when producing customer stories, case studies, or client narratives—so that people can relate to them. In that way, your content is not about “storytelling,” it’s about telling a true story well.
Here’s how to relate the art of storytelling to your business copy:
1. Ask, “What are my customers genuinely interested in knowing about?” As the panel said: The job of marketers is to generate new ideas and pull compelling stories out of their organizations by figuring out what their audience is genuinely interested in seeing and reading or knowing about. Think about what you do, how to tell that story, and how to engage your customers through the stories you tell, said Jeffrey Hayzlett, author of The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing? (Business Plus, 2010), who left his job as Kodak’s chief marketing officer in May.
That’s critical especially for business-to-business companies, which often sell intangible products or services that aren’t intrinsically interesting, but the way people use them are interesting. At Virgin America, for example, the hallmarks of what the brand is known for—leather seats, mood lighting on its aircraft, wireless connectivity—expresses the story, in part, of how the airline goes beyond the ordinary, added Porter Gale, vice-president of marketing at Virgin America.
2. Tell how your products or services live in the world. Actually—don’t just tell: Show. Uncover the real-life instances of how your product lives in the world by looking to your customers for inspiration. “Have their story be your story,” said Cam Balzer, vice-president of marketing for Threadless, a community-driven T-shirt and apparel company.
3. Have their stories be your story. Tell the story of how your products came to be, or how your customers use them. Even if you’re making something less naturally prone to story than customer-designed T-shirts or luxury airlines, your product can still be a source of content.