From selling success to truth, transparency and trust, Rob Wozny, author of Storytelling for Business, offers guidance on the power of effective storytelling
Nothing sells and tells a story quite like the story of success. If your customers are benefiting from your products, services, or information, share the stories of how your customers’ lives have become better as a result of your business.
When working in the agriculture industry, we’d profile producers who used certain products from my clients that yielded greater results or how the products solved a longstanding and time-consuming problem. New customers who could relate were ‘sold’ because they saw themselves in their peers and wanted the same results.
Online entrepreneur, Stu McLaren, has built an impressive online business that teaches entrepreneurs how to build their own membership sites by helping people transform what they know and love into recurring revenue. At the core of what McLaren markets is impactful and meaningful storytelling by consistently and relentlessly showcasing the success of his clients.
For example, in his marketing emails, he’ll copy and paste social media posts from customers who sing his company’s praises. Additionally, he’ll interview successful clients who’ve done well from his programmes. In a recent webinar, McLaren said this about the power of storytelling: ‘The stories of people experiencing your progress in your business are the most powerful marketing asset you can have – hands down.’
Jeff Walker, who pioneered the way millions of people sell their products and services online with his Product Launch Formula, extols the value of storytelling in his bestselling book, Launch, stating, ‘if you want to make your business and marketing memorable, then your marketing needs to tell a story’.
If storytelling for business supports the growth of your business with new and repeat customers, business continuity is what will keep them coming back. Internally, consistent storytelling keeps your employees engaged with company narratives and cultural showcases. Even on a more functional level, for example, training videos for employees require a narrative (a ‘why’), and with it, you strengthen your engagement, which in turn keeps the business running behind the scenes.
No matter where you are on the storytelling continuum, the buy-in you get, literally and figuratively, will often come from how organically your stories are developed and delivered. You can’t fake authenticity, and that’s underscored with storytelling. Your stakeholders, many that know your business as well as or better than you do, can spot manufactured or disingenuous stories. If you’re going to invest in telling your story, keep it real, showcasing a problem or opportunity that really exists, and where possible, including the real stakeholders involved.
Tell the truth, be transparent, and your business will be trustworthy. I’m not suggesting you have to open your financial records to the media but consider opening up more on the personal side of your business.
Admittedly, there is a fair bit of risk with admitting vulnerability, and if you’re in crisis mode that will become even harder to consider. If you attempt any level of subterfuge in your storytelling for your business, you will run a greater risk of having your story exposed as inaccurate or embellished to make an exaggerated point or deflect away from an inconvenient problem you may be working through.
Truth, transparency, and trust also matter when you’re telling a success story for your business. However, state your intentions – even as a call to action – so your customers understand why they’re investing their time to consume your content. Otherwise, you run the risk of exploiting the goodwill of your content, and in the process, losing trust.
Depending on the size and scope of your business, you may have more options and storytellers at your disposal to tell your story. Resist the urge to include multiple messages and meanings within your story. Choosing a story structure can guide you in keeping the story of your business focused. For example, if the objective of your story is to solve a problem, examine if you really need to get into explaining the symptoms of that problem as that may make the solution harder to understand. If your customers have found the story about why you’re trying to solve a problem, it’s because they’re most likely currently experiencing the symptom, and don’t necessarily need to revisit their frustration. Narrow your narrative, set the scene, and solve the problem simply.
I once worked with an organisation that would tell its story when tragedy struck someone in the community, in most cases, fatally. You might think it’s insensitive to do so during such grief, but for this organisation, its primary reason for existing is to prevent additional tragedies and further grief. And as hard as it is to engage stakeholders during such a difficult time, it’s also the most opportune time to tell stories that emphasise prevention, as people that are normally distracted with so much other ‘noise’ are listening and watching intently with others in their community. Again, be transparent and truthful in your storytelling intentions, and your stakeholders will understand why you’re inserting your organisation into the public discourse of a sensitive subject.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, not only did some companies choose not to produce any stories about their businesses, but many also shut down their operations completely as it was the right thing to do at the time to stop the spread of the virus in their communities.
However, some remained ‘tone deaf’ to the circumstances. By way of example, I remember one sport and leisure company located in a community hit hard by Covid, including significant deaths, producing content about how their products would be an ideal
distraction. As you can imagine, the insensitivity of ‘enjoying’ leisure equipment while others were fighting for their lives, was not well received. No one could fault this business for trying to survive during tough times, but the timing of telling their story could have been better, saving their stories of customers experiencing relief for when the threat of Covid wasn’t as severe.
This is an edited excerpt from Storytelling for Business by Rob Wozny, published by Practical Inspiration Publishing.
For more than 25 years, storytelling has been at the core of everything Rob Wozny has accomplished as a senior journalist, content strategist, and proven business communicator.
BGA members can benefit from a 20% discount on a copy of Storytelling for Business. Please visit the BGA Book Club for details.
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