How to Master the Art of Business Storytelling

28-May-2019 12:33 PM Content Marketing

Don’t fall behind the trends. Business storytelling is here to stay and it’s time you learned how to craft a compelling narrative for your brand.

“I think what you have to do is put yourself in the shoes of that user and what they’re going through.” - tweet by Buddy Scalera (@BuddyScalera)

If you’re still wondering whether business storytelling is another fad cooked up by marketing MBAs, you’re already late to the game. Marketing wizards have written tomes on the effectiveness of storytelling in business. Startup founders have infected TEDx events with their unique take on storytelling. 

If you’re not telling your story, people have already forgotten you. A story can convey your brand vision better than a boring mission statement.

We’ve already covered the power of business storytelling. Now it’s time to take a look at how to craft a compelling story based on facts and figures.

What makes a good story?

Storytelling is a gift most of us are born with. But like most talents, it has to be nurtured. Somehow, storytelling has been confined to the realm of entertainment only. Advertisers are rediscovering the power of stories to not only entertain but also to engage and educate consumers.

In the traditional sense, storytelling involves characters finding themselves in a setting that serves to further the plot. And then there is the creation of conflict — the part where our emotions get deeply involved — that ends with a resolution.

Not every entrepreneur has the Tolkien-like skill to make this happen.

There’s another way

Business storytelling, on the other hand, follows a slightly different approach. 

First, you identify a problem. A problem that is close to your heart, one that your business can solve. You begin to craft your story with this vital ingredient.

For James Watt and Martin Dickie, industrially brewed ales that dominated the UK market was the problem. They sought to bring the magic of craft beer to the public. BrewDog is now a multinational brewery and pub chain that does business in the millions.

Bringing great restaurants closer to their customers was the problem Will Shu faced. His startup, Deliveroo, recognized that this was indeed a problem faced by office workers in London.   

If you’re running a business, chances are you’ve already identified a problem that needs to be solved.

If not, then what exactly is your business? All that remains is to use a simple story to rephrase the problem in a way the audience better identifies with.

Every story demands a villain, even in business storytelling

Steve Jobs was a master storyteller. He anchored on to the public’s memory of George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984 in the 1984 SuperBowl ad spot when Apple portrayed Big Blue (referring to IBM) as the Big Brother. The problem here, according to Apple, was IBM monopolizing the PC industry.

Before the ad was aired for the first and only time, he made a speech in 1983 where he proclaimed, “IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?''

Enter, the Hero

The most anticipated part of any story, in this case, the storytelling in business, is the arrival of the hero. That one crucial element that turns the tides and wins hearts. 

In business storytelling, the hero is a proxy for the target audience. As someone they can identify and empathize with, the hero holds the key to any successful storytelling.

Jobs depicted Apple as the hero that would save the world from IBM’s monopoly. It’s an entirely different matter that Apple then went on to become the enemy they swore to destroy.

Nonprofits like the Mozilla Foundation have the best hero stories of them all. An entire company dedicated to keeping the internet free and open source — now that’s a powerful story to move the audience. Wikipedia, too, has used the hero narrative with great success. As a result, they find no need to advertise themselves, save for an annual donation drive.

Conflict breeds creativity

Insurance companies have mastered the art of using conflict in their stories very well.

Their ads are filled with imagery that shows our worst fears becoming reality. Your house swept away by a tornado. Your brand new Tesla wrecked in a head-on collision. The ads very effectively use conflict to drive home the utility of their product.

In a conventional story, conflicts are used to further the plot. In business storytelling, conflict alone is enough to deliver your message. Once you’ve communicated the conflict part, you present yourself as the brand with a resolution to the conflict.

Keep the target user in mind

Companies that sell exam-prep materials and mock tests made this mistake early on when they advertised their products to high school students. When growth stagnated, it took some market analysis and field work before they realized they had their target all wrong. It’s the parents they should’ve aimed for since it’s they who take any decision when it comes to their children’s education. The parents and their children tread two different marketing paths with little overlap.

The first stage of every marketing campaign is to identify the buyer persona. Craft your stories to appeal to this persona. More importantly, identify the language this target demographic speaks. It’s highly inappropriate to use a dank meme to advertise your hip-replacement product. It’s also very stupid to use ‘20s anecdotes in your story that is aimed at millennials. They just won’t get it.

Keep your brand image in mind

Brands often make the mistake of trying to appeal themselves to an audience that obviously doesn’t care for their products. A Gucci meme campaign is the last thing you want to see on your social media feed. There’s nothing more cringey than seeing a luxury brand stooping to the level of using memes. The medium you use to tell your story is just as important as the story. When in doubt, consult a professional who knows around the business of storytelling in business.

There’s a reason we call storytelling art. It’s not a technique, strategy or just another marketing fad. And like all art, you need an artist to craft your business story.