Storytelling is as old as human civilization. The best stories are ones that take root in the head and the heart, and resonate with the deepest parts of how we see ourselves. For thousands of generations stories are what connect us to each other.
In the 20th centuries, cynical and exploitative marketers realized a good story, like good gossip, could push people into thinking and feeling certain ways. Add in a few manipulative marketing techniques like scarcity or fear and you could create a nearly irresistible drive in your audience to consume. Many of us have evolved beyond this idea of exploitative marketing tied to a consumer culture.
Yet the power of story, and the necessity of marketing, remain.
When done well, storytelling can do a simple thing: connect a business to its audience through an authentic story. As mentioned, this can be engineered, by emotionally manipulating people to buy stuff they don’t really need. Or it can be done sincerely, illustrating where a business or organization is in alignment with its audiences’ values and helping them with their legitimate needs.
THREE Reasons YOU Need a Strong Story
1. A clearly communicated story allows your marketing to have soul and depth.
A clever ad or a clever ad agency isn’t enough. The story the companies I work with are deeper stories about service, connection, truth, and education. But grand ideas and vision need to be rooted in a story of some kind, a trajectory that allows the reader to become enrolled in the larger vision.
This is as true for established companies as it is for those seeking funding — after all, what else do you bring to investors but a story of what might be?
Businesses should invest in developing a clear story. It creates a blueprint to organize a brand, so the brand isn’t scattered and random. This fuels the marketing and content strategy, so that every piece has an intention that feeds and supports the larger vision of the company.
Another advantage is a brand story forces a company to figure out how it wants to be seen by the outside world — and see if that’s realistic. Big Pharma, for instance, has spent many years bombarding us with endless drug ads. And because their actions show us they care more about profit than about health — and have no other story to tell — “the pharmaceutical industry is now the most poorly regarded industry in Americans' eyes, ranking last on a list of 25 industries that Gallup tests annually.” (see Big Pharma Sinks to the Bottom of U.S. Industry Ratings)
2. Heartfelt storytelling is tied to heartfelt companies
Many of the most successful companies in the world have moving stories behind them. There’s a reason that Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Martha Stewart are household names intimately tied to the companies they created. (The satirical Onion said it best on Steve Jobs: Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies.)
These companies are tapped into something bigger than just selling shit. Even if we’re not creating the next Apple we can still ask a simple question: do you want your company to be a product/service, or a vision that inspires your audience?
I know which one I prefer.
But it’s not just me. The most empathetic (read: heartfelt) companies are also the best storytellers, and happen to be the most profitable. The Global Empathy Index shows the most profitable and fastest growing in the world companies have, in one way or another, some kind of soul — or are at least as perceived as having one. (Johnson and Johnson made this list in 2015, yet their involvement in the opioid crisis and the recent $572 million dollar fine against them aren’t going to do them any favors.)
3. Storytelling helps you stand out
Humans are odd creatures. Even at the highest levels, decision-making is much more emotional than it is logical. A good story gives someone an emotional reason to connect with your brand, no matter if that’s to choose to take the kids to Disney instead of Six-Flags, to use Kajabi over Rozuku, or to buy another Apple instead of a much cheaper and more powerful PC.
If you’re a coach, or a CEO, or a yoga teacher — well, so what? Why should I care about what it is you’re doing?
Storytelling helps me make sense of your world and communicates your values and beliefs. If you don’t have a story, well, then you are your service or product. A good story makes us think and feel a certain way, which Harley-Davidson, Nike, and Coca-Cola know very well.
We can do better than strong stories driving us to buy shit we don’t really need.
Contact me if you’d like help with your story.