In 2014, a journalist named Shane Snow wrote an article with the headline, "Why Storytelling Will Be the Biggest Business Skill of the Next 5 Years."
Well, five years later, I'm happy to say Shane was right. Very often I find that the difference between success and failure in today's business world is a company's ability to effectively tell its story.
Find Your True Story …
A surprising number of business leaders don't even realize they have a story. Often that's because they're wearing so many different hats, and so focused on solving the problem that's immediately in front of them, that they lose sight of the company's larger story arc as it unfolds.
If you're one of those business leaders and struggling to find your company's story, here's the first thing to understand: We're not talking about making up a story. It has to be true.
That's the whole point.
Really, it's about communicating with your customers, your vendors and your employees about the passion that led you to start the business in the first place — and how you've progressed from that blue-sky starting point to where you are today.
… And Your True Voice
As important as it is to tell a true story, it's equally important to tell that story using a genuine voice rather than generic corporate-speak. You want people to know that when they engage with your company, they're engaging with real people.
Storytelling lays the foundation that enables individual marketing messages to resonate. It also builds a bridge to your company. If a marketing message drives someone to your website, you have to be sure there's a consistent tone between that message and your company's broader story.
Having that foundational story helps your audience understand you. And the better they understand you, the more likely they are to become loyal customers.
A Storytelling Story
Maybe all this sounds kind of abstract and pie-in-the-sky. Fair enough. Let me try to make it real by sharing an actual storytelling experience I had with a client.
Recently, we worked with a health screening company to develop a training resource for their employees that were spread across the continental USA. While every employee was doing their job, they each were doing it a little differently and so management was starting to notice a much wider spectrum of client experiences. They hired us to help hone their message and define their process so that all employees could execute the same without losing their personality.
In developing that story resource, we created testimonial videos from some of the company's long-time customers. One of the surprise benefits that our client shared with us was that not only were these testimonials and training resources great for the sales and HR department, but their entire team was encouraged and would share these inspiring stories in team meetings and other culture-building events. For many employees, those testimonials crystalized the why of their jobs and not just the how. It made them realize they were doing rewarding, important work that had a positive impact on people.
All because of effective storytelling.
Normally I hate it when someone gives away the ending of the story. But in this case, I'm pleased to provide a spoiler: Many companies that have found their storytelling voice are seeing improved job satisfaction among their employees and a new way to relate to both current and potential customers. What a happy ending.
Andrew Cardy is Cofounder and Visual Storyteller at Siskey Productions. He gave a presentation called "Every Business Has a Story: How to Discover Yours and Tell It Well" at the 2019 Business Fundamentals Bootcamp in Jacksonville, Florida, hosted by Pete Denholm, Managing Director of Supporting Strategies | Northeast Florida.