The art of telling stories may have started with bedtime tales told to little ones, but has evolved over decades to find a place in corporations and businesses. Increasingly adopted by successful executives and industry leaders, the art of storytelling is nowadays even being taught to the broader corporate world, to help them win more clients and close more deals. It has also proven its worth for marketing executives and advertising moguls, who need to create stories in various shapes and forms very frequently to further their cause.
The power of stories is not surprising, once you understand the role they play in people's lives. Isn't it true that we feel closer to a person we have just met, once we have heard a story from them? After all, we conduct business with people, not brands or faceless companies.
Elements of a powerful story
A good story must have a setting that's believable, characters that are well defined, relatable and yet aspirational and an evocative tension or conflict followed by a resolution. This makes it capable of evoking a broad range of human emotions. The art lies in weaving stories using all of the above elements and in establishing authentic and meaningful relationships between settings and characters. At its most potent, a story could create not only a business deal, but even a religion!
How stories work their magic
Why exactly do stories exert such influence on us? Perhaps the most compelling evidence is provided by science, through the understanding of how stories trigger the hormones that control our emotional life. It turns out that the range of hormones released during a story covers almost the entire gamut of human emotions.
A good setting that establishes warm relationships and familiar, well-defined characters, releases the hormone Oxytocin, which promotes empathy, trust and comfort. It helps to build long lasting relationships and connections, a great enabler in personal or professional settings.
During stressful or action-packed parts in the story during conflicts, the stress hormone cortisol and the action hormone adrenaline are released, which increase focus, energy and attention. When you're conducting business with clients or customers, that's what you want the most!
Finally, resolution of conflicts and happy endings release the hormone dopamine, which promotes hope and optimism. Studies have shown that people are willing to spend more and give more when they are feeling hopeful and optimistic.
Storytelling in business
Stories have been used in myriad ways in business settings. Advertisers have been particularly good in realizing their potential. Think of a TV commercial or even a print ad that recently caught your attention. Did it have a setting, character(s), a conflicting situation and a resolution? Most likely it did, and that's the power of stories to get people's attention and evoke emotions.
Stories are also a source of high-quality content for businesses to promote themselves. This day and age belongs to those businesses who can catch people's attention by creating quality content in the form of blogs, videos, e-books, etc. Even in a company's PR efforts, having a good story around your business, management, clients and users gives you a much better chance of being featured. Content marketing and PR campaigns become more effective when you master the art of storytelling.
An interesting 'About Us' page is perhaps the first place where a business puts its story, and where potential clients go to find out more about the people who run the business. If you can write your story in a way that emotionally connects with your site visitors, the chances of them converting to potential clients is much higher.
Another relevant place to look for how businesses have used stories to sell their products is Kickstarter. A campaign that does well and meets or exceeds its goal has usually gotten the 'story' part of their business or product right. They provide a setting, a conflict facing the potential users, and then present a solution - their product. It's a perfect example of businesses promoting themselves and attracting investors through powerful stories.
The most influential leaders of today all have powerful stories about why they chose their current path, how they converted a hopeless situation into a triumphant saga, and how they made a difference to the lives of many. Elon Musk has a story built around conquering the most challenging problems facing the world. Richard Branson's story involves building an empire from scratch and succeeding in the face of adversity. Steve Jobs was known to organize exclusive media events to unveil new Apple products and regale journalists and partners with stories about the making of his products. Bill Gates now uses his blog as his voice, to tell stories about the many philanthropic causes he supports. There are many more examples of business leaders using stories to connect with their employees, investors, business partners, government officials and of course with consumers.
So, what's your story going to be?