Stories can bridge the gap between a company and their customers. A good story can convince a customer to choose your product over all the others on offer. A story can bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and investors, recruiters and potential employees and between leaders and colleagues.
Somewhere along the line though, stories became known as brands. Websites started to have sections called “Our Story”, which wasn’t a real story with emotion and characters but a bland company history.
When we hear or read a genuine story that a company tells, we remember it. It feels powerful because we connect with it and the story is memorable because it stands out from the other marketing noise.
Kinda Hall’s Stories That Stick is a great book for understanding how stories can be used and how they should be structured and explains that to bridge the gap successfully, a story must have three elements: attention, influence and transformation.
When an audience gives you their attention, the storytelling process becomes co-creative. The audience fills in the narrative with their own experiences and the story becomes captivating. Once the audience is captivated, their attitude to the story becomes more open as they lose themselves in the storytelling. Audiences show less scrutiny of a story as it becomes more persuasive and they are more likely to adopt the perspectives within it. That transformation can continue after the story has ended.
For a business, that is a powerful marketing tool, particularly as people will want to retell or share that story with others.
But how do you tell a compelling story?
An analysis of TV adverts showed the most popular ads told an actual story and like all stories, they had four common components:
- Identifiable characters: Someone we care about. Not a company or a logo or a brand. If it’s someone we recognise as similar to us then that’s even better.
- Authentic emotion: This can be something as simple as a frustration, wonder or curiosity. It should be something felt by the characters.
- A significant moment: An event or incident that sets the moment aside from what happens before and after. This is when the value or significance of the product or service is realised in the context of the problem it solves. It causes the reader (or viewer) to actively engage with the story and create their own version of it in their mind.
- Specific details: Little things that are relevant to the intended audience that they will recognise. It illustrates how well you know the audience and builds a connection with them.
There are our four types of story a business can tell to engage an audience:
1. The Value Story
This story spans the gap between the problem and the solution. It shouldn’t have too much information or facts about the product because it shouldn’t make your brain work hard to understand the story. People aren’t buying the product, they are buying what it does for them.
You’ll probably recognise the storytelling framework:
- The normal. What is the customer’s problem? How is it making them feel?
- The explosion. How is the product solving the problem? What does using the product feel like?
- The new normal. How is life different after using the product? How does the customer feel now?
2. The Founder Story
When the product or service you offer is essentially the same as everyone else’s, how can you differentiate yourself?
Every business has a founder story. Told right, it can sound like a fairy tale and most importantly, it sounds authentic. Maybe the story is in the effort to get the business started from a dream, or a moment of inspiration that led to an idea.
The founder story can humanise the business by using the four components of an identifiable character (the founder), authentic emotion (frustration, relief, pride), a moment (often this is a specific time like the first sale) and specific details (something your audience will relate to and that will be different if your audience is a potential customer or an investor).
3. The Purpose Story
This is the type of story business leaders need to tell to align or inspire their teams.
As businesses grow, new team members may not be as closely aligned to the original spirit of the company as its founders. Or hard times may mean staff need a reason to keep going.
The purpose story gives people a reason to turn up every day. If the business has a purpose, people will align themselves to it as it gives meaning to their work.
To write an authentic purpose story, be clear on the message you want to deliver. Then think back to when you first learnt that lesson. Weave that into the four components to tell an authentic purpose story.
4. The Customer Story
This type of story is more than a customer review. It is full of credibility and similar to the value story because it should be structured with the normal, the explosion and the new normal.
However, unlike the value story, it is told by the customer in their words and from their perspective. It has the identifiable character, the authentic emotion, the moment and the specific detail.
The key is asking your customers for their story and framing that request in such a way that the story they provide follows the normal/explosion/new normal pattern. Ask your customers to tell you what they were using or doing before switching to your product, what made them willing to try it and how it made them feel.
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Blog post inspired by Hall, Kindra (2021), Stories That Stick. Harper Collins Leadership