“Companies don’t sell products, they sell stories,” as the phrase goes. Today’s consumers need more than showy stuff to entice them, as their Instagram feeds are already flooded with glossy photographs of the latest luxurious loungewear, NFL merch, dating tips, etc. Create a sense of community and connection with your customers by telling a narrative. Just like Ancestry.com promises that “behind every inquiry is a story”, Jack Daniels claims to have “turned nights into stories since 1866”. “Make the forest part of your family’s story,” says the US Forest Service.
Of course, narrative may also become a corporate cliché, a gimmick used by entrepreneurs to appear contemporary. Shrewd customers and investors will likely tune out after hearing again another warm and fuzzy invocation of business values wrapped in a tired yarn. Too many businesses promote “stories” without substance or commitment, based on a poor knowledge of this subtle communication approach. To build meaningful relationships, entrepreneurs need to think carefully about what storytelling is and how to do it well.
Let the result speaks for you
This was probably your creative writing teacher’s favorite lesson. It’s not like writing an English paper; you don’t need a thesis statement in the first paragraph, and you don’t want to bombard your audience with multisyllabic terms. Good storytellers demonstrate rather than tell. Use stories instead of arguments and examples instead of conclusions. Then your copy will come alive.
Avoid retelling same old story
Despite the emphasis on innovation and disruption, we love clichés. LinkedIn is like playing word Mad Libs. Are we about to witness the rise of yet another flailing startup turned serial entrepreneur? Remove the turtleneck and convey your narrative, not Steve Jobs’. Celebrate your company’s unique heritage or road to success. Embrace your uniqueness, not your predictability.
Storytelling fosters bonding. Dollar Shave Club used a comedic monologue to turn a dull issue (pun intended), razors, into an edgy tale. Consider how Dogfish Head Brewery, situated in Milton, Delaware, relates its beers to the Grateful Dead. These aren’t just marketing choices; they convey a company’s human reality in a way that connects.
… But not too real
You want to be genuine with your consumers and investors, but not overshare. It’s a delicate line that requires practice to find. The more you play with a tale, the more you’ll notice the elements that give it life and humanity, and the ones that don’t.
Identify your values
So far, so good, right? You build a community with customers and investors. Everyone wants that, but unless the stories you tell mirror your underlying principles, they will likely unravel. Good stories reflect and create our ideals; they help us understand ourselves and others. Consider the jewelry brand Dannijo, which promotes its philanthropic efforts by stating that its “label is built in philanthropy”. Again, cliché, but notice how the writer(s) weave products and ideals into a story: “In 2007, we launched a fundraising campaign for the first health clinic in Lwala, Kenya. Danielle’s time in Kenya informed the brand’s distinctive Maasai-inspired bib necklace collection, use of vivid hues, and striking aesthetic”. Short and to the point.
It’s not enough to praise your philanthropic efforts. If you can’t relate it to your life, morals, and stories it’s phony Be reflective on your principles as an entrepreneur and an enterprise before giving a repetitive corporate story. Meet with interested parties. Recognize your origins and destination. The best stories will follow.
Focus on your audience
The best storytellers respond to their audience, changing style, tone, and storyline to satisfy — or challenge — their expectations and reactions. The zeitgeist, like the feel of a room, can influence or stymie an approach. Consider Tushy, a newcomer selling portable bidets. Posts about George Floyd’s death in 2020 were smeared with toilet humor. “We mourn alongside George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and AhmaudArbery’s families. Fight on. “We got your back”, one said. Not reading the room? As such, be flexible in your approach. No one tale or one way of telling it. Keep in mind your mother’s golden rule: if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything.
Identify our customers’ values as well
What happens when a tale connects with an investor or a customer for life? Why is that? It’s part magic, part elemental connection at the level of values, and part magic. Consider the 2015 John Lewis Insurance YouTube video, in which the camera follows a tiny girl dancing about the house, nearly crashing with vases and potted plants. The company focuses on values that connect us to truly valuable things. With the correct insurance, people might feel liberated, turning a dismal chore into something uplifting. Focus on your clients’ ideals and craft a story from there.