Storytelling has the unique power to move people and make your brand stand out. There is no question that storytelling in business will remain ever more important for standing out, as it becomes increasingly easier to set up a small business. This guide explains the hows and whys of storytelling, before exploring six simple tips which you can use today for your business story.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou
How storytelling affects our psychology
Paul J. Zak, an American neuroeconomist, founded the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies (CNS) drawing on various disciplines to develop a comprehensive understanding of human decisions. Over the past decade, the CNS has focused on researching “why stories can move us to tears, change our attitudes, opinions, and behaviors, and even inspire us”. Much of the research has centered on the neurochemical, oxytocin. Oxytocin enhances our sense of empathy – the ability to experience others’ emotions and increases compassion.
Interestingly, when participants of a study are shown a video with a relatable character-driven story, the brain makes oxytocin. The amount of oxytocin synthesized by the brain, in turn, is a strong predictor of how much people were willing to help each other.
The human brain loves stories because we are social creatures. Stories are essential to our social life–they are an effective way to pass on important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Zak stresses that more personal and emotionally compelling stories engage the brain more, and are more memorable than simply stating facts.
So what makes an effective story? Zak contends that the best stories continually increase in tension, hence keeping the audience’s attention. Once the audience is sufficiently focused, we get emotionally invested in a story. Soon, we begin to resonate with the story’s characters–a stage narratologists call “transportation”, where we are transported into the characters’ world.
Why storytelling is important in business
Naturally, this simple psychological fact has applications in business too. Your story is an opportunity to connect with your customers, pique curiosity, and make your brand more memorable. By telling a story, you offer your audience a new perspective. You give them context for your ideas and tell them more about who you are as a person. It makes you all the more human.
Capturing the attention of your target audience is no easy feat. But once you’ve mastered the art of business storytelling, people are much more likely to feel an emotional connection. In turn, people are more motivated to take action to learn more about your products and services. A good story can also help keep customers interested in you in the long haul.
We’re more likely to remember powerful stories, like that of Yankee Candle Company: in 1969, 16-year-old Michael Kittredge didn’t have the money to buy his mom a Christmas gift, so he ended up making a scented candle using canning wax, red crayons, kitchen string, and a milk cartons. His neighbor saw the candle and offered to buy it – and with the profit, he made two more candles. He started designing and handcrafting candles in his family’s kitchen. Eventually, with his father’s help, he opened a small retail shop. This was the humble beginning of one of the largest manufacturers and retailers of scented candles, with close to a billion in revenue every year and over 500 retail stores.
Where to use stories
Storytelling can easily be used for various forms of content, such as your social media posts, blog posts, guides, and the “About Us” page on your website–to name a few. You could even use your brand story in your brand communications guide, sales handbook, or pitch for investors.
6 tips for storytelling in business
Here at Ampjar, we have studied the best practices for storytelling in business. To help you with business storytelling, we’re now sharing these tips as well as words of wisdom from some of the best storytellers in our community.
1.Reflect on your ‘why’
Come up with an honest and authentic list of reasons why your business exists. It’s essential to have a clear mission and vision in order to tell a story that is consistent. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Why did I start this business?
Why do I see a need for this product/service?
Why am I the best person to run this business?
Example: Ink and Spindle
Ink and Spindle is a brand that makes ready-made and customized textiles. Their designs are hand-printed and their textiles are ethically sourced. Everything about their products is transparently written on their website–from their inspiration, to their ethos on sustainability, to their production process.
We love how clear their mission is:
“Rather than following trends, we design textiles that will fit in your life for many years to come. We are inspired by Australia’s native flora & fauna and aim to respect our environment through all that we do.”
This is the seed of their origin story and is emphasized across all their content.
Finding your raisond’être really helps with our second tip..
2. Be authentic
We are sensitive to honesty and authenticity around us. We’re more likely to buy yoga mats from a passionate yogi who walks and talks positivity and mindfulness, than someone who hawks them without heart.
Example: Joy Creative Shop
Steph Weibring is a creative consultant, graphic designer, and custom paper goods creator. If that sounds like a lot, she’s even a mom of three! Her personal brand is all about celebrating joy, spreading gratitude and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
Superstars like her are not afraid of being vulnerable online – despite the hustle, she comes from a perspective of gratitude, which is core to her brand.
We have seen how important it is to get your audience emotionally invested in your story. And being authentic is one of those ways to spark emotions in your audience. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and to share your feelings without hesitation. We love stories like the origination of Yankee Candle, simply because it seems so unabashedly human and honest.
3. Be concise
“Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.”
– Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Storytelling in business shouldn’t take many words. The Yankee Candle story, for instance, can be told in a few sentences.
People have a limited attention span so the shorter, the better.
4. Use customers in your story
Customers can feature as characters in your story. Featuring customers is great for business storytelling because you’re sharing something relatable for your audience–who are all potential customers.
Do you remember our Ampjar rebrand story? If you read it, you likely remember the little anecdote about one customer who went out to sea and had the boat turned back so she could approve the campaign, and get back to sea.
5. Know your audience
While it is important to have a clear audience in mind for your business, this is all the more important in business storytelling. For instance, The Wing’s vision to create a female-focused co-working empire and use of third-wave feminist catchphrases in their social media may not resonate with everyone.
When thinking about your audience, you could ask yourself the following questions:
Who am I speaking to? This could be answered in terms of more traditional demographics like age, gender, and location, but can also be more fluid traits such as interests, hobbies, and shopping habits.
Why would my audience care?
What motivates my audience?
What captures my audience’s attention?
What makes my audience laugh?
Example: Barefoot Blonde
Barefoot Blonde is a clothing brand that is so, so much more. Their clothes are designed by besties on the beautiful Gold Coast for traveling souls and bohemian hearts. Everything, from their online store to their Pinterest page, appeals to the modern day barefoot, free-spirited woman.
Their About Us page screams authenticity, passion, and love for fashion. It writes:
“Barefoot Blonde Collection represents a love of carefree exploration, relaxation, and travel.
Mel and Nat, creative directors and best friends for over 20 years met in their first job working on the drive-through at Hungry Jacks.
Besties from the start, their lust for life, hardworking nature and love for fashion kept them connected over the years.
Both spent their early twenties exploring the world. Mel, an entrepreneur at heart, has run several thriving businesses creating an enviable lifestyle. Nat studied film & TV, working in the field in London before taking a more corporate structure back in Oz. Whilst their careers took very different paths, they studied fashion together several years ago and finally turned their dream into a reality.
Barefoot Blonde Collection design their pieces in Australia and ethically produce their designs in Bali, Indonesia. Quantities are provided in small batches and replenished if in demand meaning minimal impact on the environment.
Their bohemian designs are made from quality materials and created as easy to wear pieces for weekend wandering, holiday dreaming and festival frolicking.
They have always been of the belief that you can’t put a price on feeling good and hope you love wearing the collection as much as they enjoy creating them.”
Barefoot Blonde’s creative collection names–such as Savannah, Paradisos, and Dawn & Dusk–appeal to the adventurous soul. Besides compelling copy that’s tailored for their audience, Barefoot Blonde posts stunning photos where their clothing is beautifully styled, with the backdrop of exotic destinations. Just take a look at their Instagram page.
6. Have a clear ending in mind
Your audience wants to feel rewarded for staying till the end. After getting them all excited and invested in your story, you need to highlight some actionable steps that will benefit them.
Pitching to your audience about your product or service is only effective to a limited extent. If you’ve captivated them with your story, you have the perfect opportunity to talk to them about their needs on a personal, emotional level. Instead of leaving them empty-handed, you can offer them personal growth and learning.
Related: We’re loving the Scotch Porter story, which showcases how Calvin’s early memories of being in his mom’s barbershop informed his successful online retail business.
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