This morning, I attended a business breakfast and the keynote speaker was Kate Weiss, the Co-Founder and CEO of Table of Plenty. The promotion for the event said Kate would share her experiences as a health food entrepreneur. I was expecting Kate to give a Powerpoint presentation outlining the key steps she took to grow her business. Instead, Kate had one holding slide showing her brand. For 30 minutes, she stood at the podium and told us her story. It was not a carefully crafted corporate message outlining the key selling points of her product. The story was deeply personal: a story of love, loss, creativity and triumph. I was captivated. I won’t paraphrase Kate’s story, you can read it on her website.
The Science of Storytelling
I recently read Stories for Work by Gabrielle Dolan. The book discusses the science of story telling and is a guide on how to effectively use storytelling as a business strategy. In brief, the human brain is hardwired to love a good story. The brain releases the hormone Oxytocin (commonly referred to as the love hormone), when we hear stories. When Oxytocin is released, we feel trust and that builds credibility for the storyteller. This is important in business because emotions drive our decision-making. When consumers evaluate a brand they ask themselves many questions including:
- Do I like this brand?
- Should I purchase this brand?
- Do others like me choose this brand?
The higher the stakes, the more questions a buyer will ask. So a person buying a new car will evaluate more deeply than someone buying a new dish cloth.
Why Storytelling is Clever Brand Strategy
In a crowded and competitive market place storytelling is a clever marketing strategy. Being likeable and trustworthy is a competitive edge that can’t be easily replicated by your competitors. When evaluating two brands with similar features, similar benefits, similar price a customer will often choose the one they like the most. And good storytelling is a great way to be likeable.
How To Tell A Likeable Story
Gabrielle Dolan says stories must have two critical components:
If you’ve travelled on public transport, you’ve probably sat next to someone who has ‘enthralled’ you with their personal anecdotes. Those types of experiences often leave you wondering “why did you tell me that?” Stories without purpose are boring and confusing.
The standard structure of a story is:
One of the most critical components at the end of a story is the denouement. In fiction, the denouement is “the final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.” A good business story must have a denouement too. You must draw together the strands of your story so it has purpose. You don’t want your brand to sound like that person on the bus no-one wants to sit next to!
Pre-social media and the digital realm, marketing and communications specialists spent their days carefully crafting a brand story they felt would look good in the marketplace. Of course, every business wants to present itself professionally but there are some limitations to the pre-fabricated approach:
- It lacks emotion. As mentioned above, storytelling builds trust and credibility. An overly crafted message often lacks honesty and emotion and therefore does not come across as authentic.
- It’s not transparent. In the digital realm, consumers can share information about your brand via social media and review sites. Marketing does not have full control over the message, customers have and share more influence. If the brand message does not match the customer’s experience, they will let you (and 500 Facebook friends) know about it.
- You can’t bank on it. Sharing stories creates empathy with customers. If they know and like your brand, they will be more forgiving when something goes wrong. For example, they might think twice about writing a one-star review based on one bad experience if they know you’re a hard working family business rather than a faceless corporation.
Storytelling Requires Courage
It requires courage to reveal aspects of your work and life to tell an authentic and purposeful story. Once it is in the public domain, it is known and can’t be unknown. In her book Daring Greatly, author Brene Brown talks about the difference between being vulnerable and oversharing. Being vulnerable is being prepared to share stories that have purpose and enrich the lives of your audience. Oversharing is blurting out information that should only be confided in an intimate environment. As a litmus test, if it feels uncomfortable to share or it’s unresolved, don’t put it out there. But if you think others can gain from your experience, take the leap of faith, share your story and build an authentic and credible brand.
Talk to us today if you would like to know more about how story telling can help you build an authentic and credible brand.
- Stories for Work, Gabrielle Dolan, 2017
- Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, 2012