The power of corporate storytelling
Business Writing That Sells. Part 7
I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at the power of corporate storytelling to really connect with your customers.
Isn’t that what your parents used to accuse you of when you were being economical with the truth, stretching it – or telling outright lies? Is that why a lot of business owners shy away from storytelling? Do they feel it’s something best left behind in childhood, along with hopscotch and conkers? Or are they wary of any message that isn’t data-driven, fact-oriented and results-based INFORMATION?
But telling stories isn’t just the preserve of Pinnochio; you might also have heard of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling. Four pretty famous storytellers who have nothing in common other than a shared ability to capture our imagination and connect with what it means to be human. What it means to be alive.
Your Customers Are Human
Here’s something that any business owner should remember: every single one of your paying customers is a human being. And human beings have brains that are hardwired to receive information as stories. That’s why our species has gathered around the campfire for millennia to experience the myths and legends passed down by word of mouth through the generations.
The campfire has now been replaced by the computer screen, but we still flock to its light to ‘hear’ stories. Why else do you think regularly trending items on the internet include what name the next royal baby might have; which Hollywood star is dating which pop star; and what their ex has to say about it? It isn’t because these things intrinsically matter, but because they interest ‘us’. And by ‘us’, I mean the general public – your customers.
The most successful business people and entrepreneurs know how to tap into this thirst for stories – or they employ writers and marketing execs who do. Richard Branson is arguably the highest profile British business leader today. Despite an out-of-date goatee and bad taste in jumpers, he remains an iconic business leader because he has communicated his story so effectively.
Let’s just look at Richard Branson: The Early Years from two perspectives:
1) Man signs musician to his record label; offers him a car as incentive to perform; goes on to become one of the richest business people in the world.
2) In 1971, a young entrepreneur – Richard Branson – borrowed £30,000 off his aunt to make his name in the music industry. As an underdog battling the established labels and their stranglehold on the charts, Branson discovered a talented 18-year-old session musician, Mike Oldfield. He backed Oldfield to produce what would become one of the most famous albums of the 20th Century. But celebrity didn’t come easy to Oldfield, who was reluctant to perform his magnum opus live. He tried to back out of his first big gig even as Branson gave him a lift to London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in his Bentley; a wedding present from his parents. With radio airplay non-existent and desperate to see the young musician succeed, Branson offered Oldfield the very car he was riding in, if only he would perform his album live. The rest, as they say, is history…
Facts, Story – Or Both?
So which version of Richard Branson: The Early Years will stick in your memory? The fact-based account, or the story? I’d stake the house on it being the latter – and I’m not a gambling man. Who can resist this narrative of an underdog who is so dedicated to succeeding in business that he’s willing to part with his luxury car – one that also has sentimental importance?
Richard Branson. It’s become a household name. That is the power of stories. And that’s just one example; also see Sir Alan Sugar, David Gold or Innocent Smoothies. Corporate storytelling has nothing to do with lying, nor does it have anything to do with works of fiction. It has everything to do with the power of stories to inspire action.
The very best copywriting plugs your business into the consumers’ – read human beings’ – desire for satisfying stories. Ideas are great, but in order to connect with an audience (ie: your customers), they should be brought to life with images in the form of stories to make them feel real.
The Two Essentials Of Corporate Storytelling
So how do you turn your business into a story? Well, there’s a huge range of techniques and tricks that a professional copywriter will use, but let’s focus on the two essentials of corporate storytelling here.
1) Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Think about your favourite film or book. Even if it opens mid-action and closes with a question, the protagonist will always embark on a journey between the first frame or chapter and the last. Just about any story begins with ‘business as usual’, followed by discovery and growth, and ultimately, triumph.
Your job is to capture the journey of your business in a way that captivates the crowds through a narrative structure they not only recognise, but also yearn for. Where did the business come from? Why does it exist? What’s the landscape around it? And how did/does it change it?
2) Conflict is the essence of drama. Whether you’re thinking about Chaucer, Chekov or Game Of Thrones, conflict is at the heart of why the audience is interested in the story. The trick with corporate storytelling is to rationalise conflict in terms that will benefit your customers. Simply demonstrate a conflict your clients will experience that your business can resolve for them. And if that doesn’t sound ‘simple’; talk to a professional copywriter. Of course, I’d humbly suggest my services at this point…
Congratulations – That’s A Bestseller!
Apply the basics of good storytelling that any charting novelist uses to your business marketing and communications and you will see the results. But this time, the outcome isn’t an increase in sales of the story – it’s an increase in sales.
If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.