How to Grow Your Business Through Storytelling

Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

Digital interactions often lack a sense of human connection. We are living in a distracted world where millions of advertising dollars are fighting for our attention. We have the option to opt-in or out on what we get to consume. We have more power than ever to create our bubbles online.

To build a business that stands out in a saturated market, you need to share stories that connect with your customers and audience on an emotional level. As human beings, compelling narratives make us want to listen and engage.

The Case for Storytelling

Long gone are the days of waiting for formulaic TV shows at primetime on CBS, NBC, and FOX. People want polarizing and compelling narratives that shock and delight. Researcher Anton Siebert from the Journal of Marketing explains that “It’s not all about creating consistently good customer experiences, but about creating intentionally chaotic, maddening, and unpredictable ones.”

A good story changes our behaviors, emotions, and biology. Neuroeconomist and professor at Claremont Graduate University Paul Zak is a pioneer in studying stories and their effect on the brain. In a 2015 study, Zak asked participants to view a brief story of a father’s experience with his 2-year-old son with terminal cancer. After the video was over, participants were given the option to donate a portion of their study earnings to a related charity.

The narrative allowed for viewers to release two powerful brain chemicals: oxytocin and cortisol. Oxytocin is the chemical that stirs feelings of connection, care, and trust and is considered the feel-good chemical. Cortisol is related to stress, which can be seen as bad, but in this case, stress allowed audience members to be more alert and engaged in the story and influenced behavior.

Understand The Elements of Storytelling

Whether it’s your favorite TV show, movie, or novel, most great stories follow a dramatic structure. Since the mid-1800s, the plot structure identified by Gustav Freytag has been widely accepted as a basis for all dramatic works and storytelling. The Freytag’s Pyramid is the guideline included in all forms of storytelling.

Exposition — Introductory background that sets the mood, time and place.

Inciting Incident — A catalyst event that forces the character into motion.

Rising Action — Building tension in one or several stages to the point of interest.

Climax — The main turning point or realization.

Falling Action — The initial conflict is solved and there’s still a level of suspense and doubt for the final ending.

Resolution/Denouement — The story approaches a conclusion and the audience is given the opportunity to reflect on what they learned.

Understanding how to apply this story structure to your brand can help cultivate your brand’s “why”. The why is the catalyst and rising action central to the problem that your company is trying to solve. You can talk about the complications you faced as you built out the solution. Your “what” comes in the resolution, which is how you solve your customer’s problem.

Make it personal

Most people feel uncomfortable about sharing the downfalls of their business. Documenting your journey as a business with highs and lows humanizes your brand. Success is never a linear path. There are sacrifices, processes, and hurdles to get there. Showing your customer the journey it took for you to be where you are today adds an extra personal layer. “People crave narrative, and storytelling has powerful roots in childhood, evoking strong emotions and powerful memories.” says Dr. Janis Forman, author of “Storytelling in Business: The Authentic and Fluid Organization.

Your business started because someone had a dream. All companies have a similar goal in mind, to fulfill a dream or a need. The struggles allow your audience to respect your success when they understand all sides.

Find balance in the content you provide

Balancing out the business with the personal allows your audience to be part of something bigger. When you’re providing content that adds value to your audience, they become most likely to engage and become loyal to your brand. Many businesses use social media as a distribution platform for information that they often forget to have conversations with their customers. Treat and talk to your customers as you would a family or friend.

Make your customer the main character

No one wants to see a brand talk about themselves all the time. For example, Airbnb always puts their customer first in their storytelling. It has a dedicated page called “Stories from the Community” that shares insights with hosts worldwide for customers to better connect with the brand. Your customers are the heroes of your story. It’s always about your customer, and it always will be. If they see themselves in your stories, it will become much more relevant to them.

Writer. mia@mia-nguyen

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