Once upon a time, business storytelling

Storytelling is as old as the hills.  We tell tales to convey our message in a way that connects us to the listener, we hope.  Simply, a story is the way in which we recount a sequence of events.

Storytelling helps us to make sense of our unique customer value and helps us to connect emotionally to other people. Think about a good book you couldn’t put down, or a film that inspired you.  That’s the connection we want when others think of your brand.  Ok, maybe not break down in tears and weep, but you get the idea?

One of the problems we face when trying to get our marketing messages heard, is there is so much din in the market place.  We need to find different ways to get our messages heard.  One of those ways is telling stories.

Of course you may already think that you are weaving stories together, where in reality you are just sharing information.

Storytelling for businesses has gained popularity as a way to connect audiences emotionally to brands to engender trust and loyalty.

When I am asked to write case studies, it is sometimes like pulling hens teeth.  The questions are simple, what was the customers problem, how did you solve it, what value did you add, what was the outcome, why was that important.

Now of course I want to hear the stories that different people in the organization can tell me about the problem and solution and I want to piece together the story from a number of perspectives.  Then I want to hear it from the customers perspective.  In matching all of these up I can work out what the emotional bond is between the two parties.

The resulting story gives personality and meaning to the brand and to the products/services and these can be used time and time again to connect to new audiences who have similar problems.

The brand story is the truth of who you are, agreed to by all inside the organisation, and used to open conversations with those outside who need their problems solving, by someone like you.

Brands which emotionally connect with their audiences are the ones that usually win.

A good story starts with preparation.

Once upon a time we had a customer who had a problem and we did this and that, they were happy and we all lived happily ever after.

Decide where you are, who you are and where you want to go.  If you don’t know where you are going any path will do.  Really think about short and long term goals, review, test and reassess.

We all know the saying failure to plan is planning to fail and it’s just as true here as with any marketing communication or activity.  Think clearly about what you want to achieve with your tales.

The backstory

X marks the spot.  How did the brand get here?  What do we know about our prospects.  What has your audit revealed?

Know thyself

Understand who you are and what you want your brand to stand for, before you go and look for and audience.  Sure you can get feedback over time and decide if you want to tweak who you are, but fundamentally you have to know yourself and your brand first.

Define the hero

Hero = your brand

Your hero is the protagonist, through your exploration you will have pulled to the surface, stuff about them, traits, values, likes and dislikes, language, beliefs and attitudes.  If it makes it easier for you, create a chart with the key character points, jot them down, study them, put them somewhere visible so that you can refer to them when writing.

What are your heros strengths and weaknesses?  How can you build on your strengths and what can you do about your weaknesses?  How much change is realistically possible?  Be true to who you are and where you want to go.  Remember the file Field of Dreams with the premise of build it and they will come, sadly in real life they may not.

How do you want your readers to react to your hero?  Empathy, fascination, wonderment, desire? The connection for your readers comes when they recognise the heros’s emotions, have their interest piqued, want to know more, and can connect.  If your readers don’t care about your hero, they wont care or be interested in what happens to them.  They may even prefer your villain (competitors).

Why are others drawn to your hero and what makes them stay loyal friends.  Where is the soul, your values?

Defining the prospect – the characters in our story

This is just like hunting for your perfect date on the multitude of dating sites out there, you are trying to match up a set of attributes that would be the perfect fit for your hero.

At this point I would suggest grabbing a piece of paper, create two columns, one for hero and one for prospect.  And create a set of I AM statements for each, matching them up where possible.  You will now have a clearer idea of yourself and your perfect date.


Stories always have a conflict, otherwise they would be pretty boring, and so in your story, the prospect has a conflict, some issue that needs resolving, there is a struggle, a point which has been reached and things must change.  The hero arrives, a fight breaks out, the monster is overcome and the conflict is sorted.

What is the prospects problem and how would they like it to be fixed or solved?

Happy endings

What is the outcome that you want when you tell the story?  What is the theme or the moral of the story?  I love a happy ending, do you?

Its just another beginning

When our story is told and we connect to our prospect, the story starts again, only this time they interpret what they want, from what you have said and decide they want a bit of the action too.  They add their personal meaning to it.

My once upon a time challenge for you is:-

  • Define your brand through 10 I am statements
  • Define your prospect by marrying up 10 prospect I am statements
  • Create your ideal customer profile
  • Compare this to a recent customer profile
  • What does that tell you?

Now write your stories

  • Ask your employees for stories, pick two and turn them in to business stories
  • Start with once upon a time there was a…..
  • Set the scene (beginning)
  • Paint a picture of the prospect
  • Problem / conflict (middle)
  • The aha moment (pivot point)
  • How you and they felt (the end)
  • What happened next

Now who would you tell this story to and why?

Do you have case studies that need writing?  Let me take that off your hands, I will interview you, your team and the customer and then write a compelling once upon a time tale just for you.

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