Getting started with storytelling

You’ve probably heard and read a lot about storytelling. That it’s a powerful way of connecting with customers etc. But maybe you feel it’s unclear how storytelling actually works. Here’s a simple explanation and some tips on getting started.

The game that never ended

If I was to tell you that I once played in a baseball game on a very warm day you’d probably go “oh, ok” and then promptly think of someting else. Unless you were very interested in baseball.

But if I started out by telling you that 20 years later I can still recall the sun beating down on me. I can still recall how thirsty I was. I can still recall the taste in my mouth as it was getting harder and harder to swallow – slightly metallic and bitter. I can still recall the smell of the dry grass and sand around me and the hot wind that from time to time would touch my cheeks. I can still recall the sweat running down my back.

And I will never forget that last, long inning of the game that lasted forever, when my team saw our lead evaporate. We couldn’t get the other team out. They were putting men on bases, they were scoring runs and nothing we did seemed to work. Funny how you can break out in a cold sweat while you’re already sweating because it’s hot, you’re tired and you just want the game to end.

Maybe if I told you this you would stick around and hear me out. Not because you’re that keen on baseball, or because you care if we won or lost. But because the things I’m telling you triggers memories of your own. Warm days you’ve experienced. The smell of dry grass. The times when your throat was so dry and you desperately needed to drink. Or perhaps of times when your own team was up against the wall.

Connecting shared experiences

That’s the key thing about storytelling. To create an emotional connection with your reader or listener. You want them to step into your story through connecting it with their own experiences and memories. And if you only tell them facts you won’t give them anything to build that connection on.

Another important part is to trigger more parts of the brain. What I tried to do earlier was to mention things like taste, touch, sounds etc because those are an important part not only of your memory but how your brain works. It relies only to a small degree on information in writing or speech. Imagery, sounds, taste etc are much more important ways of connecting with your audience.

(This is a part of an infographic that OneSpot put together on the science of storytelling.)

So how can this translate to your business? Are you now supposed to talk to your customers about games you’ve played, far gone days you remember, on how the sun can feel like a hammer pounding you into the ground? Well, maybe, because it might actually help you create a stronger bond with them where they see you less as a faceless entity and more like a company filled with people. But that’s not really my point. Here’s what I’m trying to tell you:

Story archetypes

No matter if you are selling a specific product or building a brand, you need to do more than just higlight the logical or factual benefits of your solution or company. You need to connect on an emotional level with your potential customers. If you can offer them a great price, by all means tell them that, but so can anyone of your competitors. On the other hand, if you can tell them a story about your offering that will engage them emotionally as well then you have something that’s much harder to compete with.

So how do you do that? It’s not very realistic to go around getting to know each and everyone of your customers personally if you’re a consumer brand. Same is true for most B2B companies as well. How can you tell a relevant story when you don’t know your customers?

This is where archetypes come into play. While you need to research your target audience to find out what they need and think is important, there are certain things most people will connect with on an emotional level. Most great books and movies are based on one or more archetypes – rags to riches, overcoming the monster, tragedy, comedy and so on. If you can find something like that in your own past or in your company’s past, use that to create interest around the brand or product. Here are some suggestions:

Rags to riches: That could be a story about one of your customers succeding together with you.

Overcoming the monster: Maybe there is a monster in your own company’s past, a threat that you overcame.

Comedy: Are there funny moments you’ve had together with customers?

Tragedy: Any company that has been around for a while has had its share of sorrow. And those that survive learn from it and move on.

One key part in every story is to always focus on the people. How their lives were changed. How they overcame a challenging situation. How something brought them joy or changed their lives.

Great examples

In the past I’ve shared some good examples of visual storytelling that really grabs your heart. And others where companies use great stories from the past (some better than others). And I once told you a story about the grandmother who had never met or spoken to her grandchildren.

They all rely on archetypal storytelling in various ways. And you can use the same tools to tell the story of your company, your solution or your brand.

One great example of storytelling, done in a very simple way and still packed with archetypes, is Google’s Parisian Love:

If you have a great story to tell, you don’t need a lot of fancy stuff.

To get started with telling stories, dig deep into your own memories or the history of your company to find a story that can relate what’s unique about your product or brand to your customers. A story you can tell not just with facts and logic, but that will make them feel, and remember a smell, a touch, a sound. Then tell it. In different formats and channels, at different times, but always in your own voice. Tell it and build a connection with your customers.

Good luck!

Want to know how the game ended? We won. And nothing ever tasted as great as the warm, flat water I poured down my throat after the final out.

Over To You

Have you used storytelling in your marketing or communication? Did it work well? Share your insights in the comments below.


Image credit: Peter Miller, Baseball, Flickr

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