This week is the Society for Storytelling’s 15th annual National Storytelling Week. Events to mark this promotion of the oral tradition of storytelling take place in schools, museums, bookshops and pubs across the country. If I get my way, the 16th will take place in boardrooms, too.
Storytelling is much in vogue in business. Marketing communications is now firmly established as an always-on discipline of brand dialogue, a challenging new terrain ushered in by the rise and dominance of social and digital media. To build interest and advocacy from customers, organisations need to start sustainable conversations – conversations that brands should take part in and can curate. But they need to realise they’re definitely not in control of their narrative any more.
Some do this well, and those who do it best – in the words of Simon Sinek – start with their “why”. They explain their purpose first, rather than banging on about the less enthralling “how” and the frequently tedious “what”. Brands like Apple, innocent and John Lewis, who have defined and express their purpose, and do so with autonomy and mastery.
Here are five simple steps to telling better corporate and brand stories.
- Map the conversation landscape. Cut through the smog of Big Data. Locate and isolate the Little Big Data that characterise the issues, language and influencers and define your category norms.
- Aim to be different, not better. By understanding the conversation landscape – and be prepared to create conversation starters if your proposition is genuinely innovative – you’ll soon be able to describe what it is that sets you apart.
- Obey the cocktail party rule. “If you want to be boring, talk about yourself; if you want to be interesting, talk about the issues that matter to your audience.” Try it and you’ll soon build a crowd. Use stories not facts. As Chip and Dan Heath said in Made to Stick, “After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics.”
- Keep It Simple, Storyteller! Long gone are the days of one story for the City, one for employees, and another for customers. Everything you say is recoverable, so avoid contradictory narratives that confuse. Defining the bare bones of the story you’ll happily tell everyone – the dominant characteristics of your brand narrative – is an important starting point. Keep it sparse, free of jargon, and easy to understand. Simplicity, however, is neither dull nor easy. So if you pull it off, you’ll win advocates and influence waverers.
- Find and weave your brand’s Golden Thread through every tale you tell. 100 years ago, Dale Carnegie said: “Stories are powerful ways of connecting emotionally with your audience.” If you’re going to play with your audience’s emotions, a clear and consistent Golden Thread is critical.
Social and digital media changed the brand storytelling world, for the better and to an environment where the competent survive and the eloquent thrive. Embrace your inner storyteller this National Storytelling Week, and prepare yourself for success.
Sam Knowles is Founder & MD of Insight Agents, the corporate and brand storytelling business. Follow Sam and Insight Agents on Twitter, and find more about Insight Agents at their website and blog, Insightful.
This blog is a guest blog for B2B Marketing, originally posted 5 February 2015 here.
Sam Knowles is a master data storyteller and the Founder & MD of the consultancy Insight Agents. His purpose is to help organisations make smarter use of data, talk Human, and sound like people. An established and sought-after trainer, keynote speaker, and podcaster, he is the founder and host of Data Malarkey podcast and chair of I-COM’s Data Storytelling Council. He’s a Fellow of the Market Reserach Society, the RSA, and the Professional Speaking Association.
Sam is the author of the ‘Using Data Better’ trilogy of books, all published by Routledge. These include the 2018 best-seller Narrative by Numbers, 2020’s critically-acclaimed sequel, How To Be Insightful , and 2022’s eagerly-anticipated Asking Smarter Questions. In 2023, Insight Agents launched Using Data Smarter, a comprehensive, online training course based on all three books.
Find out more about Sam’s approach to data storytelling in this 15-minute video.