Stronger stories seed success

This blog originally appeared as a guest blog on the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce website, here.

It may have escaped your notice, but last week was National Storytelling Week.

Run for the past 17 years by the Society for Storytelling, the week is an annual focus for the Society to promote the oral tradition of storytelling. Events took place in museums, schools, hospitals, and care homes right across the country. And lots more places besides.

Storytelling is a powerful, uniquely human way of conveying information, of passing on customs and morals, of transmitting culture and values. As creatures, we are hardwired to pay attention and respond well to stories. Storytelling matters to us. It helps to shape us as a species.

Storytelling has a critical role in business success, too, and it’s growing in importance in the digital age. In an environment where anyone with a smartphone and a WiFi connection can bring their thoughts and opinions to the world, many more voices matter. To cut through the clutter, companies need to deploy the tools and techniques of the storyteller to help their signal stand out from the noise.

So, to mark National Storytelling Week, our team of corporate and brand storytellers at Insight Agents have just taken the temperature of online business storytelling. We worked with researchers in the Catalyst team at Sussex University’s Innovation Centre to find the best and worst of contemporary corporate speak. The fruits of this research have just been published in a short report called Heroes & Villains.

A good definition of both reputation and brand is “what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”. Good corporate and brand communication moves people to follow and advocate for brands; to recommend them to friends, family, and colleagues. The flip side can be disapproval, criticism, and condemnation. You have to work much harder to win an advocate than create a critic, and a bad rap can hang around for years online. And unlike private citizens, brands don’t have the Right To Be Forgotten enshrined in law.

So, as well as garlanding the heroes and poking fun at the villains – from law firms to government departments, and many a science-based business – our research also identified a number of golden rules companies should follow if they want to tell better stories. Here are five of the best:

  1. Keep it simple. Use fewer words per sentence and using fewer, long words.
  1. Beware the Curse of Knowledge. Don’t assume that, just because you know your subject, anyone else will.
  1. Don’t state the obvious to fill space. The democratisation of communications means that some businesses talk more and more, but say less and less.
  1. Observe the cocktail party rule. “If you want to be boring, talk about yourself. If you want to be interesting, talk about what your audience wants to hear.”
  1. Talk human. Companies are abstract concepts, but they’re populated by people. Brand language should be human, too.

For your copy of Heroes & Villains, visit