Harnessing the Power of Story to Build Your Business
Updated: Jan 3
I did my master’s thesis on story in the 1990s – half a lifetime ago given my current age. My chosen topic, family storytelling, resonated deeply with me. But it shocked many of those in the research community at the post-secondary institution I was attending. It was considered “too subjective” to be “real research.” How could it be research given that it involved feelings and transcribed conversations with family members that were so open to interpretation? I found myself defending my work at every turn.
My, we’ve come a long way since 1995.
Everywhere today you see people “sharing their story.” Stories have become an expected part of building a brand. And it IS extremely important if businesses want to be relatable to their customers. But where do you even start?
Stories are real, lived personal experiences that we recount to connect with other people.
A brief treatise on story
Everyone has a story. Our lives are made up of stories; we often understand our world through story. When we come home after work, we share the story of our day around the dinner table. Discussions with colleagues around the water cooler or lunchroom table often involve stories, whether personal or work-related. And we can learn a lot from other people from their stories. Stories offer advice and encouragement, generate ideas and create lasting relationships.
Because humans evolved with story there’s some very good evidence that we are neurobiologically in tune with storytelling. You could say that we have become hardwired for it. Stories include descriptors that stimulate our imaginations and engage our emotions. There’s even evidence that we release specific hormones in response to a good story.
We are intrinsically connected to stories in so many ways.
What does all this have to do with building my business?
Think of your story as an account of how you came to be and why – it provides background on the evolution of your business and the people involved. It tells your audience what you’re doing, why you are doing it and why you think it’s important. It will give your customers insights into who you are, your values and what drives you. It can also give them an appreciation of what it took to get you where you are.
Our stories shape who we are and how we do business.
Your story is a particularly effective tool for connecting with other people because it is so relatable – it is based on life experience. Your story brings people to the forefront of your business journey and helps identify shared values.
Here's a brief history of the rise of storytelling in marketing from LinkedIn.
You can use your story in so many ways. You can include it on your website, use elements of it in sales brochures, in social media… in fact, in all your marketing efforts.
It involves – OMG, FEELINGS!
I know it’s scary, but through story, we can communicate the feelings that make us all human. And your customers will love you for it. No one makes it in business without struggle, change and challenges. Share your passion, your excitement and your commitment. It gives you an opportunity to articulate what really matters to you.
The thing about feelings is that they can help you find common ground with your audience. Tap into the heart of your customers, express what really matters to you and, chances are, they will feel the same.
Oh, and a word of caution here – be yourself, be honest and be sincere. And be careful not to exaggerate. Authenticity is key since most people have a nose for sniffing out a fake.
Story is a strategy that allows us to transcend fundamental differences in opinion, leapfrog over bias and barriers, and create connections where there otherwise wouldn’t be. It has the power to persuade, recruit and generate sales. In fact, it can fundamentally change how we do business by helping us communicate more effectively and build more solid relationships with colleagues and customers.
Now my question is, “What’s your story?”
Only you can answer that.
Check out some of the thoughtful and integrated ways the Coca-Cola company is using story in their marketing content.