Business storytelling: What you need to know, simplified

Copywriters have the challenging task of developing material that informs, educates, inspires, entertains, and convinces—one or any combination of those. One way we achieve that is through business storytelling.

What is storytelling in business?

Stories. They’re everywhere. Parents tell them at bedtime, applicants use them at job interviews, teachers share the occasional anecdote, and leaders incorporate them in speeches. Savvy businesses make use of them too.

  • Buying milk? The packaging will weave a story about healthy, happy cows that are free to graze in idyllic surroundings like the Alps.
  • Looking for toothpaste? Our brand wages war on pesky bad-breath causing bacteria. The result? Minty-fresh breath (and pearly whites) that can land you a date with the person of your dreams.
  • Need a mattress? The sales copy will highlight how new mattress technology solved Paul’s back pain problem and gave him the best sleep of his life. That allows him to be extra productive at work every single day!

Storytelling has been around forever – literally. In a business or marketing context, storytelling is simply an engaging way to communicate messages; a powerful way to convey what an organisation does or is all about.

Business storytelling: The words you need, without having to think about them

Why is brand storytelling important?

The short answer is because it’s a particularly effective way to communicate. Compared to traditional marketing messages, stories are appealing, entertaining, and very often relatable.

They’re also memorable.

In fact, according to Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at the Stanford School of Business, when woven into narratives, people remember information up to 22 times more than when it’s just the facts alone. That’s an incredible difference – enough to be a ‘make or break’ scenario for some brands.

You see, stories have a way of capturing – and keeping – our interest. They take readers where the writer (or in this case, brand) wants them to go.

Through storytelling, complicated topics or messages are simplified, so that we can easily understand and therefore remember them.

These are things you can’t achieve with numbers or statistics alone. And let’s be honest: Figures are less compelling.

Related: When brand storytelling isn’t always effective

Stories have the ability to bring us together at an emotional level as we share concerns, feel empathy, laugh, and see ourselves (or who we’d like to be) in the hero. And it’s precisely those emotions that drive people to take action.

When done right, storytelling is persuasive enough to influence behaviour.

Related: Nudge theory: How nudging can change behaviour

The advantages of storytelling in business

So to summarize everything we’ve just said, storytelling:

  • Captures and keeps our attention
  • Creates an emotional connection
  • Motivates people to take action
  • Makes the message easy to remember

Storytelling in business: How do you tell a good story?

Business storytelling truly is an art and a science. To be effective, you have to strike the right balance of data and story—only then will you get people to care.

That leads to the question: How to do business storytelling? Or how do you structure a business story?

There are a few aspects to keep in mind.

Narrative structure and sequence

Every story has a beginning, a middle (with conflict and climax), and an end. That’s how it is in fairy tales, novels, and screenplays—the same applies in business storytelling.

Determine your message

In business storytelling, there’s always a goal.

  • Want people to take some kind of action?
  • To build community?
  • Communicate your raison d’être?

In other words what you write has to support that goal while simultaneously enhancing the brand. It should also enrich customer relationships. For this, you’ll need to delve deep into your company’s past, present, and future. You’ll also need to know your company’s values and beliefs.

Keep only what you need

Edit without mercy, as they say. Your story should only be as long as needed to communicate what you set out to communicate. Ideally, it shouldn’t be too long nor too short. Or simply put: Be succinct. Stick to what matters and what is important.

Know your audience

To resonate with readers – that is, customers and other stakeholders – you need to speak their language. And to speak their language, you need to know who they are. Always do the legwork.

Balance data with story

Numbers, on their own, are boring. If you want people to care, you’ll have to balance facts and figures with rhetoric. That’s how to be persuasive. This isn’t something you learn or master overnight – it takes time, practice, vision, and research to build up these skills. You also need to be creative.

Perhaps most important though, storytelling is more than what you say – it’s also about what you do as a business. You have to talk the talk and walk the walk to sustain success.

To summarize, a great story…

  • Grabs attention
  • Elicits emotion
  • Engages the audience
  • Inspires action

Now it’s up to you to craft a persuasive story—your business’ story.

Related: The importance of storytelling for hotels