I was recently asked how storytelling could translate into business. At first this question caught me off guard, because who am I to give advice to a corporate CEO who makes a shit ton more money than me? Then it dawned on me, I am a storyteller everyday, we all are. Whether it’s through my photography or sitting around the dinner table with my family, we are always telling stories to each other.
It’s how the very fabric of social media was spawned - social interactions with each other through channels that never before existed. in fact there is an argument to be made that human civilization itself was spawned on the premise of story-telling.
Time magazine ran an article in December 2017 (By JEFFREY KLUGER) about how Storytelling makes us human and they tell a short story about the pig and the sea cow. Odds are, you’ve never heard the story of the wild pig and the sea cow — but if you’d heard it, you’d be unlikely to forget it.
The wild pig and sea cow were best friends who enjoyed racing each other for sport. One day, however, the sea cow hurt his legs and could run no more. So the wild pig carried him down to the sea, where they could race forever, side by side, one in the water, one on the land.
You can learn a lot from a story like that — about friendship, cooperation, empathy and an aversion to inequality. And if you were a child in the Agta community — a hunter-gatherer population in The Philippines’ Isabela Province — you’d have grown up on the story, and on many others that teach similar lessons. The Agta are hardly the only peoples who practice storytelling; the custom has been ubiquitous in all cultures over all eras in all parts of the world since the beginning of human time.
Now, a new study in Nature Communications, helps explain why: storytelling is a powerful means of fostering social cooperation and teaching social norms, and it pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves, improving their chances of being chosen as social partners, receiving community support and even having healthy offspring.
So what does storytelling have to do with your business?
Everything! If you can’t properly convey your companies story then your very nature for doing business will never appeal to your audience. If you don't know your story, how will they?
The human brain is programmed to value stories over everything else. It is inherently how we learn, associate, and emotionally respond.
Stories can be utilized in all forms of business: Your blog, your e-books, your about page and most importantly your social media channels.
The point is to captivate your audience. Resonate with them, relate with them. If you can strike a chord with someone that sees some of themselves in you and your story, then you have found an ally and ultimately a customer, maybe even a friend.
So as I marinated over what I just wrote above in about 15 seconds to this CEO’s question, I realized that there are all sorts of ways to tell story in business. Train your staff on your story, get them to buy into it and retell it over and over again until it resonates with them. The more you tell your story, the more it will be heard and the more you will captivate your ideal tribe.
Once you learn to tell a good story, your audience will be left wanting more. Your readers, your social media followers, your potential clients will turn into loyal customers and buyers. It’s all about creating an experience that people will not soon forget, this translates into repeatable revenue streams and lifelong customers.
So here are 5 tips that we here at Fusion use everyday to attract, curate and retain life-long customers.
1. Every story needs five critical components: Circumstance, Curiosity, Characters, Conversations and Conflict
So when telling your story lay out the circumstances. Set the scene and give the vital information that will provide context for your reader.
Use curiosity to leave the reader wanting more and even inquire with questions. If there is nothing to be curious about then why would the reader keep reading? We leave bits of storied, bits of imagery and then redirect them to the full story on the site where we can interact with them.
Characters and conservation go hand-in-hand. If you’re telling a story without any people and no dialogue your readers will likely doze off. And last but not least, conflict, which is easily the most important element. If there’s not any conflict then there’s not much of a story.
Conflict can be told in a variety of ways. Failures - relatability, who hasn't failed? Struggles, everyone struggles, lessons learned, hopefully we are learning everyday.
2. Relate to your audience
I can still vividly remember the day, my father went on and on about some lesson he was trying to convey to me about why caring and cleaning for the lawnmower after I mowed was a brilliant idea (that and his backhand if I didn't). I don't recall the minutiae of his rambling, but I do recall sitting in the hot 100 degree sun, sweat dripping down my ass as he just went on and on.
At the end of the day no one cares that you own a 100k car or finished first in the Spartan race of death or your giant bonus you received last week… people only care about stories THEY can relate to. Why? As human beings we relate to failures because we have all failed ourselves. People connect with mess, not success - remember that!
3. Use emotion to convey your message.
Think about your favorite movie or book that resonated with you and maybe even made you cry or shed a tear. I cry all the time, so fess up, it’s ok to be emotional, that’s what makes us human after all. Laughter, sadness, fear, courage, are all emotions that make us FEEL something, which is why it’s critical to tell that story to your potential clients. Stories are a great way to connect emotionally.
When telling your story, think about what emotion you want to convey and then tell your story around that emotion. I recently parted ways with a very wealthy client over a disagreement which I won't go into - but basically he sucked I didn't, end of story. Not really, we disagreed on the importance of photography and while “he loved his photographs” he didn't think that me driving four hours for free, spending 8 hours photographing hiking up a mountain side with a ruck sack of 50 + lbs of equipment in 90 degrees then editing and publishing all of those amazing images amounted to much in his eyes. So I fired him.
4. Engage readers with physical sensations (sight, sound, smell, taste)
Tell stories of grandma and her Christmas chocolate cake and the smell that resonated with you - find an analogy for crafting a custom cake with the curating you do for each and every client - give people a reason to resonate and they will return again and again.
I recently spent two hours on my patio at 1000 pm at night with clients after a photoshoot drinking beers and vacuuming glitter off their bodies after I made them sit in the middle of uptown Charlotte and repeatedly had my assistant throw glitter on them because I thought it would make a great photo - it did (watch their video and tell me how this experience resonated with them).
Appealing to the senses through your story immediately engages the reader.
Set the scene by describing what it visually looks like. What sounds occurred? What smells filled the air? How did it feel? How did it taste? Every reader has experienced one of these in their life thousands of times. By engaging the emotional side of the brain you build trust and relatability and identifiability (is that even a word).
When I meet with new clients I tell them how my photographer (who was overpriced and not very good, showed up late, tripped over a chair and fell on my mother in the aisle as I was saying my vows. Now maybe you've never experienced a photographer falling on your mother's lap during your wedding, but there is a good chance that you have A. had a bad photographer, B. had a gaffe or witnessed a gaffe at yours or someone else’s wedding and C. disliked someone at least once in your life. I engage potential clients with stories they can relate to. It shows my humanness, not just me trying to get their money - which I like of course but it’s not the point. Ultimately, I am trying to build fans that rave (book) about me. I do that through trust, relativity and all through the vehicle of storytelling.
5. Keep it relevant TO THEM - NOT YOU
Ever see someones eyes roll into their head or glaze over like mine did when my dad was trying to teach me how to do something with the lawnmower? If you have not observed this - EITHER you are an amazing story teller or you are not very self aware.
Stay away from too much detail. Hit the medium and high points, then digress if and when it’s ONLY relevant to the story. Read the audience, you will know when to add, remove, omit, etc.
There are all sorts of ways to tell good stories that captivate and ultimately sell you to your tribe. I just listed the high points that I use.
I am curious, what do you think makes a great story, I would love to hear your feedback.