When I took my first statistics course in graduate school, I felt lost. “Statistics is a whole different way of thinking,” a more advanced classmate said helpfully.
The best advice came from a professor who told our (mostly terrified) class, “Study statistics with a pen and notebook nearby. Draw pictures. If you’ve got a problem about taking two marbles out of a jar, draw the two marbles.”
Somehow drawing didn’t seem to fit the serious, left-brained world of statistics…but it worked. To this day when I read an article with statistics, I’ll often draw a diagram.
I thought of this example when someone recently said, “I have to admit, I don’t understand the fuss about storytelling. It seems more like entertainment.”
Storytelling often gets presented as right-brained creative activity. No wonder business owners often resist adding stories to their marketing mix.
The problem is, a lot of storytelling books focus on story structure. They draw analogies with storytelling from movies, especially those from Pixar. Or they evoke memories of campfires, fairy tales and even bedtime stories.
And of course it doesn’t make sense. Bedtime stories are supposed to put you to sleep. Marketing stories are supposed to inspire you to take action.
Anyway, business stories aren’t about being creative. They’re about straightforward narratives, presented in a professional way, chosen to support a marketing goal. They’re not particularly right-brained.
You know you’ve told your best business story when your audience gives you the response you’ve been seeking. They sign up for your lead magnet. They forward your message. They listen to you more carefully and respect you as an authority and (if you prefer the term) thought leader.
Business storytelling begins with strategy.
What’s the goal you hope to reach with this story? There’s no right answer. An established business owner with a list that’s more like a fan club (the Celebrity Archetype) will tell different stories than a business owner who’s newer to marketing or who chooses a different way to relate to her audience.
Sometimes a story actually gets in the way of what you want to accomplish. But sometimes only a story — the right story — will achieve your goals. And business owners who resist story telling will miss out on opportunities to establish value and authority in the marketplace.
Example 1: A Success Story Shows Why We Should Believe This Author
For instance, I’ve been reading Shawn Driscoll’s kindle book on Love-Based Business Models. I’ve read a lot of books on that topic and frankly wondered how these models might help a real live business owner.
Then Shawn told a story about an executive coach she calls “Sharon,” someone who’d been advised to start a blog and write a book. Sharon found these activities tedious and frustrating, as well as unprofitable. She wanted to be “out and about,” connecting with thought leaders. After taking Shawn’s assessment, Sharon realized she scored low on qualities related to creating information products and off the chart on qualities relating to building relationships and inspiring others. She found ways to get in front of potential clients in live settings. Her business took off.
That story clarified exactly how Shawn’s system of business models would benefit my clients (and me, too). This type of story would be a success story, highlighting the way she helps her clients achieve the results they wanted. It would be hard to communicate the value of Shawn’s system without a story.
Example 2: A Concept Story Shows What This Business Does
ShareMySpace.com was founded by two members of my coworking space. When they first explained the company, I just didn’t get it. Their website says, “ShareMySpace makes it simple to find and book the right space.”
But this concept story explains what they do and why I might use their services:
“We were searching for a place to hold a birthday party for my teenage daughter. We wanted a place big enough for 30 people, where we could bring our own music and fix our own food. We couldn’t do that in a hotel meeting room, even if we were willing to pay the exorbitant prices the top hotels charge in my city.
“Then a friend of a friend told us about a church that rented out its reception hall during the week. It was a great facility, conveniently located, with a really nice kitchen.
“So we wondered: how many halls like this go unused because nobody knows about them? And we bet there are conference rooms, meeting spaces and more.
“Since we’re well-connected in the tech world, we built an app. When you become a member, you get access to hundreds of great places. Let the parties begin!”
I used this story as an example in my book, Grow Your Business One Story At A Time.
Both examples show stories that drew on a unique combination of left-brain strategy and right-brain playful creativity. Yes, they had some entertainment value — but that was beside the point. They helped these business owners reach meaningful goals and make serious points.
BTW, I’m happy to work with you on developing, telling and sharing your own stories. Begin here if you’d like to set up a consultation. You can apply the cost of this consultation to most larger projects.
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