Beyond PR

Aug 01, 2013

Using Storytelling to Drive Business Goals

PR Newswire and hosted a Google hangout on using storytelling to drive business goals. Lead by Blair Caplinger (@bcaplinger), co-founder of Telling Media Inc.,  the hangout also featured Ben Zenick (@bzenick), COO of Zencos, a full-service business intelligence consultancy, a client of Telling Media Inc.

Definition of a Business Story

A business story is essentially a narrative that explains how a business or an aspect of a business satisfies the needs and aspirations of a target audience.

It is important to remember that people make decisions based on stories, Caplinger noted, and every story is intended to convince or sell people something. This something can be a product or service, or even an idea or business plan. Whether businesses know it or not, they are constantly telling a story to consumers through their communications, which can be as small as a tweet to something as large as a campaign. The biggest problem is that companies start telling their story before they even know it, and this doesn’t produce very good results.

When Caplinger first sits down with clients, he initially focuses on the different issues the client is encountering, whether they’re in marketing, PR, sales or another department.  The commonality across all these different functions is the simple story they are telling.  Zenick noted that prior to working with Caplinger, Zencos realized that the message they were providing wasn’t differentiating the company from the other business intelligence vendors that were out there.  They knew how they wanted to convey themselves, but ended up promoting themselves the same way as the other organizations.

Your Business Has a Story Problem If…

  • Prospects/clients have a difficult time committing and signing on the bottom line.
  • Employees don’t understand your company vision.
  • Qualified leads visiting your website don’t see how you can help them solves their problems in a short amount of time.
  • There are varying descriptions of what your company does, e.g., three different salespeople provide three different descriptions of what your company does.
  • Difficulty obtaining funding — and this may be a problem for startups that have a flawed story that doesn’t communicate the value of their startup organization.

The Stories Your Business Must Tell

  • Strategic vision stories that can help people gain buy-in for strategy and direction for different levels of management and audiences, both internal and external.
  • Brand stories where companies talk about their brands in a way where people can form an emotional connection with it.
  • Product stories that explain why the particular products will make your life better.
  • Recruiting stories, and if there are brand stories around an organization then this should be translated into what it means for your recruiting department and for hiring the best talent.
  • Success stories, these end up being case studies and white papers, which provide the proof of your product or service.

Your business must never tell stories that are excuses. If things go wrong, your business needs to be prepared to address things honestly and openly, and then move forward.

Reasons Why Your Business Story Failed

  • Leading a story with facts doesn’t engage people and is really boring. Facts end up being “what” and “how” stories, which don’t sell. People buy on feelings and then they use facts to justify purchase decisions.
  • A story that serves up too much information. Caplinger refers to this as story stew, and this story contains too much detail and industry jargon. This type of story overwhelms an audience and deters them from making a decision.
  • The brain disregards 99 percent of all it perceives and is constantly filtering for what is unique. People need contrast to make decisions, so companies need to make sure their stories don’t fail to be remarkable.

Process of Storytelling

If you want it to be successful, storytelling needs to start at the top of the organization. Every business leader and C-level executive should embrace the concept of being a chief storytelling officer of their company, because you can’t drive a story up through an organization, but you can only drive it down from the top.

Tips for Creating Stories That Sell

  • A business needs to lead with emotion. People make purchase decisions based on some type of emotional and personal driver. It’s all about “what will it do for me, how will it help me,” etc. Apple’s signature campaign does this very well by showing how Apple’s products have changed the way people listen, live, learn, play, etc., and it talks about the company’s reason to exist.
  •  A business needs to be in touch with its “why.” It is why you do you what you do, it’s your purpose for being, and it’s your passion. Zencos has worked on their “why” and why they want to differentiate themselves amongst over business intelligence vendors. They wanted to be a company that was able deliver to customers what they were promising on time and on budget. They also wanted to be a company that focused on building relationships with their customers.
  • It is important that a business understand its buyer’s mindset, which is composed of beliefs, values, biases, and personal experiences. People like to work with people who see and believe things similar to themselves. Target did this very well by creating a great campaign that allows millenials to buy a product that will end up helping their community by feeding people. This campaign helps understand the mindset of millenials who care about their community and want to look and feel good.
  • A business needs to find common ground. As a business researches their customer’s beliefs, biases, etc., they then have to map that against their own. Once they do that, that’s the realm from which all story flows.
  • Stories need to be visual to drive understanding. A businesses needs to include visualization and visualization exercises in the process of conceiving the stories. Telling Media creates these visuals when they are working with executives on their narratives, and then sometimes these end up as precursors to infographics.

Example of a Zencos Infographic

Final thought: When a business talks clearly about why they do what they do and what they do, they will naturally attract the right customers.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources.  To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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