How Business Leaders Can Become Storytellers

With their “God made a farmer” Super Bowl ad, Dodge told viewers a story about their brand values: hard work, dedication, reliability. They used words and images that composed a story about the all-American farmer paragon to show us what they and their products stood for. This appeals to consumers’ emotions, not logic.

In fact, few successful Super Bowl spots simply discuss product benefits. Instead, they tell you a story that supports a brand’s values, vision and mission. One of mankind’s oldest habits has become a choice tool of business leaders. Skilled storytelling has always been a way to convey important messages, but only more recently has it been recognized as a critical strategic business tool.

Storytelling applies to more than marketing and advertising. Leaders can use storytelling within organizations in much the same way Dodge did. A good story can help employees relate to the company’s mission, vision or values and inspire them to support these abstract yet definitive characteristics.

Storytelling also humanizes brands. From the Aflac duck and his many adventures to PEMCO’s gently self-deprecating Northwest Profiles, storytelling allows customers to see their insurers as human, relatable and entertaining. People want to do business with people (or water fowl) to which they can relate.

Writer and producer Golan Ramras spoke on storytelling at the recent ReSource Pro Innovation Advisory Council gathering in Berkeley. He emphasized that stories are powerful, build people’s desires and inspire them to act, and he shared crucial dos and don’ts of storytelling in business:

–    Do make sure the story you tell is positive and has a hero.

–    Don’t be afraid of metaphors, anecdotes and current events.

–    Do make challenges and obstacles personal.

–    Don’t oversell or include too many details about your company.

–    Do tell a story about results and about your customers.

–    Don’t lean on cliches and corporate-speak.

Remember that storytelling is an art—once you have learned the basic rules, feel free to throw them out judiciously.

Using storytelling as a business tool has become easier, thanks to the ready availability of a variety of media. Leaders can choose exactly the right way to get their messages across: written narratives, video, animation, comics, photo essays, etc. Relating a simple anecdote about a successful sales tactic can be incredibly effective.

Write the best story to communicate mission, vision and values. Give customers someone to relate to. Use the right medium. Tell more stories about your business. It’s a consummately human way to communicate with customers, clients, employees and partners.