Storytelling is among the most ancient of arts. To hear a great story is to be touched in heart and mind, in body and spirit. The storyteller gives the tale; the listener receives it, responding out of his or her own being. The story comes alive. It flourishes and grows.
But when it comes to the art of business storytelling, most businesses today, in 2015, are struggling to get it right. Typical content marketing efforts are lazy, self-serving and reflective of the internal processes more so than something that captures hearts and minds of the audience.
Most marketers are just shouting. Not empathizing.
Without further ado, here are my 6 points on the art of great storytelling.
1. Being audience-centric: Many of us fail at telling great stories because we focus on ourselves. Most marketers just discuss their products and how great they are. There is minimal focus on what the product does for the audience and why should they even care.
Customers don’t care about you.
They care about what your product or service does for them.
I always challenge my teams to think about a purpose — before engaging in any form of storytelling. From sales pitches to webinars to customer service to emails.
“There is a bad way and good way to tell stories. Consumers care about themselves, so unless the story resonates with them from start and they can see themselves in it, it is not very valuable”.
In fact, based on managing marketing (basically storytelling) in various forms from startups to enterprises, I can tell you that in the age of hyper-connected social media, if you aren’t utilizing this social behavior in your story telling and not making the audience a part of your stories, then you are not achieving scale in your efforts.
Saul Kaplan, a great friend, and the founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory stated last week,
The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. – Saul Kaplan @Skap5
2. Commitment and Passion: To earn an audience, one must do it repeatedly. Some of your stories may flow very easily, while others will require work, practice, rewrites and new approaches. Invest the time, resources and passion.
3. Focus: You can’t earn a mass audience on day one and appeal to everyone. (exception being, temporarily, if you give away one Apple Watch a day for free for next 30 days, starting today)
It is hard to be everything to everyone. Decide on what you are good at and find an angle. With limited resources, we must tell stories where target audiences reside. It means focusing on a small number of storytelling opportunities.
4. Personality: Please find an authentic voice and personality that attracts the audience. It doesn’t need to be fully polished, in fact, these days, authenticity is so rare that people gravitate towards the raw, unpolished and honest.
Great stories happen when an authentic personality shines through. It is the difference between creating content, and developing stories that people find interesting, intriguing or provocative.
5. Opportunity: Sometimes, stories happen because there is a well-defined plan. Sometimes, good stories happen because a situation emerges that screams for action. Be receiptive and agile enough to leverage these opportunities. The key is to be relevant.
6. A willingness to listen, not just tell: As much as you want to tell stories, listening is important. Often, ideas for stories emerge when you’re listening. It could be at a conference, a dinner party or out for drinks with friends. If you are not listening, good story opportunities are squandered.
“A great storyteller…helps people figure out not only what matters in the world, but also why it matters.” – Maria Popova