As a marketer, I think it’s fair to say that I spend more time than the average person thinking about what my organization has to say. And like most organizations, between blog posts, newsletters, web content and more, we are a relatively chatty bunch.
In this sense, Mindset is not unique. For most industries, and certainly for tech, content marketing has become one of the most effective ways that organizations engage with their audiences. But with so much content, everywhere, how do you make your content standout from the crowd? One of the most effective ways is through Storytelling.
Storytelling: You had me at Irresistible
Storytelling has been called one of the most irresistible strategic business tools. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made it a standard practice to pursue pretty much anything that offers me the chance to be irresistible. Like other information delivery techniques storytelling delivers content (including even the driest of facts), in a way that encourages your audience to employ their imagination and explicitly tries to connect with the humanity of the audience.
At this point I’m pretty aware that many of you looking at this and reacting like the sick Grandson in the movie, The Princess Bride. “Hold it, hold it. What is this? Are you trying to trick me? Where’s the sports? Is this a kissing blog?” I hear you, not only does it sound decidedly non-professional (connecting with other humans :/…. and doing it at work) taking it a step further and applying that idea to technology organizations is clearly, well, Inconceivable!
Why Storytelling Works
Next week is Thanksgiving in the US, the official kickoff of the most special time of year, for marketers anyway, Black Friday to Christmas. If you have any doubt about the effectiveness of storytelling, spend five minutes watching a few television commercials. From the car ad that features a little girl telling her mom about the adventures she has planned for her life as she goes to school on her first day, to the beer advertisement with the cute puppy that is sad about being adopted away from the farm and is ultimately rescued by a barnful of Clydesdales, consumer advertising is ALL about Storytelling.
Why? It turns out that unlike other animals, humans are wired for stories. Scientific American magazine tackled the topic in the article It is in our Nature to Need stories, where they describe storytelling as our earliest science, a type of people-physics. Apparently, our brains developed specifically to process information in narrative form which in turn has resulted in a biological hunger for both story-hearing and story-making. On top of that, we have lots of practice. Humans have been communicating through stories for over 20,000 years, starting with our earliest presentations, delivered on cave walls. Bottom line, if you communicate your content through a story, it will be harder for your audience to turn away.
Storytelling for Fun and Profit
Storytelling in business is powerful because it helps you and your organization standout. For technology departments or organizations, storytelling is one of the most important skills you can develop to inspire others. Some of the best technology storytellers, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs have made it an art form to translate technology heavy content into a compelling mental picture of the software, device, or widget that we can’t imagine not having. Ready to start inspiring your organization, your customers, or your marketplace? Here are a few ways to kick off your next chapter as a storyteller.
- Use Storytelling to provide context: You have a new great product, idea, or interesting new business direction you want to share with your peers. As you begin sharing your thinking, start by telling the story of how it came to be. Describe not just the difficult process you are replacing, but the impact of that process. Describe how your team came up with the idea, and then the process to zero in on the solution you found, and its impacts. Making it relatable will have the added benefit of also being easier to understand and more memorable.
- Storytelling for Competitive advantage: Using storytelling to establish competitive distinctiveness is one of its most powerful usages. No matter your industry or niche, your buyers are faced with an increasingly noisy marketplace, and trying to understand the differences between offerings has only become more difficult. Research has repeatedly shown that decision-making, from deciding on where to buy a cup of coffee, to selecting your next great technology is more emotional that logical. If you find yourself in a dense competitive landscape, especially where your competitor’s offerings are reasonably competent, your buyer’s choice is likely going to come down to feelings. In those cases storytelling offers a competitive edge. Use short stories to help them envision what life will be like with your solution. Build case studies and infographics that have narrative element and feature closed-loop before and after views. Sharing that your buyer will gain 20% more efficiency is a great statement but one your competitors can easily counter. Helping your prospects imagine how that efficiency will then enable them to further grow their business will make it harder to displace your offering.
- Stories make your presentations memorable: There is a reason that so many Ted talks and keynotes start with a story. Stories immediately engage the audience. Why? Because the structure of stories cues our brains to tune in. Threading elements of your story throughout your content keeps listeners engaged and improves understanding.
- Storytelling to help decision making: I recently purchased a new laptop for my Mom. Dad passed away earlier this year and she needed a new computer to help manage her household. She is also interested in trying her hand at blogging (go Mom)! Like many of us, I started my online shopping by looking at user ratings and scanning the reviews for personal anecdotes about how it worked and ease-of-use. Only after I had effectively decided what to buy (thanks to the feedback of my computer buying brethren), did I review the detailed technical specs and product details from the manufacturer. Buyers love ratings, especially ratings with stories. Look for ways to enable faster decision making by eliciting and sharing stories that others have written about your organization and by encouraging personal anecdotes from your reviewers that will allow future prospects to be able to see themselves in the story.
As we wrap up the Story about Storytelling I have two final thoughts. First, remember that all your audiences are humans first. Connecting with people through storytelling makes your content memorable and easier to understand, and most importantly puts you in the neighborhood of irresistible. Second, enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving, and if you find yourself with a houseful of relatives looking for something to do, pull out The Princess Bride. Everyone loves it, and you’ll be ready to tell a great story when you get back to work on Monday.