Business storytelling blunders to avoid at all costs, part I

A version of this article was originally published by ColoradoBiz here.

One key culprit for boring company narratives is that few people actually know what constitutes a “story.” This matters more than you think.

What’s a story? Is your company history a story? Is an elevator pitch a story? When some guy corners you at a networking event and yammers about his real estate portfolio, is that a story?

Brands increasingly recognize story-based marketing as a force to be reckoned with. Stories play a much more profound role in shaping our economic choices than rhetoric and facts. I’ve discussed the reasons for this before (here, here, and here). For now, let’s take it as a given and focus on how to do business storytelling right.

You “get it,” so why isn’t it working?

One key culprit for boring company narratives is that few people actually know what constitutes a “story” in specific terms. This matters more than you think. Business storytelling can build brand recognition, inspire team members to be more engaged, and help social enterprises achieve greater impact.

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But as far too many business pitches, advertorials and (expensive) websites show, appreciating stories and being able to tell them are two different things. Here is the first of three fatal business storytelling mistakes purpose-driven companies make, along with practical tips to overcome them.

Fatal error #I: Your story isn’t a story; it’s a mere narrative

It sounds weird because we grew up listening to and telling stories, but when it comes to actually defining what makes a story, we get stumped. Some of the clearest evidence of this (other than a hundred thousand boring company About pages that nobody reads) is the way people use the terms “story” and “narrative” interchangeably.

In the excellent book Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in the Post-Advertising World, authors Robert McKee and Thomas Gerace lay out why this s such a fatal error: “Narratives tend to be flat, bland, repetitive, and boring recitations of events.”

What's your story

A story has two essential elements that a mere narrative lacks:

  • Conflict, and
  • Emotional dynamics.

Simply put, “All stories are narratives, but not all narratives are stories.”

Stories are literally defined by conflict; no conflict, no story. And that matters because our brains are wired to interpret the world through stories, and to use them as points of reference to make decisions.

In Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the heroic spirit of business, authors John Mackey and Raj Sisodia put it this way: “Stories are the most powerful way of engaging with people at an emotional level; they can cause people to think, feel, and behave differently.”

Even if it’s told without the flair of a gifted storyteller, a story captures people’s attention because it makes it clear what the stakes are.

Elevate your brand with stories, not bories

Revisit your company’s story and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it clear what the stakes are?
  • Am I leading the discussion with rhetoric or feeling?
  • What frustrations and inspirations do I share with my customers; and am I conveying these clearly?

Odds are, the answer to at least one of these questions is “No.” Fix that, and you will have gone a long way towards fixing your branding.

I help purpose-driven entrepreneurs elevate their marketing through storytelling, humor, and clear strategic messaging.

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Posted on: November 19, 2020