- In a busy world where brand differentiation is becoming increasingly difficult, storytelling marketing is one of the best tools for a marketer to have in their toolset.
- Stories are humankind’s way of making sense of the world, and the same goes for businesses.
Human beings have been telling stories for thousands of years. Stories are fun, but they also help us form our identities and make sense of the chaos around us.
In a nutshell, story is the lens through which we see the world.
To learn more about storytelling marketing, I talked with bestselling author, business writer, and learning designer David Hutchens to see if there really is something to this storytelling stuff.
Spoiler alert: storytelling marketing is powerful, but it isn’t easy. Lucky for you, the writers at TechnologyAdvice are at your service to help with all your storytelling marketing needs. We actually like to write, and some of us even moonlight as fiction writers when we aren’t writing business articles and white papers.
To get a better handle on just what storytelling marketing is, read my lightly edited conversation with David Hutchens below.
FB: A practical-minded person might think, “Okay, storytelling marketing sounds cool, but can it actually help me make more money?” What would you say to that person?
DH: Increasingly, I think storytelling marketing may be the only way to make money. The marketplace is loaded with so much noise, it’s harder and harder to punch through and get attention. Story is brilliant at capturing ears and hearts.
Story is brilliant at capturing ears and hearts.
There was a fascinating—perhaps disturbing—study from Wharton Business School that demonstrates how adding data to a marketing message will actually “turn off the empathy switch.” That is, data moves your customer up into their brain and critical voice where they are evaluating whether they agree or disagree with your data proposition.
The Wharton study shows that when marketers simply tell stories, it creates a powerful empathic connection that moves your customer away from “agreement/disagreement” to simply experiencing your message.
FB: Can B2B companies also use storytelling marketing, or does it work better for B2C companies? Also, what’s the weirdest business or industry you’ve encountered that used storytelling marketing?
DH: There is absolutely no limitation on who can and should be telling stories. This is a universal human trait. Every human being in every culture on this earth speaks the language of story. It is the brain’s natural operating system for making sense of the world.
Story is the brain’s natural operating system for making sense of the world.
So yes, B2C companies should tell stories. B2B companies should tell stories. The only thing that I think is weird is when I encounter organizations that are not telling stories.
And from my experience, these tend to be science, technology, and engineering organizations. Stop being so weird, you STEM professionals! Tell your stories!
FB: You know, stories are all around us. I hear a lot of storytelling marketers talk about the Hero’s Journey as a good template for their own efforts. Are there any other kinds of “story templates” we should look at? Where do you look to find ideas for stories?
DH: The Hero’s Journey has gotten a lot of attention. A lot of my colleagues in the organizational narrative space dismiss the Hero’s Journey. And many of their objections are valid. It’s a conflict-driven narrative, it is very “male,” and so on.
I think the Hero’s Journey is a powerful construct and, as Joseph Campbell demonstrates, there’s a reason why it keeps emerging as an archetype across the ages.
But the Hero’s Journey doesn’t solve everything. In addition to the problems I mentioned above, it also has the shortcoming of being an “epic” story. That is, it has a lot of “chapters,” and it charts an encompassing journey with a large cast of characters.
The Hero’s Journey is helpful for branding work—as Donald Miller demonstrates with his Story Brand—and I’ve used it successfully in strategy work.
But for daily knowledge sharing, culture creation, engagement, and selling conversations, it’s too much. A lot of organizational storytelling is much smaller in scale.
It’s small moments where “something happens” with a single narrative arc. I’ve been creating a taxonomy of these powerful leadership stories, which was the genesis of my resource called the Leadership Story Deck.
FB: So there are times when it’s better to use certain kinds of stories over others?
DH: Yes, there are certain kinds of sales story types you should use at certain times. I detail a lot of these in my Leadership Story Deck. There are a few you might consider telling.
The first is “Why I’m Here.” Tell us what connects you to the offering. Why do you care? Tell us something that happened in your past that now makes you a true advocate for this offering.
The second is “A Guy With A Problem.” Instead of showing bullet points of features and benefits, tell a story. “I have a customer, his name is Ryan, and something really crazy happened to him… And that’s why I helped to create this solution. I don’t want anyone experiencing what Ryan experienced.”
The third story type is “A Company with Values.” Sales people miss this opportunity all the time. These are the “how” stories that say we aren’t like our competitors. We have our own set of beliefs. When you partner with us, it will feel different. Don’t just tell a customer “we value collaboration.” That sounds like marketing speak. Instead, tell us about a time you created remarkable collaboration with a customer.
Don’t just tell a customer “we value collaboration.”…Instead, tell us about a time you created remarkable collaboration with a customer.
Those are just a few ideas of stories you can tell. When I work with organizations, I help them find these and dozens of others. Then we can spend some time crafting those stories so that sales leaders can tell them with impact, every time.
FB: In one of your videos about the Leadership Story Deck, I heard you use a term I’ve never heard before: “story mining.” What is that, and what would that look like as a real life example?
DH: I use the “mining” metaphor intentionally. There are amazing stories in your team, in your organization, in your system that you haven’t heard. An important act of leadership, then, is mining for the “narrative assets”—the really valuable stories—that could be building your identity, brand, or offering.
Keep asking for stories and stay in the work. Beauty will emerge.
I call it mining because it’s like looking for gold. There are zillions of stories in your organization. Some of them are okay, some are really good…and some of them are gold.
How do we find them? Part of it is a numbers game. Keep asking for stories and stay in the work. Beauty will emerge.
When I work with organizations to build story capacity, that’s one of the things we’re doing. We are creating a space to receive those narrative assets from all of the different members of the system. It can be a powerful and inspiring process.
If there’s one thing I took away from my talk with David, it’s that there is a lot of noise out there. To stay competitive, businesses have to tell stories—it’s the best way for them to stand out from the crowd.
We tell stories about other people, ideas, and events all the time, but when it comes to telling our own stories, we tend to fumble our words. Hiring good writers is a big help. If you’re getting tired of talking about yourself, drop us a line. We tell stories all the time on our blog, and we tell stories about other businesses through our content services.