The Power of Business Storytelling – Engaging Customers and Boosting Sales

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by Kristin Savage. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Now she had found herself as a freelance writer. You can find her on Facebook and Medium.

Everyone loves a good story. In fact, from the beginning of human history, stories, whether on the walls of caves or verbally told, have been the mainstay of many civilizations and the passing down of values, beliefs, and cultural traditions. And we have all be thoroughly engrossed in novels that we cannot put down because the story is so compelling.

Only recently have businesses begun to realize the value of storytelling for their content marketing efforts. And many still do not understand the power of storytelling in capturing the interest of today’s consumer.

But today’s consumer is a far different being than he was just a couple of decades ago. He wants a more personal relationship with the businesses he patronizes. He asks questions – Who are you? What do you stand for? Where did you come from? What value can you offer me?
These questions can all be answered and that relationship can be developed through storytelling.

What kinds of stories can businesses tell?

Every business has a history – how it began, how it has grown, and what it has established as its mission and purpose. This becomes a brand identity. And it appeals to consumers’ need to know that brand on a personal level. This is the most important and first story a business must tell.

Every business also has stories of its staff – who they are, what their positions are, what their outside interests are, etc. This personalizes a company that might otherwise remain “faceless.”

Every business has customers – happy customers who will share their stories of experiences with a company.

And every business has stories to tell as it grows and as the years go by – new products or services, sponsorship of community events, contributions to sustainability, etc.

Why storytelling is critical

In their book, Corporate Culture & Performance, authors Kotter and Heskett show that companies with a clear purpose and vision, that can also clearly explain that to their audiences, can realize as much as 700X the revenue as those that do not. If for no other reason than this, a brand must craft that initial story about itself and make it engaging. And all of the other content it produces must be consistent with that purpose and vision.

Let’s break down these ideas of “purpose and vision” a bit further, to understand exactly how storytelling engages customers and boosts sales.

Consumers demand a personal relationship
Much of consumer purchasing occurs online. It’s not like customers walk into a store and engage face-to-face with a salesperson – something that humanizes the buy experience. And yet that emotional “human” connection is something that is important. Replacing that face-to-face connection is what storytelling can do for a brand. It can show the “human” face of a company so that customers feel good about making a purchase. When content on a website, a blog, or on social media shows the personal side – telling the story of a company’s founders or featuring its team members – consumers can relate on an emotional level.

Customers demand social proof
Consumers today are savvy and a bit suspicious. When companies use their content for direct sales and promotion, they are not engaged or “moved”. When businesses use their content to feature satisfied customers – real people just like them – consumers are moved to trust the brand and the value it provides. This is powerful marketing, and featured customer stories are far more likely to be shared on social media. Content Editor for Pick Writers, a site that reviews translation services agencies, puts it this way: “When we review an agency, we want to see authentic stories about clients who have been served well. When we do see these, that agency gets high marks on our evaluation scale. Naturally, those high marks translate to more business for that company.”

Consumers demand social responsibility
Millennials now control over $200 billion in purchasing power. And Gen X’ers are not far behind. Both of these demographics demand that the brands they patronize exhibit social responsibility of some sort. This means that brands must tell stories of their environmentally friendly approaches and/or their commitment to socially relevant causes. When a company can tell stories related to these things, consumers feel good about making purchases. A prime example is Toms Shoes, a business that has, from its inception, adopted a one-for-one giving policy. For each pair of shoes sold, the company donates a pair to a needy child. And its website and social media posts tell these stories, showing children who receive shoes. You may not be able to do this large a charitable activity, but you can support and participate in charitable events and provide stories of that participation.

In the end…
Research shows that purchasing decisions are more emotional than rational. While there are many psychological triggers that can promote emotional responses, the use of storytelling is powerful indeed. People want to feel connections to others, even businesses.

And here’s a story that will convince you. The website Significant Objects tells a tale of two researchers, Rob Walker and Josh Glenn, who wanted to prove the importance of storytelling. They purchased several items at garage sales, spending an average of $1.25 each on them. They then provided emotionally-compelling backstories for each of the objects (they had the help of contributors to create the stories), and placed the objects on E-Bay, with those stories. In the end, they realized $8,000 in revenue from those sales. Need I say more?

So, create those stories. Tell readers about your successes, your struggles, your issues, and your triumphs. Tell them about all that you do and what purpose you have beyond just sales of products. Feature real people in your stories. Consumers will connect with your brand and ultimately become loyal customers.