The importance of storytelling for businesses

February 6, 2017

In 2016, Forbes referred to storytelling as the new strategic imperative of business. Here at Intelligent Ink, however, we don’t think it’s new at all. Ever since our inception we’ve known the absolute importance of telling stories. Just in case you’re still not convinced though, we’ve unpacked why we believe storytelling is so vitally important.

Telling storyIt’s all about connection

People care about organisations and brands that they feel connected to; it’s that simple. But how do you create connection? Think about how you make a friend… You sit down with someone and you share things about yourself. You enable them to get a feel for what you’re about – what drives you, what you like and dislike, what you value – the stuff that makes you uniquely ‘you’. We do that through telling them stories. The narratives we tell each other provide insights and allow us to connect. From there, a relationship is formed.

Well, at least, that’s how it worked in “the old days”. In our age of artificial connectivity, true connections are harder to come by. Storytelling may be somewhat old fashioned, but that’s exactly why it works to forge genuine connections. And it’s that that people are looking for. True connections, supported by real and authentic storytelling, are what is needed to cut through the ‘noise’ and the overwhelming excess that we have as consumers. Social media has made us more comfortable about the idea of conversing with businesses and brands, so there is a real opportunity to craft and share compelling stories.

The research says so

American researchers, based out of John Hopkins University, conducted a two year analysis of Super Bowl commercials in order to determine the specific strategies that most successfully sell products. While cute animals or sexy celebs may be one way to go, they found that plot development – the structure of the content, regardless of the content itself – was the biggest predictor of success. “People are attracted to stories because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people,” Keith Quesenberry, one of the researchers, explains.

Copy of Telling storyScience says so too

Other researchers believe this to be the case because storytelling evokes a strong neurological response too. Imagine this scenario: you’re watching or reading something that is set up as a narrative. You see the trials and tribulations of the characters and are along on the journey with them to reach a resolution. Now consider the science in our brains and bodies that goes along with that… Firstly, we produce the stress hormone, cortisol, during tense moments in the story; we’re focused, on edge and keen for a resolution. Then, when the happy ending comes, our limbic system – the brain’s reward centre – releases a seductive surge of dopamine, which lets us know that a resolution has been reached and makes us feel much better.

Not coincidentally, dopamine is the pleasurable ‘reward-driven’ substance in our brains that signals a success. It’s also the happy little brain chemical that makes us feel infatuation and this is where its presence is important for brands. If you want to win people over, you need to get them to release dopamine in your presence. And how can you do that? With the resolution of a happy story.

Stories incite action

There’s no shortage of stories and, in the deluge of content, it’s the compelling stuff that really makes us feel something that is going to actually make us do something. We think Harrison Monarth, author of The Confident Speaker, put it best when he said: “A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”

Stories make ideas stick. Stats and facts are all well and good, but it’s stories that will help us retain those points, when the data has faded from our memory. Further to that though, stories have the ability to inspire and motivate. Consider this prime example, as sourced from Hubspot:

In 2012, a pale woman with crazy eyebrows and a keytar strapped to her back made a video of herself, wearing a kimono and holding up hand-Sharpied signs on a street in Melbourne. One by one, the signs flipped, explaining that the woman had spent the last 4 years writing songs. She was a musician, and had parted ways with her record label, which had said the cost of her next album would be a whopping $500,000. She and her band mates were very happy to no longer be with the label, and had worked hard to create some great new music and art. But they couldn’t finish producing the record on their own. She needed people’s help to get it off the ground and to make what was now her business — independent music — work. “This is the future of music,” one of her signs read. Another, “I love you.”

She then posted the video on Kickstarter. In 30 days, it raised $1.2million. 24,883 people pre-ordered the album, bought artwork, or simply donated money. The album and tour became a huge success, and the artist turned her music into a real, profitable busin
ess. The woman in the kimono – if you haven’t heard this story already – was Amanda Palmer, who changed the game for independent musicians with that campaign. She did it, not by simply asking for money, but by telling her story.

So how do you tell a great story?  

In our opinion, the best stories surprise and delight. They’re real and authentic and honest. They provide a true insight into a brand, a business, or a person. They have compelling characters. They make us remember – sticking in our minds in a way that other bits of information don’t. The best stories keep it simple, focusing around one single important idea, theme or message.

Most importantly though (and the key to any great story) – they make us think and they make us feel. When you can get people to feel, you can get people to act. And THAT’S why storytelling is vital to business.

Your story goes here...

Everyone has a story to tell – why not tell yours? For help crafting a compelling story and connecting with your customers, just get in touch.