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Why storytelling works for businesses

Storytelling has been part of our lives since time immemorial. This talent of telling stories is what made Shakespeare famous and kept Scheherazade alive during 1001 Nights.

Fast forward to the present day. What does this have anything to do with today’s business world? Quite a lot, I dare say.

Maybe storytelling is not a matter of life and death in an office environment, but businesses can and should adopt this age-old tradition into an innovative way in order to 1) keep their employees engaged, 2) educate their clients and 3) reach new audiences. Let's take these one by one.

1. Engaging employees with storytelling

Businesses can use stories to inspire and engage employees. I know a story about an American corporation in the early '90s that makes the perfect example.

Engaging employees with storytelling

This company had a "No Smoking Indoors" policy that everyone was supposed to follow. One day, the CEO was upset about something and lit a cigarette. He happened to be in the lobby and the new doorman noticed the rule-breaking. He approached the CEO and politely asked him to either quench the cigarette or go outside to finish it. He went on to say the CEO of the company is a great guy and he introduced this policy with the health and well-being of everyone on the premises in mind. The CEO was baffled. The doorman obviously didn't know with whom he was talking.

Remember, this was the early '90s; it was totally plausible for an employee to not know the face of the CEO. LinkedIn didn't exist yet.

Curious about what happened next? So were all the new employees of that company years after the event. This story became part of their organizational culture. It didn't matter the names of the characters; it didn't even matter if it was real or not. The message behind it was the most important.

The doorman didn't get fired; he didn't get a promotion either. All he got was acknowledgement for doing his job properly, because rules must not be broken for the wrong reasons, not even by those who made them!

This story educated employees about the reasons behind the policy, it inspired them to stand up for what they believed in front of anyone and it made a great subject of conversation in office gatherings.

2. Storytelling, a way of better educating clients

Marketing has been witnessing a shift lately, from trying to sell products or services to people to educating them into buying certain products or services. When you try to sell something, you focus on how great your product is, how cool its features are, how good the price is and of course how the product is the best solution to a client’s problem. When you're educating people into buying your product, you help them understand the benefits of that solution and how it helps them.

This triggers their emotions, which have a big influence over the buying process. And what better way to get to this emotional side of people besides storytelling? A good story will always make us feel in a way a chart on a slide or a report full of figures never will.

Businesses can educate their clients with stories in which they identify with people's emotions, anticipate their needs and address their unspoken concerns. The best products out there will never get anywhere without telling a good story.

Apple Inc. figured this out early on.

Stories of people queuing for days in front of Apple stores to be the first to buy an iProduct became international news. The most recent one is from this September, at the release of the new iPhone 6S in Australia, when a robot called Lucy managed to get her virtual hands on one of the shiny new smartphones.

This frenzy over a new iPod, iPad or iPhone didn't happen overnight though. Apple spent years and years telling stories that educated people about each and every feature their products had and, most important, how these features blended with the lives of the clients.

3. Reaching new audiences through storytelling

Customers want to have direct conversations with brands. The internet and social media now make this easier than ever.

Businesses can use these tools to provide a great customer experience for anyone that interacts with their brands and then use the stories that emerge to reach new possible clients.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotels is a great example. They use their website to let people know inside stories, collected from their hotels across the world. A child once forgot his teddy bear at the restaurant of the hotel. Before returning the stuffed animal to it's rightful owner, the staff photographed it dining in the restaurant, playing the piano, or cooking in the kitchen. Then, they shipped the toy together with the photos depicting what a marvelous time it had at the Ritz. Going the extra mile could have been a blank statement on their website; instead, Ritz wrapped it in a number of such stories. This certainly has a greater impact on new customers.

Another great example could be your brand. Each time your products or services helped other clients overcome a challenge or met a specific need, you create a story you can later share with a new audience. Find your own formula for the beginning, middle and end, then remember to be authentic.

Everyone loves a good story

Stories are hard-wired in our brains because we are ‘’social animals’’ and we relate to other people through empathy. Storytelling is an important tool for businesses because they can’t exist without people.

Employees’ actions influence the customer experience and the customer experience influences the reach of new audiences. Good stories keep employees happy and engaged, who provide a great experience for customers, who later turn into brand advocates. This is why storytelling works for businesses.

Do you know a story like the ones mentioned above? Why not share it in the comments section? There may be no cookies for you, but if the story is great, it can become part of the post!

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