Be Authentic: How to Grow Your Business with Storytelling

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Storytelling is a powerful way to gain traction, build brand awareness, and generate revenue, as it provides substance to marketing.

Storytelling is a great instrument to hack the growth of business with stronger brand awareness, increased traction, and increased revenue.

Many successful entrepreneurs have used it to their advantage. Use it appropriately; a business can expect to see strong growth in multiple directions, because good stories provide content and, more importantly, the substance for marketing activities.

How often do we hear stories about the founder of a business or the inventor of a product because he or she experienced something needing solving?

A true story makes a compelling reason to start something, and it’s basically how the human civilization continues to evolve.

Human beings have been telling stories, hence the term “oral history.” Our ancestors used to sit circling a bonfire when sharing their hunting and spiritual experiences and telling fables and legends. Our brain has been wired for millennia to absorb details of stories well.

A good story tells. A great story shows. Always aim to “show.”

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A Founder’s Story

If you run a family business, which can be anything from a mom-and-pop store to a publicly-traded company, tap into the stories surrounding the business, the product, and the people running the show. Storytelling has been recognized as one of the best ways to increase employee engagement, reduce turnover, and generate revenue.

Start with how the company was first founded. The patriarch or the matriarch must have shared how he or she first got the “aha” moment that triggered them to start the business from scratch. Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN) department store, for instance, started out as a shoe store in Seattle.

Let’s use Nordstrom as a case study. Cited from the company’s history page, “In 1887, 16-year-old John W. Nordstrom left his home in Sweden for the promise of New York City. He arrived with $5 and not a word of English to his name.”

These two sentences set the tone as the premise of the story, which is already grabbing the readers’ attention so powerfully. People love success and rags-to-riches stories. This approach is so popular that we all know how Steve Job, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Zuckerberg started out with “rags.”

Use the most emotionally compelling aspect of a story as the premise. In journalism, stories are often structured with inverted pyramid approach, where the most important aspects of a story are placed at the top. Consider the most emotionally compelling part of the story as the “most important.”

Wrap the story around it. Whenever possible, use chronological order from the triggering moment to start the business to the most recent developments. This approach is ideal when developing a founder’s story. Another approach to storytelling is sharing how a problem is solved. For this, consider using before-after and comparison approaches, which are easy to understand and make a lot of sense to readers.

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Before and After Approach

Many slimming and diet products use this approach. You probably have seen dozens of ads with photos of the model in “before” and “after” using a certain product. For a family business, you can use this to share stories about customers’ problems and business problems that you’ve solved as well. This approach is pretty straightforward.

The story of Julie Austin, the inventor of Swiggies, a wrist water bottle for runners, for instance, is a good example. In a case study published by SiliconValleyGlobe.com, the story started with this premise, “Julie Austin came up with the idea for Swiggies after passing out from dehydration.

The concise and powerful premise sets the tone that the invention is useful and can save the user’s life. In the body of the story, the story continued with, “She realized it was dangerous to go out running without water, and she needed a way to carry it hands-free. She thought the best way would be to carry it on her wrists, so it’s easily accessible. She looked around for something like it, and there was nothing on the market. That’s when she decided to make one herself and started on a long journey of inventing and manufacturing the product.”

Find problems and solutions in your family business that can be transformed into emotional stories. The more unique and the more emotional, the better. Mesmerize the readers with the notion that “there are good people out there who can help them.” And those people are you.

Comparison Approach

Use comparison approach with care, especially when comparing your product with competitors’. The best practice in using this approach is by comparing the various solutions of the same problem. In this Q&A Forbes article titled “MannKind Will Market Afrezza Better Than Sanofi Ever Did,"  a comparison approach is done with care and supported with arguments and data.

Another way to use comparison approach is by using a premise that “it’s better to do this than to do that to reach such result.” Here, you don’t compare products, but the activities. If the source of such a story comes from your business, it would be great, as it would add to the authenticity, which can be used as a case study.

At last, how should a story be structured? According to a TED speaker Nancy Duarte, who is also a professional presenter, here are the steps:

  • Start with a premise
  • What if (explore several scenarios in the results you wish to obtain)
  • What can be (explore several ways that the results can be achieved)
  • Make the gap as big as possible between “what if” and “what can be”
  • Make the status quo unappealing
  • Call to action to the new approach

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In Conclusion

Storytelling is a powerful way to gain traction, build brand awareness, and generate revenue. Good stories provide substance to marketing activities, which can be achieved with before-after and comparison approaches. And readers love good stories about business founders structured in an emotionally compelling way.

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