Storytelling is probably one of the most important means of communication any marketing, branding or communications specialist can have in their toolbox. In this article, we will give you seven reasons to incorporate the traditional story arch in the way you talk about your company.
- Storytelling is quintessential to the human experience
Storytelling is how we connect with others, build relationships and make sense of the world, of life, of history and our identities. Society is historically based on compelling narratives. Nations, religions, families, products, sports, art, and businesses are all based on great stories. Anthropologists tell us ancient humans sat around campfires in the evening and told stories that helped them make sense of life and the cosmos. Today, in business, it is no different. When we meet a potential client for coffee nor happy hour, what’s the first thing we do? We relay the stories of our lives. Why? Because stories provide a stimulating way to learn about others, but more importantly, they also help us make an emotional connection that builds trust. And we tend to do business with those we know, like and trust.
- We are neurologically wired for storytelling
Neurologists tell us that stories, well-told, light up all areas of the brain, create cross brain function and leave chemical imprints on various learning centers that aid in recall. That means that the stories we tell about our companies, if they are emotional and compelling, can become hard wired into the brains of our customers, rent free. In a post by the Neurological Leadership Summit, we are told that the motor and sensory cortices, as well as the frontal cortex are all engaged during story creation and processing. These networks are nurtured and solidified by feelings of anticipation of the story’s resolution, involving the input of your brain’s form of candy, dopamine. Stories synchronize the listeners brain with the speaker through a process called neuro coupling. “Neuroscientists have this saying that neurons that fire together, wire together. So, when we’re hearing a story and our brain is lighting up, you have all of these neurons that are then wiring together, which triggers us to remember more of the information we’re getting.” Lisa Cron in her comprehensive book, Wired For Story, makes a compelling argument for the neurological advantages storytelling brings to the marketing managers. In short, our brains are neurologically wired for storytelling.
- Stories are emotional
Stories make an emotional connection between the listener and the storyteller. Contrary to what you may have heard, emotion in business is not a dirty word, especially when it comes to audience engagement. Facts and figures, spreadsheets and pie charts are indispensable to the corporate board rooms, but facts and figures are dry as dust when it comes to emotional engagement. As every skilled salesperson knows, emotions are crucial to sales and decision making. We buy on emotions and use information to reinforce our gut instincts. Lisa Cron argues that emotions are crucial to decision making. She tells the story of a neurologist that had a patient who was brilliant and well known in his career for his problem-solving skills as a CEO. However, after a car accident, his prefrontal cortex was damaged (the area where the brain processes emotion) and now he can’t even make a simple decision, such as whether to use a fork, spoon or knife to eat a bowl of soup. Why? Because decisions are made based on two factors: fear of pain and anticipation of pleasure. When the brain cannot process these two basic emotions, it is incapable of reaching a decision. Emotions play a critical role in decision making.
- Storytelling is a critical business skill
Who is the most popular person at a company party? The one that can tell the best story. The ups and downs of a story, the identification with the hero, his wants and his problems and the basic human desire to overcome and succeed make the art of storytelling the perfect business tool. The sales person that can wrap crucial facts and figures into a compelling narrative will cut through the corporate noise and capture the hearts and minds of clients. Ben Horowitz, co-founder of a large venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said that the most underrated skill in business is storytelling. British billionaire, Richard Branson, said entrepreneurs who cannot tell a story will never be successful. People remember stories, not spreadsheets and data. If you want more business, tell better stories.
- Stories help us focus and cut through distractions
When I first launched our video production company, Barking Squirrel Media, and was meeting with potential clients, I would lead off with what I thought was impressive information about our cinema cameras, lenses, gimbals, lights, grip, etc. I could see their eyes glaze over as I spouted out endless information. I discerned early on in these meetings that I had failed to connect. By nature, I am a storyteller, however, when I left my previous career to launch Barking Squirrel Media, I mistakenly put storytelling on the shelf and sought to win people over with impressive data. Epic fail! When I changed my approach and led with storytelling, everything changed for our company.People loved the personal stories and retold them to others. And the more I included my struggles and how I overcame them, the more captivated they became. Soon they began inviting me to talk to the C Suite members of their respective corporations to tell them the Barking Squirrel Media stories. Because we are wired for storytelling, we have a human need to hear and see great stories. The twists and turns of a story draw us in and we dismiss the surrounding distractions. It’s why we love to watch a movie when we are stressed. The story takes our minds off all the things that worry us and we become hyper focused on the plight of the hero. The longer we can maintain our audience’s attention, the more likely we can make an emotional connection that can lead to new business. Rather than presenting your potential client with lots of data on your people, products and processes, tell them a human story, one based on the classic story arch, that exemplifies that data. You customers are much more likely to give you their attention.
- Stories Help Us Remember Crucial Information About Our History & Future
As companies, religions and nations, we wrap information in a story to increase recall. Think about the Old Testament in the Bible. It’s full of such stories.
- Creation stories: Adam and Eve, the great flood, the promised land.
- Stories of rescue and deliverance: Moses delivers the Jewish people from Egyptian oppression
- Stories of nation building: Israel and the promised land, Israel’s kings, stories of war and conquest
- Stories of apocalypse – the end of the world, eternal life, judgement, resurrection.These stories help us interpret our lives and find meaning and purpose. Every country remembers its history through the tales of battle, defeat and conquest. In the USA we were told the story the Boston Tea Party in elementary school where we said to Great Britain, “no taxation without representation” and poured vasts amounts of tea into the river in protest. Think of the story of Paul Revere riding a horse through town yelling “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Even our national anthem tells a foundational story of battle and conquest.We may not remember a long list of facts and figures, but we will remember a story because it is about people, their problems and their struggle to overcome.
- Stories create empathy
Great stories enable us to walk in someone else’s shoes, to identify with their problems and to take our place in that story. The ultimate goal of corporate storytelling is to get our potential and current clients to own our story to the point that it becomes part of their way of thinking and worldview. Barking Squirrel Media has its own founding story that both engages and inspires our clients to do business with us. Here is our story.We were rebranding and in search of a name that would reflect who we were as a video production company that specialized in storytelling. I wanted the name to be a bit unusual and make people think, huh?……. I had been working with my script writer in search of a new name for 3 days. On the third day we decided to work from a local Starbucks. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and we had papers and pictures stretched out over a large table at Starbuck, struggling to find the right name for the company. In frustration, Ben asked me, for the 50th time, what the new brand would be about. I said, Ben, I want to tell stories that will engage people’s hearts, change the way they think and inspire them to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I want to inspire them with a new way of thinking and give them a larger lens through which to see life. It’s all about creating an “ah ha” experience for people through story.Ben’s response was, “Ok, so how do you find such an expansive view yourself? How do you find these ah ha experiences?” I’m a hunter that never shoots anything. I just love to be in the forest with a rifle on my back keenly listening to nature. I have a place in the mountains where I love to hunt. I drive to the top of a mountain and arrive around 5:30am, before the sun comes up. I put the backpack and rifle on my back and walk down a lonely path in the forest until I get to the valley. There is a small grassy knoll beside a creek in the valley under an enormous canopy of trees.I sit in the grass and lean my back against a giant oak tree and wait for the sun to rise.Once the sun rises above the mountain behind me, it’s like little fingers of light break through the thick canopy of trees and illuminate the forest floor. I sit in wonder as I watch the light awaken nature. I’m entranced by the beauty of flowers, the wonder of water droplets on a tree leaf and the sheer joy the animals express over a new day. The wonder of life, the beauty of nature and the profound sense of connecting with the divine source in all things captivates me.What I thought was important begins to fall to the forest floor and what is important rises to the surface. I find inspiration, perspective and an expansive view of life in the forest.But Ben, I don’t know how this helps us find a new name for the company. I’m going to get another cup of coffee but when I get back, remind me to tell you the story of this darn barking squirrel. Of course he insisted that I tell him right then and I did.Every morning, after my time with nature and the source of all things, I take out my deer, turkey or coyote call and begin honking away, hoping to lure an animal to me. And all of the sudden I hear a loud scratching sound moving down the huge oak tree across the creek from where I sit. I don’t know how long squirrels live, but I could swear this same squirrel has run down this same tree every year for the last 5 years. The squirrel runs out over a branch that crosses the creek and extends a few feet above my head. It then hangs upside down and just barks his head off at me for about 15 minutes. This is his sanctuary, not mine and he intends to let me know I have invaded his space.And every year I think I should just shoot this darn barking squirrel for irritating me, but I just can’t. The squirrel is just too cute to kill. Then Ben yells out, “that’s it! That’s the name of the company!” I said, “What? What name,” Ben says, Barking Squirrel, Barking Squirrel Media will be the name of the company. When people ask you about the name, you can tell them this silly squirrel story.I guess I am a bit dense and I said there is no way we will call this company Barking Squirrel Media. That’s absurd!Over the course of the next two weeks we held several informal series of focus groups asking for input on four names. Unanimously, everyone chose the name Barking Squirrel Media. One might ask why is that name so engaging? First, it is a real story of a real person’s experience that creates empathy. Second, the name is unexpected. Most people don’t know that squirrels bark. Third, it speaks to the deep human need to connect with something larger than themselves, whether it is nature, the universe, the divine or self-consciousness. And finally, squirrels are just adorable. The story resonates with something deep in our heart.
To this day, almost every client asks me if there is a story behind the Barking Squirrel Media name and when I tell the story, it promotes emotional bonding with the client while also explaining the mission and differentiator of our company.
How can you tell stories to your clients that do the same? If you need help discovering and crafting your company’s stories, reach out to us. We would love to help!
Dr. David K Bray
President, Barking Squirrel Media, LLC