Storytelling has been around since humans were old (and developed) enough to grunt. The world’s oldest fictional text, the Epic of Gilgamesh, was written sometime around 2300-2400 BC. The physically strong, gorgeous, and wise Gilgamesh — who’s two-thirds god, one third man — (as if his other attributes weren’t already enough), is a king on a quest to achieve immortality. And thousands of years later, his epic is still captivating many.
Humans enjoy telling, reading, or listening to people from faraway places overcome obstacles of all kinds. When you were younger, you might’ve loved reading about the snarky, yet completely lovable, 4th grader Amber Brown, who called her mother’s boyfriend Max, MaxGorilla. Or maybe your love of storytelling began with your favorite childhood movie “Stand By Me,” or “Home Alone” (I AND II). Narratives are an integral part in our lives from a young age no matter which medium we absorb them through, and their effects on us are impressive.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, and while it also may be the world’s oldest buzzword, it’s still relevant.
Tjan cares about the people behind the business plan. He’s interested in the backstory behind the company: Where and how did the founder grow up? Which trials, errors, triumphs, and setbacks led them to their business idea?
The venture capitalist believes heart, boldness, and the ability to connect with others are essential for a business’ success. “The durability or effectiveness of any leadership or partnership requires this ability to connect and share a story — people need to just feel it.”
Business isn’t always just business. It’s also inherently personal, because you’re dealing with people.
Us human beings have a long history of investing in the stories and driving motivation of others. It’s the reason narratives are passed down to multiple generations. Why personal accounts are always more interesting than a bulleted run down of events. It’s also (partially) why we repeatedly buy certain products.
Alright so maybe you’re not inclined to research the stories behind all of the products you use, but marketer’s, take note; if you present your story in an intriguing and personable way, your audience could perceive your services as more valuable.
What happens when you share a story with your branding? How do we know it’s an effective marketing strategy?
Enter: the Significant Objects Project. As part of a literary and anthropological experiment, journalist Rob Walker and author Joshua Glenn were curious if they could resell inexpensive tchotchkes, or knickknacks on eBay for a significantly higher price after they added a story to the item listing.
They believed that emphasizing the connection between an object and its history would cause buyers to view the item as more valuable, leading to an overall profit increase.
The pair spent roughly $125 on thrift store merchandise and asked around 200 writers to contribute compelling, personal stories for items such as a bird figurine, which originally cost 50 cents.
One author wrote an anecdote about that bird figurine he and his wife found in their bathroom after a barbecue, but neither of them knew who had left the bird on the shelf above their toilet.
In the product description, the author shared how they set out to find the culprit and ended up inadvertently setting up their single friends instead. After Walker and Glenn added the story to the post, the figure was resold for $52, a 10,300% increase.
One of the most obvious, and measurable benefits of storytelling is an increase in profits, but the art form has multiple advantages. Sharing some tales with your customers:
- Humanizes your brand and makes a company relatable
- Can often simplify complicated concepts
- Gives your company a distinct voice and tone
- Educates customers in an entertaining way
Before publishing that super thorough and well-written fact sheet, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. As a consumer, wouldn’t you rather read this information in story-form with an entertaining and colorful tone?
Rhetorical questions aside, I think we can all agree that if given the choice, most of us would rather read a tale about the founder than skim a list of cold-hard facts. We’re also more likely to remember the story version.
Humans have the innate ability to share stories, but that doesn’t mean the art doesn’t need refining.
Consider Disney, the company that built their brand around storytelling. They don’t push out a single product unless it fits in with their overall brand identity as master yarn spinners and spreaders of magic. Part of the reason Disney is so powerful is because they’re not a brand who obnoxiously pushes their products in people’s faces. Behind every pull-the-string-and-he-talks- Mickey Mouse stuffed animal, fuzzy Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, or amusement park where a small book of character autographs was once an incredibly valuable possession, is a story-first approach. And that’s what sells.
In part II, I’ll talk story structures, tones, resolutions, and all the good stuff that makes your marketing tale memorable.