Learn to tell your business as a story

By Mike Cook
For The Bellingham Business Journal

“[Storytelling is a] business competency that drives emotional engagement and resulting enhanced business performance.” Forbes, April 2016

Mike Cook
Mike Cook

This was Super Bowl week, a great week for sports, but an even greater week for advertising. If it turns out that the advertising that was offered was more captivating than the game itself, it wouldn’t be the first time. Why? The answer is easy, because the Super Bowl presents some businesses the largest single audience they are going to be in front of all year, and they want to make sure to tell a story that will be remembered after the game has faded into the past.

But what about next week and what about your business? Chances are good you did not run a Super Bowl ad. But you do have a story to tell — are you going about it strategically?

Are you fully aware of the power to move your business forward by learning to tell it as a story?

I did not say learning to tell a story about your business. I said learning to tell your business as a story. To give it life as a story.

In “Storytelling: The New Strategic Imperative of Business,” Forbes contributing author Billee Howard directs our attention to the amount of energy businesses are and need to be putting into telling themselves as a story by which they want to be known.

Unfortunately, for many business owners, the necessity to create their business as a story is not at all obvious. And yet we currently live in a world that is often telling the story of our business and we are not directing it. Why? Largely it is a cultural inheritance, as author Ursula K. Le Guin puts it…

“Our culture doesn’t think storytelling is sacred; we don’t set aside a time of year for it.”

I think perhaps as a culture we tend to trivialize the notion of a story as something fanciful or fictionalized. However, if you stop and think for a moment, you realize that while our daily routines may be so regimented that we are closed off to much of the world, we go about our lives and business inside a teaming stew of language that is looking to define us at every opportunity.

To a large extent, technology has democratized business. Distant, like Amazon and Walmart, can compete with local. Small can compete with large using these same methods. Every business can be telling its story, and needs to be doing so.

Think of all the sites you might consult when considering finding a new service or product. These days Yelp springs to mind. For travel, many of us consult Trip Advisor in a similar way.

What about when someone might be looking for your business? Do they look for it first by name? Quite possibly the first way your business occurs for people is in the form of a search for the answer to a problem they are trying to solve. The name of your business might be the least important fact for the consumer or B2B customer. What is wanted now, in the age of vast choice, is a way to get connected with a business, a way to engage.

What are you doing to engage the audience you want to reach?

Howard tells us that our stories need to have four elements to be effective:

  • They must explain as much about who you are as what you do. Does our story say what matters to us, what we stand for?
  • The stories must matter. Does our story show that we are making a difference in lives?
  • The stories we tell must contain empathy and emotion. Does our story naturally touch people at an emotional level?
  • Our stories must be an invitation to win. There must be a way to be included in something larger than yourself — and your simple purchase.

At first blush, when we encounter this new requirement of the experience economy, we might want to say no. Can’t we simply produce a good product or deliver great service?

First, we better do either or both. Second, no, it is not enough. As business owners we need to reach into people’s lives in ways that we get noticed amidst the noise.

Mike Cook ‘s columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He facilitates a CEO peer advisory group in the Whatcom/Skagit area. He can be reached at mike.cook@vistagechair.com. He recently published ‘Thriving in the Middle: Why Managers Need to Be Coaching Each Other

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