Leave no page unturned: The art and science of organizational storytelling

by in Marketing, Sales

pexels-photo-large (2)Stories are our oldest form of communication. They transfer knowledge from generation to generation, preserving the events of our past.

There’s good reason that stories transcend time. We, as humans, are genetically wired to favor stories: we retain only 5-10% of information shared through statistics but 65-70% when these stats are accompanied by story. Because we’re hardwired to gravitate towards stories, storytelling has become an essential skill. The age-old tradition has only increased in importance over time as we’re grown to inhabit an increasingly information-saturated world. Storytelling has even found a home in business. Hubspot has dubbed the practice, “the biggest business skill of the next 5 years.” Nick Morgan, one of America’s top communication theorists, sums it up well: “Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all.”

From sales to marketing to senior leadership, the art of storytelling can transcend all parts of an organization – and with great impact and effectiveness.

How storytelling can transform sales: 

Any interaction between a salesperson and a buyer is an opportunity to tell a story. The best salespeople tell stories that captivate buyers, whetting their appetites to make purchases.

More often than not, a mental jump is required on the part of consumers to make a purchase. Before opening their wallets, consumers, either subconsciously or consciously, perform a cost/benefit analysis, weighing the cost of a product relative to the perceived benefits. Storytelling helps consumers envision themselves as successful customers. Researchers have found that listening to a story activates the same areas of the brain that would be triggered if actually experiencing the events of the story firsthand. In effect, stories can make it cognitively easier for consumers to take the mental jump entailed in making a purchase.

The most effective salespeople tell stories that consumers can easily relate to. The best stories are ones that propel consumers to step inside the shoes of the characters. They often have plot lines that portray the main characters as heroes for making the desired purchase. The better able consumers can relate to a story’s protagonist, the better able they’ll be to envision themselves as a customers. The best salespeople tailor the traits of characters to be most relatable to each specific consumer (characters, for example, may work in the same industry or be thwarted by a similar organizational challenge).

How storytelling can transform marketing: 

Marketers can also make for great storytellers. Best-in-class marketers use case studies, testimonials, commercials, etc. as outlets to tell compelling stories. Often overlooked, but especially lucrative outlets for storytelling, are brand mascots. It’s been scientifically proven that brand characters can improve marketing efforts. In one study, the iconic Charmin Bear and Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes spokescat, drove 585% and 279% increases in Facebook share-ability, respectively.

In the B2B world, marketers have tended to shy away from the use of brand mascots as they carry a stigma of unprofessionalism. Times are changing, however. B2B mascots are on the rise, especially among tech companies. Examples include Freddy, the MailChimp chimpanzee. John Hicks, a MailChimp graphic designer and the mastermind behind the mascot has documented how Freddy has evolved over time to become a narrator and advocate for the MailChimp story and brand. Other B2B mascots include Salesforce’s Chatty, Hootsuite’s Ow.ly (acknowledged as a core element of the company’s culture and brand), Marketo’s Markie, and Linux’s Tux (a name derived from (T)orvalds (U)ni(X)).

Mascots can function as effective storytellers for an organization. They can humanize a company. The physical manifestation of a company in the form of a mascot gives consumers something tangible to grasp and, in doing so, helps engender trust among consumers.

How storytelling can transform leadership:

The power of a great story should not be lost on managers. One of the most often overlooked avenues for successful storytelling is employee motivation. Effective leaders embed storytelling into employee training initiatives, with the objective to highlight how an organization empowers its clients to succeed. Stories that underscore how consumers have transformed their organization as a result of becoming customers can heighten the levels of accountability that new and existing employees feel when trying to close deals. Customer success stories can add a layer of humanity to the job, transforming a product from a faceless entity to a path to success and empowerment. Ultimately, customer success stories can help salespeople change their outlook on work: their daily pursuits become less about hitting pre-defined quotas and more about helping customers. This change in perception inevitably leads to improved customer service.

Hotel Operator Wynn Resorts Limited realizes the benefits of organizational storytelling on a daily basis. At the onset of every hotel shift, supervisors ask employees, “Does anyone have a story about a great customer experience they’d like to share?” Stories help motivate employees to incorporate best-in-class behaviors into their daily interactions with guests. Steve Wynn, the company’s CEO, reflects, “Storytelling has changed my business and my life.”

Don’t underestimate the power of a story. Storytelling can ignite an organization to drive sales, build engagement, and empower employees to improve customer service. Regardless or role, experience level, or company type, consider integrating storytelling into your organization. As Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

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About The Author

Rebecca Hinds
Rebecca Hinds - View more articles

Rebecca Hinds graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a M.S. in Management Science and Engineering. In 2013, Rebecca co-founded Stratio, a semi-conductor company developing infrared sensors. The company was selected by the Kairos Society as one of the 50 most innovative student-run businesses in the world.