In 2009, a group of people tried an experiment.
They bought a few hundred miscellaneous items from flea markets across the United States for an average price of $1.25 per object. Then, this group of people hired writers to craft stories about these objects and resell them on eBay.
A “Russian Figure”, originally bought for $3 at a thrift store, resold for $193.50 after author Doug Dorst brought the figure to life with his gripping tale of Saint Vralkomir of Dnobst, the patron saint of extremely fast dancing.
Altogether, the objects resold for a total price of $8000.
That’s the value of a good story.
Humans have been telling stories for hundreds of thousands of years. Storytelling is the way we share information, learn from collective experiences, and teach moral values to the younger generation.
Take “The Three Little Pigs” for example. The original creator of the story takes us through an exciting journey of three brothers who go off to make their fortune. The two lazier brothers — those that made their houses of straw and sticks — are eaten by a ravenous wolf due to their haphazard constructions, while the most industrious brother is able to live out his days in peace and prosperity thanks to his superior brick construction.
This story teaches children the value of hard work and the danger of laziness.
Now imagine if instead of using storytelling to teach these values, we just listed them out in bullet form
Benefits of being hard-working:
- Lower risk of being eaten by a predatory mammal
- Higher probability of living out one’s life in peace and prosperity
- More likely to live in a strong house not prone to being blown in
If that was what our parents read to us before we went to sleep every night, I would be willing to bet my life savings that no children would be begging their parents to read them the “bullet point list detailing the benefits of being hard-working” before bed.
And, more likely than not, nobody would remember what was said. Because that’s the key of a good story: it makes a lasting impression.
Using stories to increase engagement
Storytelling is a powerful tool to show potential clients what your product could do for them — and many organizations are starting to catch on
Google Adwords is an online advertising platform that businesses can use to display advertisements, service offerings, product listings, video content and generate mobile application installs within the Google ad network to web users.
But instead of saying *that*, Google created a two-minute video that told a story about how Zingermann’s, a small-town deli and specialty food store from Ann Arbor, transformed into a $14 million business by using Adwords.
Google does a beautiful job of keeping the focus on Zingermans and giving them a chance to tell their story — while subtly hinting at the role Google Adwords played in their growth.
I don’t know about you, but if someone wanted to engage me in a conversation about printer security software, I would more likely than not run quickly in the opposite direction.
Despite that, I watched all 6 minutes of this excellently produced video talking about just that.
The reason is that HP turned an ostensibly boring topic — printer security software — into a story with plot development, interesting characters, and tension that I couldn’t stand to look away from.
The people who benefit most from PayPal’s services are small businesses, in addition to the growing number of people participating in the gig economy.
To tell you about PayPal’s services and what they can mean for mom and pop stores, PayPal asked its customers to share their stories — who they are and what made them want to start their business. These stories add a bit of humanity into the otherwise faceless money transfer software by showing us what PayPal can mean for *real* people.
Radical Ocean Futures
Scientific papers are notoriously abstruse. Most are written using high-level scientific terms, and can only be understood by like-minded scientists.
Rather than publish yet another scientific paper that remains hidden from the public eye, sustainability scientist Andrew Merrie at Stockholm University decided to postulate potential ocean futures using current scientific knowledge — through the lens of science fiction.
Along with the team at Stockholm Resilience Centre, he published four highly engaging and beautifully illustrated stories that outline four potential scenarios for the future of the ocean, that range from hopeful to downright terrifying.
Plain Jane is a cannabis company that relies nearly completely on influencer marketing to promote their product.
Rather than marketing through traditional channels, they give out free samples of their product and ask people to post about them on social media. While they’re taking a risk because they can’t control any of the messaging — they don’t even take most of their own photos — they are able to showcase a lot of authentic stories and content.
The important lesson to learn from this is that keeping the focus on the customers is the key to building an authentic brand that resonates with exactly the people you’re trying to reach. Because, in the end, the customers are what any business is all about.
How to implement storytelling into your start-up?
Too many entrepreneurs think that “telling our story” means “telling the story of them”, as Cheryl Corner so eloquently phrased in her article “Selling by Story Telling”.
Maybe you have a great company culture, or maybe your company’s “coming to be” story is really interesting, but the fact of the matter is… most people don’t like listening to other people going on and on about themselves. They want a chance to talk about themselves as well.
As Corner noted, “if you talk primarily about yourself, you are missing the chance to share the most compelling story of all: the ones your customers would like you to tell.”
While most start-ups don’t have the budget to direct and produce high-quality videos with award-winning actors, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to incorporate storytelling into their business.
Start by telling your customers’ stories. Gather testimonials from customers you’ve worked with. Compile case studies that put your customers’ in the spotlight. And, when you’re done, put them somewhere where everyone can see.
Adding real, human experiences to your story will breathe life into your company — and, of course, carries the added bonus of helping you sell more products.
This article was first posted on July 15, 2019, and last updated on April 10, 2021.
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