The Power of Relatable Narratives
Almost everyone we talk to in marketing and product management these days is interested in strategic storytelling. How can they tell better stories to customers that are more relatable? And, how can they tell better stories internally to convince management to invest in their plans?
Because of all the buzz about storytelling, you might assume that telling a compelling brand story works — and you are right! But understanding why storytelling works is important to mastering its full power.
Effective Storytelling Has Been Proven to Produce Audience Empathy
Business storytelling, just like most other types of stories, connects facts and emotions in a narrative structure. It creates a tension that demands resolution.
Just like in fiction, business stories take us on journeys, often involving challenges that need to be overcome and resolutions to be found. This compelling narrative structure is hardwired into the human psyche, dating back to our earliest days around the campfire. Which is why storytelling in business works.
Here are two more compelling reasons why it works. According to Visme, people are 22 x more likely to remember a statistic that is wrapped in a story. And according to an HBR study, character-driven stories produced oxytocin in the bodies of an audience — a chemical associated with empathy.
Who wouldn’t want customers, or plan-approving managers or investors, to have empathy for your product or plan?
Tip #1: Create a Customer-Centered Hero’s Journey Narrative
When building a story of your brand or product, it’s critical that your audience be able to relate to it. They must see themselves in it and find it relevant to their own challenges. Fortunately, if your business planning process starts with analyzing customers and markets, you are well on your way.
Defining the specific needs, frustrations and issues customers face is an integral part of telling an exceptional story. So is understanding your target market, knowing your own product’s strengths and weaknesses, and defining how you are going to uniquely win by improving your brand’s value proposition.
If you begin your business planning from a customer-centric viewpoint, this structure will largely be in place. We’ve found that these plan steps flow right into a format in mythic storytelling called The Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey divides a story into its component parts. These include:
- The development of a problem faced by the hero
- The trials and tribulations they encountered
- The ultimate resolution and happy ending
In our own planning sessions, we have found that with a little coaching, managers who have gone through our process can turn their strategy into a Hero’s Journey. But there are some additional steps to make this work.
Tip #2: Don’t Mention Your Product or Brand by Name
As our clients develop their Hero’s Journey, it is much more effective if they do not mention their own product by name in telling the story! We’ve found several reasons for this.
First, the relatability of the story is diminished once the audience senses explicit commercialism. Just like movie-goers, business audiences can suspend skepticism if a story is highly relatable. And for some reason, once the story goes from a compelling narrative to a “commercial”, the magic is gone.
Second, when product and brand managers are forced to tell a story without mentioning their own solution by name, they are able to stay authentically in their customers shoes. This leads them to fairly evaluate their own solution — and to take steps to improve their offering if it isn’t competitively differentiated.
Don’t get us wrong – the solution in your Hero’s Journey story will be your product. Why would you tell a story for another product or brand?
You just can’t mention it by name in the telling. Trust us, the customer will be compelled to ask you about the solution they heard in the story. That’s a much more powerful position to be in than the one-way cheerleading that is often the hallmark of many sales pitches.
Tip #3: You Need to Develop the Internally Facing Piece of Your Story
Just like your customers, internal audiences (or investors) will be drawn in by your story too. We’ve found that starting a plan pitch by telling the story of your product or brand — without mentioning your product by name — is seen as compelling, refreshing, and motivating to internal audiences too.
However, these audiences will have several additional questions, the answers to which you will append to your storytelling pitch. For example, we’ve seen internal audiences want to know why you’ve chosen a certain target market, how you determined the customer needs you are addressing, how you are going to live up to the value proposition that made your customer a hero, etc.
In our workshops, we ask participants to capture and rate the power of their insights from each part of their planning process. From trend analysis, through stakeholder mapping, segmentation, targeting and the like, teams know at the end which parts of the process yielded the most significant insights. We then coach them to provide some detail around those analyses and how they are going to execute the plan, to conclude their presentation.
We’ve been astounded at how quickly product managers can begin telling compelling stories using the process outlined above. No, we can’t see the empathy-inducing chemical of oxytocin being released in audience’s brains.
But we have seen audience and executive reaction shift from skepticism, hard questions and reticence to engaged questions that lead to sales and plan approvals. And everyone seems to be having more fun. Is that enough to motivate you to improve your own and your team’s storytelling skills?