How to Use Business Storytelling to Connect with Customers
Using emotional writing to build relationships.
Simple stories connect people emotionally, building bonds of friendship and loyalty. We don’t need to actually share experiences to connect, we just need to share the story. Similarly, business storytelling has the power to connect potential customers with your work and create emotional bonds of trust and loyalty.
Long before I wrote any copy, I witnessed the power of storytelling first hand…
My grandmother never met her best friend, although they shared a lifelong bond that transcended cultures, life circumstances, and thousands of miles of distance. The two girls became pen pals through a writing project during their early school experience. They started writing to one another during the Great Depression when resources for sending letters were scarce. They persevered and sent weekly letters to one another for over fifty years.
Grandma was growing up here in Michigan. Elsie lived in a rural village in England. Their early letters were filled with schoolgirl experiences, observations, and thoughts. Over time, the subjects changed. My grandma met my grandpa, and Elsie found her mate as well. They shared the challenges of living through World War II and the trials of raising growing families and navigating seasons of life.
They built a powerful, lasting connection through written storytelling. These ladies never spoke on the telephone. They never met in person. No Facetime or Zoom or instant messenger. They each died without hearing the other’s voice. But, their relationship was stronger than any I’ve ever seen, and it was built on storytelling alone… plus a photo here or there.
Storytelling has the power to create strong and lasting bonds inside your business as well. The nature of the stories themselves are different, of course, but the conversational writing style is just as impactful.
What is the purpose of business storytelling?
The words we choose set the tone of our relationships. This is as true in our business lives as it is in our personal relationships. Engaging potential clients means moving beyond facts and details to create an emotional connection. One that is conversational, warm, and authentic. This is the purpose of using storytelling in your business copy and marketing material.
Businesses use storytelling to…
- Share customer experiences or client success stories.
- Explain complex points or illustrate an issue or problem.
- Provide application information or user guidelines.
You may already use storytelling in these ways inside your business. If so, pat yourself on the back. You’re building intellectual connections – and potentially emotional ones, too – using shared experiences.
I want to challenge you to take business storytelling to a new level and (in addition to the points above) weave emotional storytelling into your website copy, marketing material, and even your more formal forms of communication with clients such as customer service emails, manuals, and reports. Don’t worry… I’ll show you how.
Step One :: Identify the storytelling tone of your business.
Just like each individual you meet on the street, your brand has a personality. It has a way of showing up in the marketplace and expressing meaning. This is your brand’s “voice” and you want to identify that voice and set an emotional tone for your stories.
Maybe you will share stories that are warm and inviting, creating an atmosphere similar to the soft music and pleasant lighting of your favorite local coffee shop. Perhaps your business has more of an elegant, sophisticated atmosphere indicative of an exclusive restaurant or a luxury hotel. Of course, your business might have the irreverent hum of a busy inventor’s lab or the carnival atmosphere of a family cruise ship or amusement park.
The tone you set creates a context for understanding the stories you share, and it solidifies the reader’s impression of who you are as an organization. Make sure your writing voice is perfectly aligned with your brand voice to avoid disconnects and build consistent trust.
Step Two :: Draw a circle of commonality with your story.
Before the fast-paced, content-heavy world of social media, letters were written with the reader’s interests at the forefront. My grandmother wrote about the details of her garden, for example, because she knew Elsie enjoyed flowers and had a garden of her own. Similarly, Elsie often mentioned books she was reading because she knew my grandma was an avid reader too. The stories they told one another existed within a circle of relationship built on common interest.
Business storytelling is about creating common bonds between your business and your potential clients. You want to speak to shared interests, needs, and community. Select stories that pull people closer to you through shared connections.
Think about the most memorable advertisements from recent Super Bowl broadcasts. We remember the ones that built on a common experience, the ones that touched our hearts with an emotion we commonly feel, and the ones that appealed to an interest we share with others. We remember the ad because we mentally put ourselves inside the circle.
Step Three :: Move beyond facts to feelings.
Facts are flat. Remember the hours you spent reading a dull textbook in college or pouring over an instruction manual while attempting to assemble something amazing while the children slept on Christmas Eve? Those aren’t shining moments of excitement. They are remembered periods of agony, especially when contrasted with reading a favorite novel or a funny text from a friend.
Business storytelling necessarily involves factual information including statistics, analysis, and explanatory text. But, there’s no need to go overboard on the thinking, explaining, and describing. It’s okay to add a little emotion and levity to keep the reader interested.
Consider these examples pulled from two different technology websites I found. (No names, let’s just keep things friendly, okay?)
- We provide technological solutions to common management problems. < – – fact-based and kind of boring, right?
- Your business challenges don’t scare us. You’ll love the simple solutions created by our user-friendly technology. < – – more engaging and communicating a playful, conversational brand voice.
Emotion adds interest. Conversational writing creates dialogue. Feelings are more engaging than plain facts.
Step Four :: Weave storytelling into all your text.
Feeling a little overwhelmed by this ^^^ header? Don’t worry, it’s easier than it looks. We humans naturally think in stories and communicate using them. As children, we write this way, too. But somehow we lose touch with storytelling as we mature – I think it has something to do with those college composition courses and endless papers we generate as we master our careers.
I recommend you practice using simple storytelling in all your writing. Once you shift your mindset, it’s actually pretty easy to write this way. This entire article (believe it or not) is filled with subtle (and more overt) storytelling. The paragraph above uses storytelling to illustrate how you might have lost touch with writing conversationally. Did you catch that? Feels natural, doesn’t it?
Here are some ways to add storytelling to your writing…
- Wrap the statistics you share with a story. Don’t just tell me that working with you provides a 25% increase in revenue. Tell me about a real client who struggled with a problem I can understand. Create a circle and put me right in the middle of it.
- Show me your portfolio, but don’t leave things there. Tell me what inspired that sketch or why you took that photo. Share your thoughts as you worked on that project or built that website. Share what you loved about the project and how it felt to collaborate with that client.
- Use analogies and personal stories to illustrate your points. Use metaphors to add color to your writing or shift my perspective a little bit.
Want some inspiration? Print out this article and use a highlighter to mark every tiny bit of story I shared here. Get a feel for the cadence and the rhythm of storytelling. Then go to something you wrote recently and think of it as a type of word puzzle. Brainstorm ways to add a little storytelling into the text to add engagement.
Business storytelling is a skill you learn over time.
You naturally think in stories… we all do. When you were a child, you wrote using storytelling too. It took several classes and lots of practice for you to set storytelling aside in favor of the flat, factual writing that earned you those grades in school. It will come back to you… all it takes is a little practice.
Effective marketing engages potential clients factually and emotionally to build the trusting relationships that lead to consistent revenue for your business. I work with clients 1:1 to create an effective marketing strategy for their businesses. Learn more.
While client work and operational tasks feel incredibly valuable, they are actually less important than the work we do strategically inside our businesses.