Storytelling connects companies with customers
If you want people to understand you, tell them a story.
In today’s world, when so much of what we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential and when it’s hard to tell what’s real and what are instead finely crafted talking points, it is important that business leaders and brands remain mindful of the everyday importance of bringing authenticity and purity to their messaging.
While storytelling is a skill every leader should possess, there remains a lack of day-to-day priority emphasis on this approach. Those who don’t fully embrace brand storytelling cite statistics about the short attention spans exhibited by social media users and then mistakenly apply that finding too broadly. They will argue that you should limit your messaging to the lowest, time-bound, common denominator and they will share with you why they believe the days of long-form feature writing and content marketing are over. But those positions defy both logic and fact. If you truly want to affect a behavior, you generally strive for more time and attention, not less.
Authentic storytelling works. Research shows that 55% of consumers are more likely to buy from your brand if they like your story. And this is key, because at the most foundational level, your brand is literally who you are as a people. It is not a logo or tag line.
People like to hear stories. We come from disparate backgrounds, but we are united by our common experiences. Survey data from StoryCorps, one of the world’s great storytelling platforms, leaves no doubt about the power of story. Findings from multiple surveys reveal that for the vast majority of their listeners, storytelling helps them feel connected to people of different backgrounds, reminds them of their shared humanity, and helps them humanize social issues, events, and policies.
Before I returned to Auburn as a chief marketing officer in 2013, my best friend from college and I started and ran a healthcare communications firm for 14 years. Our initial plan was to hire the best of the best from the healthcare industry. Along the way, I was asked to talk with a creative director candidate who had no experience in this business sector. I reluctantly agreed to meet, but I was glad I did, as I was very impressed with her design skills—so much so that I shared my belief that I could teach her pharmaceutical marketing.
At that point, she completely flipped the interview on me—with more than a slight degree of disdain—by saying that in the pharmaceutical world, we sell products that may have two or three competitors and that all of these products have clinical data to differentiate themselves. She said in her world, she sells lipstick. A market where there are literally hundreds of products with no meaningful differentiation. She showed me her portfolio and described in detail how she brings emotion to the brand stories she creates. She then said to me, in no uncertain terms, “When you can tell me how to sell lipstick, I’ll let you tell me how to market pharmaceuticals.”
The lesson she taught me in that moment, which I have adhered to every day since, is that the art of persuasion requires a combination of reason and emotion, and that without emotion it’s not a story.
After more than 40 years in communications and marketing, I no longer believe in using my experience to tell people what to do. Instead, I share stories of what I have seen and learned, and I encourage those around me to incorporate what they hear from my stories into their own work. Nothing can move people to action better than a good story.
And, yes, I hired that creative director candidate on the spot. Her name is Patty.
Chief Marketing Officer
Harbert College of Business