- The story of the story
- Once upon a time in the world of business
- Finding your story
- Telling a story that will be heard by all
- Getting the attention of your audience
- Standing out through outstanding storytelling
- Telling lies and the importance of authenticity
- Top 3 takeaways from Web Summit 2022
- Storytelling in 2022
Takeaways from Web Summit 2022 and telling a good old/new story
What do Elon Musk, Megan Markle, and storytelling have in common?
They were all spoken about at Web Summit 2022.
Elon Musk, for example, bought Twitter the week before Web Summit and while some speakers were more enthusiastic about the 44B-dollar deal than others, several commented. Also rather recently, Omid Scobie published “Finding Freedom – Harry and Megan”. At Web Summit he spoke about the book, its characters, and his relationship with the royals. He also shared that he’s already working on the next one. So, clearly, Elon Musk and Megan Markle are topics that the world talks about in 2022.
Storytelling, on the other hand, has been around for tens of thousands of years. So why would one talk about it when one could converse about royal escapism and the purchases of space-flying billionaires?
Let’s find out.
The story of the story
Many speakers including Graham McDonnell, Global Head of Brand & Creative at TIME, and Giles Whiting, Chief Operating Officer at Forsta, pointed out the evolutionary importance of storytelling.
In Egypt, the first hieroglyphs were carved into stone walls more than 5,000 years ago. And in Indonesia, a cave painting dates back more than 40,000 years. It might actually be humanity’s oldest (written) story.
But stories were told even before writing existed. According to Kendall Haven (who was not at Web Summit), a leading expert on the neuro- and cognitive science of story, stories have dominated human interaction and communication for over 150,000 years.
Modern neuroscience shows that our brains' neural activity changes significantly when we’re engaged in a good narrative: our neurons fire and our brain lights up, helping us remember information much better. By experiencing the emotions of characters, stories also have the power to change our attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.
Once upon a time in the world of business
Why should storytelling matter to start-ups, scale-ups, and stay-ups?
Let me answer in the form of a story.
The kingdom of business lay behind a large ocean. It was a prosperous place for smart companies. The people that lived there were like all other humans and when it came to stories, their brains worked exactly the same way as the brains of those homo sapiens that lived thousands of years ago. (Read on to learn how to improve this story.)
The smart companies of the kingdom knew this, so they did not make mistake #4 on Graham McDonnell’s list of “how to make terrible branded content”. They certainly did NOT “forget to tell a story.” This is how they benefited from storytelling:
Their stories simplified complex concepts to help people understand what products and value they provided.
Their stories helped people remember what they read and heard about a company.
And their stories inspired action by transporting emotion.
Graham also pointed out that storytelling takes the audience on a journey that helps them to come to their own conclusions. This, for example, helps them decide whether a product or service makes sense for them to buy.
Finding your story
So, how can you get started writing your own story?
James Vincent, CEO of FNDR, had some excellent advice during his fireside chat with Eric Schurenberg, former CEO of the Fast Company on “How to tell your story”. According to James, a company’s origin is a good place to start. Oftentimes asking these simple questions is enough to get to the story behind the founder’s idea:
What dent do you want to make in the universe?
Why do you do what you do?
What motivates you?
What can you offer your customers now?
What do you want to offer customers in the future?
James also described a 4-chapter structure that you can use to produce a basic version of your narrative:
Context + friction: In a world where … We need to solve this problem …
Solution: So, this is what we provide …
Differentiation: This is how we do it differently …
Result: The impact of that is …
In response to James, Eric Schurenberg highlighted the importance of a good narrative, especially for a new company. He recommended mapping it to an archetypal story, for example, the hero’s journey.
When you use this method, just remember to avoid mistake #5 on Graham McDonnell’s “terrible content” list: do NOT position your brand as the hero of the story. Do make your product central to the story, but make your target audience the protagonist.
If you want to see an example of a story arc, take a look at Product Marketing Alliance’s storytelling framework that uses this proven storytelling technique featuring a hero and their nemesis.
Telling a story that will be heard by all
Now, what else makes a story a good story?
Brendan Kane, author of “Hook Point: How to Stand Out in a 3-Second World “ shared some good tips and tricks during his session. He told the audience that we know of six different ways humans perceive the world:
30% perceive the world through feelings and emotions.
They ask: how does it make me feel?
25% perceive the world through thoughts and logic.
They ask: does it make sense?
20% perceive the world through fun.
They ask: is this fun? Am I enjoying it?
10% perceive the world through values and opinions.
They ask: can I trust this?
10% perceive the world through reflection.
They stare out the window and reflect upon the world.
5% perceive the world through action.
They don’t feel. They don’t think. They just want to go.
This knowledge can also be applied to storytelling as it impacts how humans engage with content. Brendan preemptively answered the question: how can a single story engage more than one of these groups?
A business storyteller can make their story resonate with 75% of their audience by:
including important facts about their product or service.
speaking to situations or circumstances that elicit emotion.
weaving in how using the product or service could be fun or writing in a fun way.
I liked the idea, which my brain immediately stored as “FFF”: facts, feelings, and fun.
To capture even more interest in the story, the storyteller could appeal to the audience by:
expressing a value or opinion that is shared with the audience.
creating a sense of urgency to act upon the story.
As an example, Brendan created a fictitious real estate ad. Rather than marketing a house as “5 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and an acre of land, book a viewing”, he would describe it like this: 5 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and an acre of land. Can you imagine yourself sitting around the fireplace feeling connected to your family? Imagine all the fun of hosting parties by the pool. I believe that the house is in the best location for you because of the excellent schools in the neighborhood. Act quickly because it won’t be on the market long.
Of course, you can turn any of these aspects up or down depending on your audience. But even in B2B scenarios, emotion should not be underestimated. Business buyers are humans after all.
Getting the attention of your audience
Speaking of humans … I’m sure that most people have by now heard that humans have the attention span of a goldfish. Well, congratulations to us all. What are we supposed to do with that? How will we ever get our fellow humans to listen to our stories?!?
This question was also answered by Brendan: you only need to hold attention long enough to get a point across. Because once we are interested in – or hooked by – a topic, we have a lot more attention than our orange underwater pets. Goldfish myth busted!
Grabbing attention works for book titles, social media posts, and email subject lines; you can find plenty of best-of lists on the internet.
Let’s bust another myth while we’re at it: According to Brendan, algorithms don’t repress videos because social media platforms want us to pay for them. If your video grabs the audience’s attention (using a good hook) and keeps their attention (using a good story), users will watch your video and that is how platforms make money.
Standing out through outstanding storytelling
To James Vincent’s point #3, differentiation is also key to a good story. As a company, you would want to create your own unique identity using a narrative that stands out.
This means avoiding what he calls “category speak”, AKA jargon. Instead, find your own version of the terms that are common in your category. How? Look at your direct and indirect competitors and how they tell their story. List the words they use or make a word cloud. Then stay away from those words and expressions.
I also recommend working on your value proposition and unique selling points (USPs). Check out these blogs to learn how:
Telling lies and the importance of authenticity
Many speakers also referred to the role of transparency and authenticity when telling stories. While all the above principles of storytelling could also be applied to a fabricated story, a story needs substance to back it up.
Giles Whiting demonstrated this point well during his session “Storytelling the human experience of data” by saying “saying ‘sex’ on stage”.
Surely that’s a great hook to get people’s attention, but if it’s only used to get their attention and nothing else, you will lose it rather quickly and probably pay for it in trust – your SEO ranking will suffer as well, as algorithms don’t only consider clicks, but also how long a visitor remains on a page. If you use a hook without substance, page visitors will bounce quickly and search engines punish you for that.
So, to tell a good story authentically, you have to understand your target audience’s problems and say things for a reason, ideally, to help them solve these problems.
Top 3 takeaways from Web Summit 2022
Storytelling was the number 1 marketing topic at Web Summit.
Forgetting to tell a story is a huge mistake when creating brand and product messaging and content.
Anyone can tell a story. To get started, ask a few simple questions to learn about a founder’s idea and use some of the proven storytelling techniques to make it relevant.
Bonus: Stories are essential everywhere. For example, Michael Le, dancer and Tik Tok star recommended to young content creators to find the story they want to tell.
Bonus: Best analogy: Stories are like smoothies. They make eating vegetables (data) easier and much more enjoyable.
Storytelling in 2022
Storytelling is as vital in 2022 as it was thousands of years ago. Companies can and should use this ancient technique to attract and retain customers. There are some easy ways for you to get started writing your own story: ask the right questions, understand your target audience’s problems, and be unique and authentic.
P.S.: Elon, if you’re reading this, let’s have a chat.