Storytelling in business is growing in popularity every day and with good reason. Essentially, it is a more effective and engaging way to communicate. While the vast majority of storytelling occurs orally, it can still be extremely effective in the written format.
When I work with leaders in retail on storytelling I encourage them to use personal stories both internally and externally. This could involve face-to-face situations with customers, both in stores and at promotional events. Additionally, stories work just as well in the written format including newsletters, blogs and websites …however there is a difference.
Many aspects of storytelling remain the same regardless of whether it is verbal or written, such as, ensuring you are not bragging about your achievements, using words that tap into emotion, using humour and vulnerability wisely, not being offensive, ensuring your story relates to your message, being authentically true and being interesting not just self-serving. There are however two things that can potentially be lost when stories are written…emotion and attention.
In the written format you can potentially lose some of the emotion of the story because you are not seeing or hearing the storyteller. For example, you can’t see the storyteller’s eyes light up, hear regret in their voice or see the passion in their movements whilst they are sharing their story. It is therefore critical when writing a story for a blog or newsletter, to transcribe the content as close as possible to how you would say it. Of course you want to make sure it is grammatically correct but do not edit the story so much that all emotion is removed from it.
The other challenge with stories in the written format is that it is much easier to lose the attention of your audience. Human attention is fickle. The best way to avoid this is to ensure that you have removed all the unnecessary detail in your story. Whilst this is important with storytelling in business regardless of the format, it is even more critical when sharing your story in writing.
The biggest mistake I see retailers make is when they call something a story when it simply is not. If you are renaming the ‘About Us’ tab on your website with ‘Our story’ you want to make sure you actually share a story and not a timeline of your company. It is critical that you make it both interesting and personal.
One company that does this brilliantly is New Zealand based shoe company Merchant 1948. They have a section on their website called ‘Stories’, which includes collection of anecdotes from the founders; examples of stories about their grandparents, stories about their employees and stories about their products. When I first came across their website I was so impressed with their authentic use of storytelling and their stories that I went to a store the very next day and brought a pair of shoes.
Georg Jensen also have a section on their website specifically for stories. It features five leading females in their field including a chef, a comedian, a film director, a world champion boxer and a motor cross rider from Iran (where women are banned from riding motorcycles on the road). Interestingly, each story has minimal text as it is shared via a video. The overriding theme of the stories is ‘You can never be too much of you’ which is captured in a summary video that features all five women.
So if you are thinking of writing a newsletter or blog or want to have better impact with your online customers, consider how you can include authentic, appropriate and relatable stories. It is time to ditch impersonal factual newsletters and boring timelines of your company and use personable stories that will connect and engage your customers.
Gabrielle Dolan is an author, speaker and founder of Jargon Free Fridays. Her current book Stories for Work: The Essential Guide to Business Storytelling is available now in store and online.