The use of storytelling in business is not uncommon, however being able to use it effectively is still a challenge. Lubna Forzley-Badr, founder of Stories.ae and marketing director of Mumzworld.com shares how we can use storytelling in business to fuel growth and bring about transformation from within the business.
- Why businesses struggle with storytelling in business
- The transformational power of storytelling
- Storytelling in business starts from the inside
- How to get your leadership on board with storytelling in business
- The leadership principles that enable storytelling in business
- Why leaders need to acknowledge their strengths and focus on them – not trying to be all things to all people
- How to get employees on board to help build the brand
- The foundations of a good story
- Seven archetypes you can use for storytelling in busines
- How to use storytelling in business to create a movement
- How to leverage storytelling in business even when the transformation is not exciting or does not have beneficial consequences for employees.
- Why companies cannot be protagonists in their own story
- How does the hero’s journey fit with the story archetypes?
- How to find who your best storytellers are and use employee advocacy as a means of promoting your brand or business
- How to use your defining moments for storytelling in business
- The one crucial ingredient that most businesses leave out when crafting their stories
- Listen to the podcast
- Some topics we discussed include:
- Links and resources mentioned
- Connect with Lubna
Why businesses struggle with storytelling in business
Lubna says most businesses struggle with storytelling in business because –
- They don’t know how to use storytelling effectively
- They don’t know the principles of storytelling
Businesses are always under pressure to deliver the numbers, so the story gets lost because the story is seen as fluff. It’s not treated as something that will help them deliver the numbers. They tend to focus on promoting their products all the time rather than promoting what they stand for and why they exist.
The transformational power of storytelling
The power of storytelling in business has been proven time and time again no matter whether you use visual storytelling or some other format. Storytelling has been proven to raise conversion rates by as much as 4x.
Storytelling in business starts from the inside
Storytelling in business must start from the inside because transformation starts from the inside.
A lot of companies get that wrong. They rebrand or they launch new campaigns, but their culture stays the same. And that doesn’t work. They end up failing.
If you’re not changing on the inside, then you’re bound to fail because the great new look, whether it’s a new branding campaign or a new logo or a new name, fades with time.
The only thing that remains is how you run your business from the inside out.
This is a long-term strategy because you need to look at your values, look at your “why statement” – why you exist, what you stand for. Then look at the way you have structured your teams, way they function.
Just make sure that the values that are talked about externally are being lived internally as well.
How to get your leadership on board with storytelling in business
Your leadership plays a pivotal role in storytelling in business simply because they are the best people to champion the whole movement. Which is another reason the process needs to start from the inside out.
Once you have clarity on:
- The why
- What you stand for
- Your values
- Your brand tone
- Your essence and purpose
Then the leader needs to take all of these and communicate them internally first – before he or she communicates them externally to the world.
This could be done by making a business case based on results for other organizations – or on the science behind storytelling.
The leadership principles that enable storytelling in business
Lubna advocates a parent type of leadership focus because it is human-centered or employee-centered.
She says: When you lead like your parents, you genuinely care about the interests of your employees. Why?
Because like parents invested in their children’s well-being, you:
- Care about their success,
- Inspire them. If you want the kids to walk the talk, you have to lead by example.
- Cheerlead. When something goes right, you should be your kid’s biggest advocate and say, “Hey, you’ve done a really good job.” That applies to business as well.
- Correct them. When your kids don’t do the job right or don’t do what you asked them to do, there should be consequences for that. And the consequences need to be clear, just as the rewards need to be clear.
- Manage a crisis when it does occur. We learned that a lot as moms because we’re always managing crises and meltdowns by the leader.
Basically, the essence of all of this, when you lead like a parent, you need to lead by example. And you need to believe in something. You need to stand for something, and you need to breathe that day in and day out.
It’s almost like when you’re a parent, you can’t change your values every day because your kids will get lost. Instead, you need to just show your kids what you believe in and live that every day.
Why leaders need to acknowledge their strengths and focus on them – not trying to be all things to all people
Lubna says for leaders to succeed with storytelling in business it is important for them to understand their personal strengths and focus on that as opposed to trying to be all things to all people. With storytelling in business, it may be that someone else needs to champion the cause, not the leader. However, that can only be successfully done once personal strengths are identified.
How to get employees on board to help build the brand
Your best ambassadors are your employees. They are your brand ambassadors.
If your employees don’t believe in your brand, they don’t believe in what you stand for. They don’t believe in your company. It’s just a job for them. They’re going to just come in and do their thing and then leave – and that doesn’t deliver great results.
The brands that deliver great results are those that have sold their vision, their purpose, their tone, their story to their employees. And these employees believe in that so firmly that they go out and sell it by using storytelling in business that is centered around their own experiences.
The top two companies that come to mind on a global level are Apple and Google.
I think Google does a phenomenal job at HR – or at least it seems so from the outside. I think their employees believe in them. Everybody wants to work there. They have strong HR practices and strong culture, and their employees are their ambassadors. It’s the same with Apple as well.– Lubna Forzley
The foundations of a good story
Storytelling in business should follow good practices. Lubna says that a good story should be based on the following principles:
Start with why
A good story is one that starts with a strong “why.”
When a story is centered around what you do and how you do it, you’ll lose people. If you want a story that connects, you have to know what you stand for, first and foremost, and you have to start with why.
Know who you are talking to
A story and using storytelling in business is meant to influence, or it’s meant to inspire. But you need to know who your audience is. You need to have well-defined personas for your audience. You need to understand their pain points, and you need to provide a solution to those pain points.
Create a storyboard
Once you know what you stand for, why you exist, who your audience is, step back and create a storyboard. The storyboard lays out the structure of your story in a way that is very attractive to your audience.
To do that you need to
- Remove as much of the fluff as you can
- Be truthful and authentic as you create the story
- Create stories that are “sticky” by picking a story archetype (see above/below)
For example, if you are targeting a mother, you want to understand what a mother is going through on a day-to-day basis, you want to understand her pain point, you want to understand the solution to that pain point.
And you want to find a way to connect with her in a way that touches her.
Because if you’re going to show a picture on Instagram or on other social media of a mom that looks perfect, I’m not sure that will connect with a real mom, because on a day-to-day basis a real mom’s life is not an easy life. A real mom goes through a lot of ups and downs.
So, if you want to connect with a mom, you want to understand her pain points and the solutions to them. Connect with her directly through that. Be truthful. Pick an archetype that is relevant to the mother, or to whoever you’re trying to talk to. Hit them at the right time, with the right story, in the right place. Therefore being relevant is super important.– Lubna Forzley
Involve your audience
The more you involve your audience in the story, the better. We’ll explore how you could do that when we look at the seven archetypes of storytelling. The aim of involving your audience should be that you get to the point where it’s not you telling the story. Its other people telling your story.
Have others tell your story
As you involve your audience you want to get to the point where you have access to a continuous supply of user-generated content. And that content comes from your users or from your audience because they saw and believed in what you stand for.
What you stand for, or the movement that you’re trying to create must be so strong and so compelling that you have everyone rallying with you to promote that story. That is really the end goal.
But for that to happen, you must:
- Have a compelling story, a compelling cause;
- Create a movement, and
- Be fearless and unique.
Share your knowledge
The point of sharing a good story is to inspire, to connect. You want to share knowledge. These three elements work really well together.
Use humor wisely and appropriately
Humor can be highly effective in engaging your audience. That’s why many companies want to use it, but they don’t because they’re scared. You can use humor, get it right, and endear people to you – or you can get it wrong and alienate your audience from your brand.
Lubna says, you just need to be ready to fail, and then do it and then see what sticks.
She recommends putting out a ton of content and listening to your audience to see which pieces of the content work best.
Use your common sense to stay clear of things that could offend your audience-
- Don’t make fun of anyone’s religion.
- Don’t make fun of anyone’s circumstances.
- Don’t make fun of anyone’s physical appearance.
- Don’t make fun of anyone’s sexuality.
For humor to work, you need to address a pain point that your audience can identify with – and then provide a solution to that pain point.
For example, in the Emirates Airlines ad, they were making fun of other airlines that don’t provide the luxury service that they provide. But they did it in a humorous way.
Be aware that should you chide your competitors in a humorous way, you need to be willing to take risks.
Seven archetypes you can use for storytelling in business
There are seven different archetypes that are popular, and many companies have used them in their campaigns.
1. Overcoming adversity
It’s one of the most effective archetypes because, on a day-to-day basis, everybody has problems in life. And we all go through that.
And what you are showing when you use this archetype – you’re showing an individual or a company that you can overcome your problems. If you look at videos or stories that have done well, they are stories where a person or a company has gone through something tough in life, and they’ve overcome it. And they’re showing the world how they’ve done better.
Stories of adversity do really well. Apple is an example of that. They showed the world that they could turn the company around. They stood for something – for thinking different. And their first ad, when they went out with that campaign, they showed the world how they were able to revamp the company.
They also had a successful ad they showed during a Superbowl. I can share the link to it. But this is an example of overcoming adversity.
2. Rags to riches
Another story archetype you can use for storytelling in business is one that shows how a modest and moral but downtrodden character achieves success when their talents or abilities are displayed to the world. Now, there are many different examples of this. And some companies have used it in the opposite direction.
For example, Nike created an ad with Caster Semenya, where they showed in reverse how she was able to go from very humble beginnings with the odds stacked against her to becoming a world-class athlete.
Another example is the founder of WhatsApp. On the day when he signed the deal, he went back to where he started from when he used to sell food stamps because he was so poor. But on the day of the signing, he went back to that door where he used to sell the food stamps, and he signed the deal there. That was compelling. You know, a picture tells 1000 words and I think, on the day that he signed the deal, showing the world that he was signing it on that door where he used to sell food stamps just told the story on its own.
Sometimes, sharing a story could be something as simple as a picture. It could be a date.
Here is another example. The Dubai Metro launched the metro at 09:09:09pm on a Wednesday, on 09/09/2009.
That was the story on its own right. You don’t need to overcomplicate life, really, you just need to pick a date that’s unique or pick something that touches you and touches your audience. Something that’s super unique, then go and make it happen.– Lubna Forzley
The Quest is when you show your audience that you are in search of something. Toms Shoes uses this stereotype well with their campaign buy one, get one free. They were able to create this movement where they wanted to provide shoes to those who couldn’t afford them. They were able to inspire people that they stood for something and that they wanted to make a change in the world.
They went out with a campaign – buy one, get one free – and that worked well with their audience.
4. Voyage and return
Here you’re taking your audience on a journey. They’re going somewhere and then they’re coming back. Apple with the iPad Air campaign did that well. They talked about poetry and they used Robin Williams in a very, very captivating and beautiful commercial that talks about poetry. And they went back in time and looked at poetry. And the whole time they were filming this campaign you see the iPad – but it’s always in the background.
They talk about poetry, and they are using an iPad, and at the end of that commercial – and it’s such a beautiful commercial – at the end of it, they say, “What would your verse be?”– Lubna Forzley
It’s a beautiful campaign because they were able to convey their message that poetry is not outdated, that you have a voice in this world, that you need to use your voice.
But the other reason why they did well with that archetype with their use of storytelling in business is that they used the product in the background, but they used it in a very smart and strategic way.
This storytelling archetype is comedy. And I think this is one of my personal favorites because I think everybody could use a laugh. Everybody, you know, is going through something rough on a daily basis, and they just want somebody to make them smile.
The plot of a comedy involves confusion that must be resolved before the hero attains success. It might be that the customer can’t seem to get out of their own way. They find themselves in repeated misadventures, so they could use a guide to lead them back to safety. It might seem frustrating to the customer, but when you step back and view the sequence of events it can be funny.
Lubna’s top two archetypes are overcoming adversity and comedy because they show people that you can go through your day and you can achieve something great. And you can do that with a smile. For example, Emirates airlines used Jennifer Aniston in a funny yet beautiful ad campaign that compared the airline to others.
With this archetype, you want to show that tragedy does happen in life. It’s part of life. But it’s also how you handle that tragedy. MetLife used this in a good campaign.
Here, you’re taking an individual or a company in a situation and you’re showing rebirth.
- It’s overcoming adversity.
- It’s showing rags to riches.
- It’s going through the quest.
- It’s going through a voyage and return.
- It’s going through comedy, tragedy or rebirth.
How does the hero’s journey fit with the archetypes?
Your hero is your audience or your customer. The person you are trying to target is, therefore, center stage in the story. It is their pain and your solution will solve that pain.
In other words, you can use the hero’s journey to elaborate on the story archetypes we covered above.
How to use storytelling in business to create a movement
A movement always revolves around a cause, but it’s a cause that you actually believe in and stand for, one you genuinely want to work towards.
Characteristics of a successful movement are:
- The starting point of any movement is to recognize that it’s not a campaign, it’s actually a movement.
- It’s centered around the cause that you champion, that you believe in, that you stand behind for a long time.
- It’s something that’s very relevant to your brand, but also very relevant to your audience so that they can be successful for the long term too. It’s something that your audience is going through on a day-to-day basis.
- The movement is something that actually touches your audience.
The Nike movement that started around “Just Do It” is a good example. They stand for something and they don’t change what they stand for. It’s been there for a long period of time. And they’ve rallied everyone to push their movement as well because they believe in it. They believe in “Just Do It.” They believe in the cause. And everybody shares their belief.
How to leverage storytelling in business even when the transformation is not exciting or does not have beneficial consequences for employees.
I think in any transformation, you need to be very honest about that transformation. And you need to start by talking to your employees.
- You need to start from inside the organization.
- The leader needs to be honest and state where the organization is and why things are not working.
- The customers need to be the center of the story and the transformation process.
- The leader also needs to be honest about where they would like to be and how they are going to get there.
- He or she can then, on the bright side, describe a new journey that’s much more inspiring – a journey where we can all do better together because we’re going to be super focused on a shared outcome.
The end goal is knowing that the only way you can exist is if you’re actually serving your customers effectively and properly. In developing your story, work backward from that. And make sure that your employees go back to the core mission, the core reason for existence: to serve your customers in a more impactful way.
Make sure that your employees understand that those who are going to do it right are those who will be rewarded, and those that are not going to care about the customers are not going to be around for long, because there are consequences for that.
It boils down to a real understanding of your audience, and where their interests and concerns lie, in order to tell the right story – to speak to both their interests and their concerns.
Why companies cannot be protagonists in their own story
You can run a business that is purely transactional where customers really need your product. They may buy from you, but they are not connected in any way to your brand. Unless you run a monopoly, at some point competitors will arise and offer better products, features, or services. At that point, customers will no longer have a reason to buy from you.
The only way to last despite competition is to stand for something, to have a good story, and to touch the lives of your customers.
At the end of the day, you’re talking to people. You’re selling to people – and the people who are going to take out the cash to pay for what you offer. You however need to touch that human being’s life. Your story, therefore, cannot feature your company or you as the protagonist. The hero in the story needs to be the customer.
How does the hero’s journey fit with the story archetypes?
Your hero is your audience or your customer.
So, I will call them a hero because for me, that’s a common element of every story, but my hero is the person who’s listening to me, it’s that person that I’m trying to target. And they need to be center stage in that story.
Lubna says –
How to find who your best storytellers are and use employee advocacy as a means of promoting your brand or business
Your employees are your best advocates. Sometimes you’d be surprised that you have employees that don’t have a social media presence. You might think they are not great on camera or might not tell the story well, but they do share it in an amazing way.
To find them in your company, do this:
- First, decide on the outcome and goal of your campaign.
- Tell your employees what you believe in and what you stand for and inspire them with that.
- Let them know how they can be a voice in the story.
- Then look for those people that are being moved by your story.
- Tell them, “We would love for you guys to help us champion our cause. Would you be willing to volunteer to go out on social media or offline and share our story?”
- Reward people who do a good job. They have seen what’s in it for them and they are helping to make it happen.
A similar process could be used to encourage customers to co-create stories with you. After all, user-generated content and co-creation are the best forms of storytelling.
You’ll want to go out, perhaps with a competition, cause or call to action, and get all of your customers involved in that process.
How to use your defining moments for storytelling in business
According to the dictionary, a defining moment is an event that typifies or determines all subsequent related occurrences. Lubna says we should look at our defining moments.
Look at your personal defining moments and take one that’s really strong and keep it as a common thread throughout your story.
If you are a company, a defining moment could be a tough situation that you’ve gone through. It doesn’t always have to be a positive thing.
Lubna recommends we step back and look at the top six to eight defining moments in our life – as a person or as a company – and ask of each of these defining moments: What made it a defining moment? Why was this a defining moment? She says that’s when you’ll start finding trends.
When you find those trends, pick one that stands out because you’re going to find that that word or theme keeps coming up again and again. So, pick one and just keep it as a common thread throughout the story.
The one crucial ingredient that most businesses leave out when crafting their stories
The one thing that most businesses leave out when crafting their stories is a call to action. Sharing a story is important but having an action that your audience can take also is important – or else the audience won’t know what to do.
Lubna recommends starting with a call to action and ending with a call to action.
Your first six seconds on a video – or your first minute if you’re talking to employees – is the most impactful. So, you want to hook up with a call to action or you want to hook with what you stand for. You also want to close with a call to action.
You might struggle to use storytelling in business and find your brand story. It will take an effort to craft and tell it. But it will be worth it in the end.
Listen to the podcast
Some topics we discussed include:
- Why start with the why of your business
- The principles of parent based leadership which ground good storytelling
- The foundations of creating a great story in business
- Why sharing knowledge is a key part of storytelling
- How to inject humour into stories wisely
- The 7 story archetypes and how they can dramatically improve your marketing and fuel growth
- How to make business storytelling awesome
- How to gear your stories towards brand awareness and engagement
- How to use social media to share your story and identify with your future clients
- How to go about creating a movement
- How to add an appropriate call to action to your stories
- and much more
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Lubna
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