Sales, Marketing and Communication

Storytelling – how to use stories

- How to bring your organization's good stories into your communication

Telling a good story is easier said than done, and if companies want to do it successfully they must know what to do and why it's so important.

In this article, which is partly based on the book Strategic Communications for Practitioners (2010), we'll share some background knowledge on storytelling along with some tangible tools to help you start telling your own company’s story.

The most important reasons to use storytelling in corporate communications is basically that:

  • It brings images, senses and the people behind the message into the communication

  • A good story communicates feelings and creates identification

  • It makes your communication relevant and catchy

  • It helps to differentiate you from the competition

  • Information in the shape of a story is three times easier to remember than, for instance, a power point with numbers, analysis and statistics

Who should tell the story and to whom?

Several players in a company are able to contribute to the storytelling. You can look at  storytelling from two sides; the formal and the informal. Formal stories are told by the management, and informal stories are created internally among employees, customers, suppliers or other business partners. We'll get back to those in a minute.

Formal stories are chosen, created, adapted and formulated based on what management finds relevant. It's important that they are seen as true and real in relation to the organization, so that management doesn't lose credibility. The story about how the company was created and how it has grown, presents the company’s values and culture. This sort of core story must first and foremost be true, to make it work according to the plan – attracting new customers, business partners, win more media coverage, etc.- it shouldn't be limited to a chronological recitation of events. 

Internal use of stories

In the introduction of new employees, storytelling is a powerful tool. An employee will at some point learn the stories anyway, but if you tell them in an planned manner as part of his or her welcome, you present the company’s values and culture to the new employee immediately. This is a great launching gpad for a good start. It's a good idea that employees share the good stories from their division, when introducing a new employee to the different divisions of a company. You could also create a story bank on your intranet and ask the new employe to familiarize him- or herself with it. Telling stories internally also strengthens the employees' connection to the internal brand, and they understand what's unique about this organization. The stories help unite and create community.

When working with strategy the core-story is an important tool, and through the coworkers’ informal stories you can articulate your values. The work itself of locating and telling the organization’s story is valuable, and the complete core-story is the culmination of the work.

External use of stories

When you want to show the world around you what your company stands for, storytelling is a good place to start. The stories can be part of your branding, and you do not have to limit yourself to the core-story; you can also use stories about customers or business partners. The alpha and the omega of external use of storytelling is speaking the truth. There will be details within the stories that cannot be researched, but the stories should be based on true events, or else you will face a problem of credibility.

Storytelling is also a useful tool for recruiting. On a company’s website we can meet employees as they talk about their job and their workplace. The company’s values are often clearly stated through the use of statements from the emplouees, and they have more impact than a list of values.

Systematic storytelling for companies

When you've decided that storytelling should be part of your company’s communications, you can to work your way through this four-point model. The model is inspired by Strategic Communications for Practitioners.

  1. Objectives: You need to know your reasons for using storytelling. This might be; internal organizational development, branding process, marketing, introduction of new employees and profiling yourself towards new customers or business partners. In all of these cases storytelling is a useful tool.

  2. Identification: All the stories you can possibly dig up must be found. We're now returning to the informal stories, which should be collected and made part of the bigger story. This is, for instance, done by letting employees share their best memories, experiences, anecdotes, etc. in groups. You can also interview both current and previous employees, customers, suppliers and other business partners. In this phase, you have to collect as much data as possible, without sorting it.

  3. Selection and processing: Prioritize stories based on what you're going to use them for. The stories will range from anecdotes to longer cases with actual content, descriptions of conflicts and dramas containing redemption and morale. Stories are processed without altering the content for the sake of dramatizing. A good story is not constructed and will come across as less trustworthy if it is made up.

  4. Distribution and use: Stories should be produced for the channels they are destined for; print, visual or verbal. It may be a good idea to tell the stories verbally internally in the company, because they travel faster from mouth to mouth.

How to structure a good story

The Story Model is one of the methods you can use with when building your story. The model, which exists in many shapes and sizes, shows how a good story is told and how its suspense rises. The vertical axis is the suspense. The horizontal axis is time.

 

 

The setting
Here, the scene is set and the story unfolded. The recipient must be intrigued and convinced to stay. If you work with visual media, images and sound can be a good way to begin the story. If you work with text, the images must be made through language.

Presentation
Time and place along with the environment and the parties involved in the story are presented in this phase. We learn who the main character is and what's at stake. The story’s fundamental conflict is presented and everything that may occur later in the story must be presented or implied in this phase.

Elaboration
Here, we are able to even further explore the nature of the main character so that he/she wins our sympathy and drives the plot forwards.

Point of no return
This expression originates from early flying, and marks the point over the Atlantic Sea where there is no longer a sufficient amount of fuel on the airplane to turn around and go back. Now there is no way back! This goes for our story as well. The main character can no longer go back, and neither can the recipient. It is too exiting to put down, and you have to see how it ends.

Conflict escalation
Everything gets worse. The opponents counterattacks and the protagonist changes and shows new sides of himself in order to survive.

Climax
The main character succeeds and beats his opponents. He finds what he's looking for, he wins or loses depending on the nature of the conflict and the nature of our story.

Fade-out
The story lands and closure is reached, which is often based on harmony. But it does not have to be. The classic pattern is that the hero returns home or that they live happily ever after. Justice may now prevail. The closure can also be used to emphasize the story’s moral – either directly or indirectly.

When you have to find the elements or people who are part of a story, it is a good idea to use the Actant Model. It was developed by examining fairytales and folklore tales. These have the power og revealing archetypes in a more or less distinct form, which, of course, makes identiying them easier.

 

 

The subject is the protagonist and he's trying to get the object. In a fairytale this could, for instance, be a princess that is given away by the king – the sender. Often the main character is also the receiver. There will always be opponents that needs to be overcome in the battle for success, and the subject can be aided by a helper in this process.

There are many companies who use storytelling in their daily communication, but don't think this is the final solution to every communication challenge, but instead more as a good and usable tool that can be applied in combination with other tools.