In two different studies, on two different continents, two groups of people were told a series of statistics. Just statistics by themselves. The London School of Business conducted one study; Stanford University in California conducted the other. Later, only 5 to 10 percent of the men and women – in both studies, separated by thousands of miles, a whole continent, and an ocean – remembered the statistics.
But, when those same statistics were couched in anecdotes and stories, retention went up to 65 to 70 percent.*
(* To be honest here, I’m not positive these stories are true. I’ve seen these two studies cited frequently, but I’ve never seen the actual study, and I can’t find them online. I reached out to two people who mentioned the studies in their materials, but I haven’t gotten any response. However, there are other studies that support this notion that story-based information increases retention.)
That’s one reason why storytelling is so important in business communications. Another is that storytelling can bring the story of your brand, organization, and company to life. It can get to the core of your organization’s value proposition with narratives that simply and compellingly relate “the story” to customers, prospects, investors, media, employees, and others in a way that motivates them to think or act favorably.
At its most basic level, that’s what “corporate storytelling” is: telling stories that build connections from your business to the audience.
Why corporate storytelling works
When you tell your corporate stories, you allow people to experience what your data means. You transfer experiences to the reader rather than just passing along boring, dry stats or data.
Humans are wired to love stories. So when corporations tell stories, they’re more likely to cut through the audience’s tendency to tune out traditional marketing methods. It makes presentations better, makes ideas stick, and helps marketers persuade.
Furthermore, stories tap into our emotions to influence and motive us and to create more vivid, lasting memories. They trigger biological responses throughout the body that increase engagement with the audience. That engagement immediately becomes far more than an intellectual act—it becomes a visceral experience.
Put together, those factors make the audience more likely to finish reading your communication – and more likely to later recall your story and the facts and data in the story.
So, how should these stories be told?
It’s important for companies to tell customer stories, which are always better than marketing stories.
If you want to grab the audience’s attention, talk about the audience’s problems, and talk about how you solve them from the customer’s point of view. A story simply about how wonderful your product is isn’t even as interesting as a light-night infomercial. A good story narrative alternates between tension (the problem) and the easing of tension (the resolution).
Corporate stories should be no different—they should revolve around problems, solutions, and results. They should amplify the voice of the customer, bridging the brand to the customer. Or they can tell the audience who you are by walking them through adversity you’ve gone through—and overcome.
Bonus: The internal benefits of corporate storytelling
Beyond the sales focus, when done right, strategic use of storytelling is an effective way to help solidify employee support for internal change, too. A story with a well-crafted narrative can help people visualize the transformation and get employees (not “shareholders;” please don’t use “shareholders”) more mentally comfortable with the future. A story strategically aligned with business objectives shows people what to aim for. It solidifies in their minds the role they will play in the process of change.
The big point
Thanks to corporate storytelling, corporate communications don’t need to be dry, staid, or without feeling.
A 2014 study found that 78 percent of CMOs think story content is the future of marketing.
In truth, if you’ve got a website, blog, pitch, or email campaign, you’re already telling some sort of story. But is it a good story?
If you’re looking to tell better stories, let me know. I can help.
More information: The 11 Best Corporate Storytelling Examples of All Time