Storytelling … the Lost Art of Engagement

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When you talk about storytelling in business, you get some strange looks. Most people automatically think of fables, fantasy and fiction when you say storytelling. But storytelling is deeply rooted in the human experience not only as a way to entertain, but to communicate truths, lessons and experience from one person to another.

But what makes it important in today’s business? Simply this, storytelling is an intimate art form that engages groups of people with common concerns, interests and values.  Listening to stories is deeply embedded in the human psyche.  We’re not wired to remember obscure facts and details.  But we are wired to remember stories.

So, let me tell you a story…

My family is from eastern Kentucky deep within the Appalachian mountains. This is a very isolated area and most of the families there could trace their history back for generations. The mountains and valleys made it difficult to access and modern conveniences like electricity and running water were slow to arrive. Even when I was a child in the sixties, my grandparents home had no running water.

I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid, and one of my jobs was to draw water. That meant taking buckets to a small, cramped shed called the well house, lowering a long, skinny tube down a small hole in the ground and hauling the water back up to fill the buckets for the day’s drinking and cooking needs.  This was coal country. And while the well water was sparkling clean, it always shimmered with a golden hue from the sulphur it collected deep underground.  A color that stained the inside of the water pails and dippers and that I vividly remember even today.

With the exception of the bible, there were few books in each home.  The small local newspaper was a weekly and contained few stories from outside the county line.   But, there was a rich oral storytelling tradition and each evening people of all ages would gather on dimly lit porches to tell and listen to stories.

The stories ran the gamut from epic adventures of man vs. the wild to everyday tales of hardships and struggles . There were ghost stories that captured the imagination. Histories of feuding families and mountain romances to rival Romeo and Juliet. Tragedies of illness and the triumphs of overcoming handicaps. Cautionary tales of greed leading to arguments and violence between friends and family.  And the roar of laughter filled the darkness when the comic adventures of long dead loved ones were told again and again.

Over forty years have passed since I sat on those porches, yet I can still tell most of the stories exactly as I heard them.  While you might easily discount this as the fond memories of childhood, I believe those stories are memorable because they were always woven into a specific context and richly accented with details to create an unforgettable picture in my mind. Brands spend millions to create these images, yet these people created them with simple stories.

As B2B marketers, we should embrace storytelling.  

Today’s world of social media, websites and blog pages are really just online dimly lit porches beckoning to weary surfers.  Their visitors are actively hoping to learn more, find answers or feel some type of empathy and understanding. But far too often, they find mind-numbing lists of product features, contrived customer benefits, cryptic case studies and an endless string of the latest overused “buzz” words that may sound impressive but convey no meaningful message.

Try a quick test with me.

In my story, do you remember

  • The color of the water?
  • The book in every home?
  • The state my family is from?

These were all very small details, but important to help paint a picture and create a context.

A story creates paints a picture visitors remember.

Stories need context to convey a point and enough details to create texture and paint a picture for your audience. They don’t have to be long, but they do have to be relevant. It’s much easier to list out product features, advantages and benefits than to weave a story about your product.  But in our electronic age of storytelling, hearing your story is the first step in making a personal connection with your next prospect.

So, tell me your story.

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4 thoughts on “Storytelling … the Lost Art of Engagement

  1. Thanks for the reblog, Justin, and for your comment. I agree for many companies social media is used primarily as a means of communicating branding messaging rather than storytelling on a personal level. But, social media actually thrives on storytelling. Millions of people reach out each day on Facebook to tell their “stories” and discuss what’s personally important to them with their Facebook friends. B2B marketers looking bring their brand messages to like should embrace personal stories of how they impact their customers to engage prospects. Thanks again.

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