Maverick Thinking

Understanding and embracing corporate storytelling

19 February 2021 5 min read
Jay Evans image
Written by

Jay Evans

Storytelling is inherently human. We tell a story in almost all our conversations. A good, engaging story seeks to entertain, enhance the reader’s emotional state, impart knowledge, and add longevity to our history by engaging with new, younger audiences. We’ve been telling stories in various ways throughout human history, from the ancient Egyptians’ hieroglyphics to more modern books, magazines and newspapers. With current media advancement, new technologies have given us even more storytelling channels than ever before. And the hunger for authentic storytelling is growing: indicating corporate, business or brand storytelling is now – more than ever – becoming a fundamental element of corporate marketing and content plans, for businesses of any size.

Corporate, business or brand storytelling

Unlike other forms of marketing, corporate storytelling is a way to communicate and engage your audiences emotionally. In the last decade, there has been a surge in audiences being driven by having a personal connection with the brand or company from whom they purchase. 

Storytelling is different from your corporate story: your corporate account tells your brand’s history and details of your company’s progress. Storytelling is raising your audience’s relatable issues and associating that with your business characteristics, personality and beliefs. In a world brimming with instant communication channels – such as social media and streaming news channels – stories evolve right in front of our eyes. Corporate storytelling sets a backbone of truth, authenticity and emotion for your business that can prevent misinformation and provides your audiences with faith in your convictions.
 

Top tips for corporate, business and brand storytelling

Be human:
Time to drop the corporate façade. Time to smash the glass box that marketing comfortably sits in and break free with your human side. I’ve said that phrase in business pitches, to marketing directors of companies of all sizes, and watched the colour quickly drain from their faces. In more modern times it’s become more widely embraced. Still, five to ten years ago, many companies hadn’t considered adding some of themselves and their colleagues into their communications. 

But let’s be honest, corporations cannot be protagonists. People can. Your audiences do not care about companies, but they do care about people. Therefore, corporate storytelling is delivered as if through the eyes of a human. The protagonist could be a partner company, a client or customer, or an impassioned employee. 

Induce emotion:
People are imperfect, no matter how much they believe they’re not. In turn, the stories you tell will be flawed too. That’s good, that’s what storytelling needs: a human touch and honest reality. We’ve recently seen brands showing their vulnerability, their ability to learn from mistakes and being open about policies to prevent a recurrence. It’s relatable, and the audience becomes increasingly engaged as they await the dénouement.

Truth and honesty:
Following the aftermath of the historic election there’s a growing concern about the dissemination of misinformation globally, highlighted by the USA’s issues. Social media, an area where our business storytelling will take a primary position, has been the cause of the spread of untruths and conspiracy theories. Reading this, you may think ‘This doesn’t affect my business on anywhere near this scale’. You’re correct. However, what it has created, not just since the election but for many years before, is a wide selection of the audience being sceptical of what they’re seeing or reading, understandably. 
Therefore, to engage with your audience, your storytelling should be truthful and honest. Don’t exaggerate, tell the real story. Admit your organisation makes mistakes and is always evolving. Remember, be relatable to a human. We all have flaws. 

Evolving the story:
Every day your colleagues are at their computers, working on helpdesks, delivering to customers or scrubbing floors: the next chapter of your story is writing itself. Companies evolve with every passing day. That evolution, that next chapter, is your corporate storytelling developing itself. Occasionally, you must stand back and look at your business as a current or potential customer – whether B2b or B2C – and identify the instinctive developments that have occurred. Is this your next story? 

Who are your storytellers?
In an organisation, the c-suite would typically be the choice as storytellers. It’s somewhat understandable that the person who stands at the organisation’s summit would tell the corporate, business or specific brand story. However, through the reader’s or listener’s eyes, is that person going to relate – are they able to induce the emotion needed to bring the story to life and deliver the required goal? 

In 2020, one set of workers had been the most significant part of storytelling: frontline workers or those close to it. As we clapped for the UK’s NHS workers, we also opened an even wider communication from frontline workers. Advertising, PR and social media were awash with storytelling from the workers’ eyes on the ground, the people experiencing and delivering an organisation’s day-to-day operation. Suffice to say, corporate advertising and top-line marketing remained. The NHS adverts with Professor Whitty remained on screen. Yes, they had an impact and purpose, but the NHS’s real story and how the organisation has coped to survive in a pandemic got delivered by the consultants, doctors and nurses. The story told was accurate and inherently personal. But more importantly, the story is being told by ‘someone like me’ – somebody with whom we can relate, who’s accessible and who could be your next-door neighbour, or a person from school.

When developing a content plan for storytelling, think about your storytellers. Are you – the CEO – the right person? Is it the managing director, or is it the passionate manager of a business division who spends his working day ensuring your corporate mission is delivered? Once again, looking through the viewer’s eyes, who would relate the most to the story that needs telling?

The ending:
The end of your corporate storytelling will always have a goal. If you tell your story within the media or on social media, the plan will drive people to educate themselves on the company via your website. Perhaps even linking to a specific section focused on the subject matter. If your storytelling is on your website, ensuring you have a sales funnel to drive people to purchase or investigate further would be essential.
To encourage your viewer to make that move requires a conclusion to your story which will resonate with them, on a personal level. If you were to conclude your storytelling with ‘this can help you save time’, or ‘this will save you thousands’, these are a dispassionate conclusion that feels shallow and impersonal and will provide limited action. By tapping into the human psyche, what do we need to make us happy? Recognition, fulfilment, to feel part of a community, supported, guided, mentored?

Stories do not always have a foregone conclusion. As mentioned above, your corporate storytelling will be ever-evolving, and you want to bring viewers along with you on that journey. Creating an evolution content plan will do this in the long term, but in the short term could the call to action be to get them to ‘sign up’ to receive it?
 

The top 8 benefits of corporate storytelling:

•    Providing a personal, human face to your business
•    Increased audience engagement which develops awareness and trust
•    Fostering an engaged community for and around the business.
•    Developing an understanding of your business’ beliefs, values and goals.
•    Business development leading to increased sales and better profits.
•    Increased engagement across owned channels.
•    Providing a competitive edge against competitors.
•    Providing a modern delivery against company objectives and goals.