Why Great Stories are Important in Business: the Essential Truths

by Steve Seager on June 3, 2013

Story and business

I’m looking to clear a little ground before I sow some deeper seeds. Articulating why stories are so important in business often appears to be difficult. Which is remarkable considering all the hype on storytelling, right?

I want to make the distinction between story and communication a little clearer. And outline the business value of stories. Down below is a write-up drawn from the introduction of a workshop on story and communication I recently gave.

We can communicate in many different ways. We don’t necessarily need to tell a story to say, ‘You did a fantastic job!’, ‘Wow, I love working with you!’, ‘You’re late for work,’ or ‘Your bonus this month is a gazillion Euros.’

However, when we need to persuade, when we need to move people away from one way of doing things towards another, stories are the way to go.

Why? Well, as HBR pointed out some time ago, persuasion is the centerpiece of business activity. It goes for employees, organisations, brands and consumers. Telling stories is by far the most effective way to ‘persuade’.

So, in good old top-down style, I’ve taken a swoop through some essential truths on stories to persuade. With some nice links too. Hopefully, it’s a nice primer.

Stories and the individual 

Stories help us make sense of the world we live and work in. We tell stories to better connect and engage with others. They give meaning to what we communicate. And the stories that others tell us help us understand other people’s point of view.

From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are hardwired to be receptive to stories. (That link’s to a cool video.) Stories give us continuity when facts and figures melt away.

All of which means we should treat them with the attention and respect they deserve.

Stories and the organisation

When we communicate without stories, we often don’t ‘feel’ right in our workplace. And things don’t make ‘sense’ to us. Stories give us both the content (the facts) and the context (the meaning) that help us fully understand, and motivate us to change.

Internally, poor communication is the single biggest reason why IT projects fail. It’s why good strategic plans fail too. When we communicate well, and we make the effort to tell stories, people feel like we are speaking a common language. As a result, we have much more faith in what we are doing.

According to HBR/Oracle, an incredible 5 of the top 8 fundamental traits of organisational effectiveness are related to the way we communicate. If we are to ‘persuade’ our organisation to perform better, telling better stories surely helps.

Stories and leadership

It is simply impossible to be a great leader without being a great communicator. And that means telling great stories. Leaders who tell great stories create alignment and consensus. They give us a common direction.

Others remember those stories leaders tell. They share them. And create new stories of their own that reinforce the bigger stories leaders tell.

That’s when deep, positive change really happens.

Stories and brands

Great stories help form the emotional bond that ‘glues’ a consumer to a product, and a market to a brand. They engender familiarity, affinity and, ultimately, brand equity.

Stories also help reveal the uniqueness of our brands. They help differentiate us – especially in today’s over-saturated 2.0 communications environment.

StoryWorldwide expand on this in 7 reasons why stories are so important to brands. It’s a good starting point.

Summary

When we tell great stories, as opposed to ‘just’ communicating, we create meaning; reinforce a common sense of purpose. Stories help us understand ourselves, and each other, better. We start to speak the same language. We start working towards a common goal.

Stories connect employees to organisations; validate leadership for organisations; connect organisations to their brand values, and brands to their consumers.

Aristotle on brand

So, that’s a damn good argument for the business value of stories.

But we haven’t yet defined the essential elements of any great story. And there is an archetype that links all of these things we have talked about, together.

Aristotle, major dude that he was, developed a theory of great communications for persuasion.

It’s one I would like to, ahem, adapt a little to our new business communication environment. (Looking at that picture, he looks disappointed already.)

Until then, what do you think? Anything to add on the business value of stories?

Let me know!

- Steve

Previous post:

Next post: