Storytelling can be an effective vehicle for your business. Steve Jobs certainly understood the power of stories as he transformed Apple into one of the most successful companies on the planet. Events like the TED Conferences have elevated storytelling into an influential broadcasting platform.
One of the premier experts on storytelling is Valerie Khoo, business founder, investor, speaker, and author of the book "Power Stories: The 8 Stories You Must Tell to Build an Epic Business." Khoo is Managing Director of the Australian Writers’ Centre, Co-Founder of SocialCallout.com, blogger, journalist and small business commentator.
She understands that those who get storytelling right can inspire and engage people more than any spreadsheet ever will.
StartupNation had the pleasure of interviewing Khoo and uncovering her insights into effective storytelling for your business and your marketing. Read the interview below to learn how to transform your brand into an icon and your customers into loyal advocates.
Why do you believe stories help to boost one’s business?
Khoo: Humans are hard-wired to listen to, absorb and share stories. We've been doing it since we were sitting around the fire in caves! Back then, we drew pictures on walls to explain stories about thunder, lightning and woolly mammoths. Stories were the primary way we shared information. However, in recent times, we’ve been deluged with data, infographics, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. So the art of storytelling has been dulled somewhat, especially in the world of business.
These days, when you harness the power of storytelling, this can certainly give you a competitive edge in your business. You just need to identify – and tell – the stories that will most benefit your business, whether that’s to inspire your team or encourage prospects to buy from you.
In your book "Power Stories," you outline 8 essential types of stories "guaranteed to engage, influence and inspire your customers, colleagues and clients". Can you share a few of these story types with us?
Khoo: One of the most effective Power Stories you can tell is your Passion Story. That’s essentially why you do what you do. When you talk about your passion, you just can’t fake your enthusiasm and conviction. It’s palpable – and people can see that you’re not just doing your business for the money; you genuinely care and you believe in what you’re doing. This kind of energy is infectious – so it’s great for your customers, staff and strategic partners to see what drives you.
Another effective Power Story is your Customer Story. By that I’m referring to stories about your customers’ experiences with you. These may take the form of case studies, testimonials or simply conversational anecdotes that you tell prospective customers. They want to know that you’ve helped other people just like them. And the easiest and most powerful way is by telling the story of another customer – someone just like them. The mistake many business owners make is that they get caught up telling people about their services and qualifications. Instead, focus on what a customer has achieved as a result of working with you or using your product.
There’s also your Leader’s Story; you need to use this when you want to inspire your team to get behind the vision of your business. A Leader’s Story can be used to galvanize nations or motivate armies into action. But you can also use your version of the Leader’s Story to encourage your staff – and even customers – to help you build your business.
What makes one story more powerful than another?
Khoo: One story can be more powerful than another simply because it resonates more deeply with someone. The beauty is that different stories impact people in different ways. The key is to identify which story your listener or reader is going to identify with the most. For example, if you’re a fitness trainer talking to a career-focused woman with no kids, you need to give examples of similar clients. Don’t talk to her about a client who is a mother-of-three because she’s not going to relate to her.
How can a new company use storytelling, when the company is just getting off the ground and does not have many customers yet?
Khoo: That’s where your Passion Story comes in! Countless startups from around the world get millions of dollars in funding when they have barely any customers. Often they have little more than an idea – but investors can be convinced by the passion and energy of the founder. Of course, you still need a sound business idea and plan. However, many startups get off the ground with no customers. In addition to a business plan, startups often rely on a founder’s Passion Story and Leader’s Story to get others behind a grand vision.
Let’s say a business has some great stories to tell. What’s the most effective way to broadcast and communicate those stories to prospective customers?
Khoo: Social media. There is no doubt that using various social media channels is quick, easy and low cost. Gone are the days when you needed a big budget to place expensive advertisements in print magazines or buy spots on radio or television. The online world has levelled the playing field. Now your stories can be broadcast online and the best part is that, if your stories resonate with people, they can be easily shared via social media as well.
I think it’s important to remember that a story does not have to take hours to tell. It doesn’t have to fill a whole book. A story can be succinct and it can be relayed in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. You can tell a neat story in a Facebook update or a Tweet. Ernest Hemingway famously won a bet by crafting a six-word short story: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."
What are a few of the most amazing ways that you’ve seen stories used in business?
Khoo: Charity:water do an amazing job when it comes to storytelling. They have inspired people all over the world to play a small part in bringing clean water to remote areas in third world countries. But the impact they have made is tremendous. They do this with authentic and powerful storytelling but, importantly, they know how to share these stories via social media.
Another great example of storytelling in business is Shopify. This is a ecommerce platform. But instead of focusing on the functionality of the software or talking up its features, they have a wonderful campaign called Shopify Stories. They share stories about their customers – regular business owners who use Shopify’s ecommerce platform. Often these are one-person operations. Shopify don’t focus on how these business owners use the software, they let the business owners talk about their passions and what drives them in business. It’s a wonderful idea that’s executed brilliantly.
Any plans for another book?
Khoo: I sure do. I have an idea that’s brewing in my head at the moment. It’s a business book, but I don’t think I will start writing for a few months. My schedule is packed with speaking engagements and conferences. It seems that a lot of people are keen to rediscover the lost art of storytelling in business!