How Storytelling Helps Business Connect With Customers and Drive Growth

Learn from the excellent recent campaigns from Always, Patagonia and Spanx.

learn more about Carol Barash

By Carol Barash

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When you tell a story, three things happen in your brain -- your memories are triggered, the emotions associated with those memories are triggered and you want to take action. And in your reader's brain, the same three things happen -- and they experience your story through their own memories. That's how stories connect people. And it gets even better.

Related: The 5 Elements of Storytelling Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Stories that show you in action reveal your character -- and are the most powerful stories of all. Neuroeconomics professor Paul Zak explains: "Character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later." How can you draw on the emotional power of storytelling to bring customers close to the human character of your business?

Here are three storytelling tips you can use to create powerful content that builds a bridge from what you've already done to what you want to do for customers in the future.

1. Choose a moment.

The most powerful stories are built around specific moments of challenge, change and growth. The Always #LikeAGirl campaign does this brilliantly. Every girl has experienced that moment when someone looks at her and says she does something #LikeAGirl, and she feels crushed, suffocated and inadequate. The #LikeAGirl campaign takes young girls back into those moments and invites them to reclaim those times.

"Don't stop until you're unstoppable. #LikeAGirl." In this campaign, Always is doing much more than selling sanitary products -- they're asking every girl to challenge stereotypes and participate in their campaign by telling their own unique stories.

Related: How the Significant Objects Social Experiment Proved the Economic Value of Storytelling

2. Your company's world view is in the details.

Patagonia has always stood for outdoor adventure and outdoor clothing so well made that they'll fix it for you forever -- no need to throw it out, ever. Recently, the company has taken storytelling to the next stage, using visual images as well as sounds and smells to draw customers into local action for sustainability.

You're on the Patagonia site, and before you know it, you're scrolling between climbers' stories, wild adventure photos and vivid, naturalistic shots of Patagonia climbing apparel almost blooming on the page. Through these stories, you share Patagonia's sense of adventure and community. And their last ask is not to buy their products, but to sign up and speak up for the environment.

3. Write like you talk.

When you're struggling to write copy or a blog, talk it out. Better yet, walk around and talk into your phone. Faced with a blank page or computer screen, most people panic. But if you just start talking -- not like a marketing machine, but like yourself -- words will flow. Use that natural voice, the way you talk on Snapchat and Vine, to bring character and emotion to all your marketing.

Inside every Spanx package is a message in a font that looks hand-written, as if the founder (Sara Blakely) is sending a note just to you. My favorite? "Don't take yourself or the "rules' too seriously xo, Sara." It's like she's jumped out of the package and is talking right to you!

One last thing: Every story is a promise. When you tell an authentic story, or create one for your brand, it's as if you are whispering gently to your customer, "Because I have done this before, you can count on me to do it again." So have fun, be yourself, tell stories and invite your customers to tell stories -- and you'll be sure to draw them in close.

Related: Why Everything Hinges on the Narrative of Your Work

Carol Barash

Founder and CEO of Story2

Carol Barash started Story2 to create a future where everyone, from every background, can tell their stories and pursue their boldest dreams. She has been counseling students on college admissions and working in EdTech for more than 20 years. Barash has taught at Princeton, the University of Michigan and Rutgers University, and served on the Douglass College admissions committee. She graduated summa cum laude from Yale University, received full scholarships and completed her MA at the University of Virginia and her PhD at Princeton University. Barash is the author of Write Out Loud (McGraw-Hill, 2013).

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