Why do stories matter in business?

The French movie director, Jean-Luc Godard, once said, “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” If this is true of complexity, you could apply the same ‘problem and solution’ idea to commerciality, necessity or just plain boringness in the business world.

Let’s face it, most people have very little interest in the daily business life of other people, except for the fact that they might need the goods and services they provide. Does anyone really care what an accountant, lawyer or provider of stuff does, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, each day? But we all need those people from time to time. If you’ve ever stood up to talk about your business at a networking meeting or been asked what you do at a dinner party, it won’t be long before glazed looks fill the room. All too soon you realise the invitation to talk was simply a conversation starter. Unless of course, you’ve translated it into a story!

Of course, some people do have genuinely fascinating jobs, but it is still the story within what they do that captures our interest. 

People buy people!

The idea that people buy people is not exclusively relevant to salespeople. The fact is that we are all attracted to stories. Modern culture proves this, but there is nothing new under the sun. It is only the ‘TV’ part of reality-TV that is new. Whichever screen you view life through, back-stories will drive the narrative in front of your eyes. We listen to songs that tell of heartbreak, love, belief and belonging; and nothing moves us more than a story of the little man making a big difference in the face of adversity.

People buy ‘into’ other people’s stories…

What makes a business story connect?

The key to business storytelling is understanding the customers the business is trying to attract. What are their needs, fears, and desires? Do they have other options, priorities or prejudice? Is their motivation price, participation, or purely need? It is the old story about the man who goes to buy a drill not actually needing a drill. What he really wants is a hole.

That is the obvious answer. But it is only a part of the right answer. You see, there are two sides to any story, and it is the place where teller and hearer (service and customer) meet, which is where the magic should happen. I tend to see two extremes with companies trying to connect with their customers.

On the one hand, it is ‘we this’ and ‘we that’ without even the slightest thought about what their customer might want. These companies believe in themselves entirely and expect everyone else to feel as passionately – just because… At the other end of the scale are companies who realise what their customers want matters. But they don’t understand themselves enough to find common ground with those they are trying to serve. These companies try hard and then resort to fighting on price and ordinariness, just like everyone else.

And they all lived happily ever after!

The question they should ask is ‘why?’ The comprehensive answer to this question always goes deep. It travels far below the business’ outward manifestation; beyond price, good service, quality products, or even USPs. This secret is found at the core of a business and is why it even exists. Discover your company’s purpose. Uncover your customer’s need. Then tell the story of how the two meet, fall in love and go on a wonderful journey of discovery and mutual benefit together.

That is the power of a good business story! And it doesn’t matter if you are still trying to find yours because it was also Jean-Luc Godard who also said, “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”