Storytelling – for World Usability Day

Stories really can be simple, so it’s amazing how often people in business fail to tell a good one. The most basic ingredients of a story you can tell about work are:

  1. Stuff happens
  2. People care
  3. The moral

I’ve highlighted “People care” because this is the bit people usually leave out of business stories. But you shouldn’t, because emotion fixes our attention on something and helps us remember it later. If the emotion is strong enough, we’ll go a step further and share your story with others.

Here’s a great example of emotional storytelling with a very clear business aim:

#ShareTheLoad started out from a simple business insight: that 90% of laundry in India is done by women. What are the insights in your business and how could you turn these into stories?

You can use a classic story arc to give your story that roller coaster of emotion that will make it irresistible. Even a humble iguana can experience a story arc:

Your story should NOT be a straight line from “once upon a time” to “happy ever after” with no bumps in the road. You may be tempted to gloss over difficulties along the way but don’t. These are what make your story seem more real.

You’ll need to tell stories about yourself (Foundation Stories) but you’ll find it easier to keep telling fresh stories about your customers  (Brand Stories). Here are two examples of one company telling both kinds of story. First, the Foundation Story, where the company is the hero:

And now the Brand Story, where the customer is the hero and the product barely gets a mention:

Journalists and advertisers use all kinds of tricks to hook your attention when they have a story to tell. Think of this as using what’s in the front of people’s minds, not forcing them to dig into the back of their minds. You can get “front-of-mind” attention if you can make your story Timely, Relatable, Unexpected or Evocative.

Here are the techniques I used to help people structure their business stories:

  1. Story arc – where your customer is the hero.
  2. Mentors & Animals – how you help your hero is what makes your brand stand out.
  3. Cheats and Rebels – because we are fascinated by rule-breakers.
  4. T.R.U.E stories – journalists’ and advertisers’ tricks for grabbing attention.

Aesop is the father of animal archetypes in fiction and his Fables are still entertaining us 2,630 years on. At the other end of the spectrum, try Stephen Lloyd and Arch Woodside’s fascinating academic review of how animals are used in advertising.

The slide deck from this training course is available here as a Keynote file (321Mb). The worksheets are available here as PDF files.


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