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Guide to Corporate Storytelling

March 11, 2020 • Sam Grabel

Corporate storytelling now, with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, has become incredibly important as organizations work to instill calm and showcase a track record of reliability in uncertain times. Storytelling is at the heart of everything that corporate marketers and communicators do, and it has been a cornerstone of History Factory’s business for more than 40 years. As CEO Bruce Weindruch states in his book, Start with the Future and Work Back: A Heritage Management Manifesto,“History is an interpretive process. It isn’t carved in stone. The facts and names and dates stay the same, but the stories them­selves should be continually reinterpreted and told in ways that keep them relevant.”

That is our charge at History Factory—to help our clients understand their past and to pull stories forward that can be used in myriad ways to achieve goals for the future. The stories that we uncover today can help push organizations forward to flourish tomorrow. We put the story in history.

In this guide to corporate storytelling, we’ll examine the benefits of storytelling, considerations for good storytelling, tools that can help you tell a story effectively, and, finally, storytelling in action.

Benefits of Storytelling

Considerations and Tools for Good Storytelling

Examples of Storytelling in Action

Benefits of Storytelling

Pictured: A group of people taking part in a corporate storytelling event.

Good storytelling is imperative for both internal and external communications. People are 22 times more likely to remember information conveyed in the form of a story rather than facts and figures.

Why? Storytelling affects the human psyche in a variety of ways. At its best, it conveys authenticity and connects with audiences through the universal language of shared experience. Even if the audience doesn’t share the exact experience, a story can evoke emotion, trigger memories, leave an impact and move people to act. Storytelling also encourages people to empathize with a situation that may otherwise be unrelatable. In short, it brings your messages to life.

Internally, storytelling can help with:

Externally, storytelling can help with:

Considerations and Tools for Good Storytelling

Pictured: Someone using a chalkboard to show a corporate story arc.

Capable storytellers are valuable. However, lots of storytelling is ineffective, dull and incomplete. Other stories overpromise and underdeliver.

It’s not an easy task to tell a story in a cohesive way, especially if it involves the history and experiences of a company. Do you want to highlight your company’s founder? Do you want to highlight a moment when the company overcame adversity? How about focusing on how it has positioned itself for the future?

Furthermore, what format should the stories take? Should you produce a publication? A documentary? A series of social media posts? Other short-form content? An exhibit or display? An AR/VR experience?

We’ve identified several keys to effective and engaging corporate storytelling:

  1. Stories must have shape: setup, tension and resolution
  2. Rely on truth, not fiction
  3. Tailor your stories for specific audiences
  4. Start before your founding date
  5. Find compelling drama in challenge and conflict
  6. Craft details and scenes, not data and statistics
  7. Set up the sequel

Once you understand how to craft an effective and engaging story, then you can begin to understand how to craft your organization’s story. Here’s how.

  • Confirm the vision: Why are you telling your story? Who is your audience? How will you measure your story’s impact?
  • Craft foundational narratives: Use these as the basis for all future storytelling initiatives.
  • Capture relevant history: Not every story is important.
  • Curate for use: Understand how you’ll deliver these messages to your audience.
  • Communicate for impact: Let the characteristics of your audience dictate length, tone and medium.
  • Conclude: Did your storytelling hit the mark? Use the metrics that you previously outlined to judge its efficacy.

A key component of an effective and engaging story is how you’ll use it. Organize stories in a content bank for quick and easy use across multiple platforms. You’ll have a source of content that’s ready for you to draw from as specific storytelling needs arise.

Examples of Storytelling in Action

Pictured: Someone using pictures and diagrams to tell a corporate story.

Storytelling can be used to advance your organization’s goals. Here are a few examples of corporate storytelling in action.

Storytelling for company anniversaries

This is an image of the Pac Life website.

We have been helping companies celebrate big milestones for more than 40 years. Our guide to celebrating your company anniversary offers insights on how to approach an upcoming anniversary.

How exactly can storytelling make people care about your company anniversary? For starters, it’s important to get your messaging right. And whether you’re developing original content or uncovering stories through crowdsourcing, stories need to build an authentic connection with the intended audiences.

Then, it’s all about how the message is delivered. Advertising and social media are great ways to connect with external audiences.

Storytelling for HR initiatives

Pictured: A man taking a picture of Entrepreneur-in-Chief, Sir William Barclay Peat, at a corporate museum.

Storytelling can support HR initiatives, including identifying and attracting talent, onboarding new employees, increasing employee engagement and giving your workforce a sense of purpose. Use stories to help foster an emotional connection with your company, its founder(s), its alumni and its customers for greater impact.

Storytelling for CSR Initiatives

This is a photo of people protesting for climate change.

Consumers and employees today demand honesty, transparency and ethical decision-making. Storytelling can help people understand the how and why of your organization’s CSR strategy. Corporate social responsibility reports often feature lots of data. Stories can go beyond the numbers and put a human face on an organization’s efforts. Similarly, using storytelling for philanthropic purposes helps build support in local communities.

Conclusion

Storytelling is not a fad. It’s been central to civilization since the earliest recorded history. However, the ways that we use it have changed—especially for business. Now more than ever, stories are a powerful tool for corporate communicators.

How will your company use the story of its past and present to have an impact on its future?

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