3 Ways That Storytelling Is a Startup’s Secret Weapon


boy & elephantStorytelling is a tool that small companies can use against their bigger, deeper pocketed competitors.

Small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs can tell powerful stories that drive recall, emotion, and character that can lead to awareness and ultimately sales.

Since the beginning of time, stories have been told, yet only recently is storytelling making a comeback.

Here are 3 ways that stories can help you:

  1. Stories provide a framework to remember

Throughout civilization, stories were used to pass on culture, history, and knowledge from one generation to the next. With few tools to record their stories, humans have mastered the art of storytelling and our brains have adapted to accommodate story’s format.

Today stories can be used for the narrative effects, which enables and jogs people’s memories. For example, in the memory memoir, Moonwalking with Einstein, memory experts can create a specific story enabling them to recall hundreds, even thousands, of playing cards in order, simply by mapping story elements to individual suits and values.

Even “normal” people will never forget the candy that E.T., the extraterrestrial, followed out of the woods, as being Reese’s Pieces. Technology has allowed us to forget certain brand names, but with enough story elements, Google or Siri will be sure to connect the last mile for you.

In today’s world of on demand wants and desires, being able to communicate these elements is essential to your customers being able to know what to search for and how to connect.

“If you wish to influence an individual or a group to embrace a particular value in their daily lives, tell them a compelling story.” –Annette Simmons

  1. Stories can be emotional and irrational

While data has always been important to advertising analytics, humans are much better at analyzing and evaluating stories than numbers. To illustrate, consider a study where students were told that they were suffering from terminal illness.

They were offered either the control drug, which is 50% effective, or one of four drugs effective 90%, 70%, 50%, and 30%. They were told one of three stories, positive (person took drug and was cured), neutral (person took drug and nothing happened), or negative (person took drug and got worse).

The results:

90% 70% 50% 30% Positive 88% 92% 93% 78% Neutral 81% 81% 69% 29%Negative 39% 43% 15% 7%

The effect of the stories played a greater role than the actual data. Even though the 90% drug is more effective than the control drug, respondents chose the control drug when coupled with the negative story. Likewise, the 30% effective drug is chosen much more when coupled with the positive story.

The detail and humanization of the story had caused irrational behavior, which might work to your advantage when competing against a larger, better capitalized, or resource filled company.

Similarly, our aversion to numbers can be seen by how we understand the underlying mathematics and translate the numbers into actual outcomes. The lottery, for example, provides a microscopic chance to win a large payout. Buying a ticket barely moves the mathematical odds in your favor, but changes your story from no chance to a “one in a billion shot.”

On the other hand, some court cases with near obvious outcomes are sometimes settled out of court. Even if the chance of winning or receiving a payout is 99.99%. Settling out of court turns your payout into a “sure thing.” While a chance and a sure thing are easy to rationalize, it is hard to put a value on increasing your chances from 50% to 60%.

Numbers are much harder to translate into emotions, which sometimes drives decision-making.

“If you’re going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all.” –Joseph Campbell

  1. Stories allow brands to convey their values and change perspectives

Consumers are starting to value a brand’s story more and more: what does this brand stand for and what is important to them? Traditional advertising makes it difficult to convey these various angles, while stories can provide color and insight into the character of a company.

Story provides the “why” whereas traditional advertising is the “what.” The social responsibility stories of fashion accessories Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes have made them mainstream. The human interest stories in Charity Water and Smile Train have brought them more awareness and new donors. The magical stories of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg, told through Hollywood’s lens, have catapulted them to legends.

The lens through which a story is told also affects the perspective desired. Stories like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” demonstrate that the storyteller has much power in persuading what the viewers believe.

By telling your personal vulnerable story, you humanize your company and gain fans that want to see you succeed.

Stories are an amazing tool that any size company can use. They can help you remember, make things easier to understand, inspire you, and humanize your brand.

The amazing thing about stories is that money, size, resources, and stature are independent of the quality of the story and thus, it is truly David’s slingshot against Goliath.

Reprinted by Permission.

Image credit: CC by Art.com

About the author: Roger Wu

Roger Wu is co-founder of Cooperatize, an advertising platform for sponsored content. Previously, he founded Klickable.tv, an interactive video platform and was part of the founding team at Bloomberg Law.

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