Why do stories matter in business?
Jan 26, 2016
It was the French movie director, Jean-Luc Godard, who said, “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” If this is true of complexity, I think that the same ‘problem and solution’ idea can be applied 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 bank teller does, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, each day? But we all need those sort of people from time to time. Likewise, if you have ever stood up to talk about your job at a networking meeting or been asked what you do by someone at a dinner party, it will not be long before you are met with glazed looks and the realisation that the question was simply a conversation starter… Unless of course you’ve translated it into a story!
(Unhappy comment reducing proviso) There are, of course, many people who have genuinely interesting jobs, but it is usually the story within what they do that highlights the fascination within them.
People buy people!
The idea that people buy people is not just relevant to those who work in sales. The fact is that we are, if not just as human beings then certainly in our Western culture, fascinated by the human angle. Our TV screens are littered by back-stories; 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 difference in the big bad world.
People buy ‘into’ other people’s stories…
What makes a business story connect?
The obvious answer is to understand the customers that 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?
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 completely and expect everyone else to believe as passionately – just because… Then there are the companies who identify that what customers want matters but they don’t understand themselves enough to find any common ground. These companies try hard and then resort back 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 answer goes deep, far below the outward manifestation of the business, past price, good service, quality products or even USPs to the core of the business and ‘why’ it is there. 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 I think it was Jean-Luc Godard who also said, “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”
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