Lucy Zemljic

Lucy Zemljic

Content Creator

The Art of Corporate Storytelling

Storytelling is in our DNA.

It’s a bit of a sweeping statement, but hear me out.

From the first-ever creation myths carved into clay tablets, to the great literary works of our time, to ads on billboards and commercials on TVs, stories permeate our lives. Telling stories is integral to the human experience, and despite the hyper-digital nature of today’s world, stories never go away.

Man is a “storytelling animal,” says Alasdair MacIntyre, Scottish philosopher. American literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall even argues that storytelling has evolved “to ensure our survival.”

And while it makes perfect sense that a philosopher or literary scholar would say this, what’s more surprising is that they’re not the only proponents of the-power-of-narrative. Creative officers, marketing experts, and ad execs alike have long used storytelling to their advantage – and for good reason.

But what does telling stories have to do with selling products? I’ll answer that question with another one – what better way to connect with a consumer than by tapping into that deeply engrained, deeply human need for narrative?

Well, there’s a name for that, and it’s called corporate storytelling.

What Exactly is it? Definitions, Please

Although there are many definitions floating around, my personal favourite hails from University of Southern Denmark professors Birgitte Norlyk, Marianne Wolff Lundholt, and Per Krogh Hansen:

Corporate storytelling is “private and public companies’ and organizations’ strategic utilization of stories and storytelling… to create coherence and progression concerning the companies’ or organizations’ brand, identity and development.”

How does this fit into the world of content marketing? Think of it this way: ALL corporate storytelling is content marketing, BUT not all content marketing is corporate storytelling. What’s more, corporate storytelling is also a form of branded content, albeit a very specific form. It uses a story to draw the consumer in.

That Corporate Storytelling: So Hot Right Now

While the concept of corporate storytelling isn’t new, some would argue that now, in this age of constant connection, it’s more relevant than ever.

And right now, some pretty authoritative voices are singing its praises.

“To build on the opportunities that today’s hyperconnected and social consumer as well as new distribution platforms offer,” says Jon Hamm (Chief Creative Officer not at Sterling Cooper, but at Geometry Global), brands and agencies need to “embrace true storytelling.”

There’s even an entire agency – Story Worldwide, framing itself as “the world’s first post-advertising agency” – built around the idea that traditional advertising is passé.

“Story Worldwide understands that advertising-as-interruption is over,” says CEO Kirk Cheyfitz. “We’re now in an opt-in culture. The only way to get (positive) attention is to create great media – desired content that is relevant, informing, entertaining and on-brand…. Welcome to the post-advertising age.”

Now that we’ve established what corporate storytelling is, let’s take a look at who’s doing it, and doing it well.

Three Digital Brands That Do it Right

Google: Reunion

The Story

In this three-minute tear-jerker video, a granddaughter in Delhi, India, helps reunite her grandfather with his long lost childhood friend, Yusuf. He hasn’t seen his friend since the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, but – with the help of Google search – his granddaughter arranges a joyful reunion.

Why It Works

Throughout the whole process, this determined granddaughter uses Google to help in her reunion quest. From searching for “park with ancient gate in Lahore” (where her granddad and Yusuf used to fly kites) to checking the arrival time of Yusuf’s flight to Delhi, Google helps her every step of the way.

Created as part of a Youtube ad series for Google India, this heartwarming story encapsulates the idea that Google Search helps people find whatever they’re looking for.

It also reinforces the idea that Google is a company that listens to its customers, and shapes its products and services to fit into their lives, helping them with everything from finding the name of a song on the radio, to reuniting a pair of long lost friends.

There’s also a subtle-but-totally-there call to action – subscribe to the Google Youtube channel, then watch the rest of their videos. The bottom line? Hopefully, you’ll keep using Google for all your search (and other online) needs, maybe even with a stronger sense of brand loyalty.

Copyblogger: How to Create a Deep Connection with Your Prospects and Customers

The Story

One of Copyblogger’s most popular blog posts – Sonia Simone’s How to Create a Deep Connection with Your Prospects and Customers – starts out with a sweet little anecdote:

“When my son was about two and a half, he developed a funny habit of walking around the house from time to time, chiming out, ‘I’m here.’

Although this little boy was strongly connected to his family and his small class of school friends, he still had that need to express it.

‘I’m here. I exist. I want to be seen, and heard. I want to be recognized.’

And as human beings, we never quite lose that. We might get a little more sophisticated about how we say it, but ultimately we all want to let the world know: I’m here.

Why It Works

Using a deeply personal, completely adorable story to introduce and frame a blog post about connecting with your customers? That’s just smart brand storytelling.

It’s not surprising, though, coming from Copyblogger – dubbed “the bible of content marketing,” this website went from Brian Clark’s one-man blog, to the thought leader in its field, amassing more than 160,000 customers in the process.

Sonia Simone’s anecdote perfectly reinforces Copyblogger Media’s mandate: teaching people “how to create killer online content. Not bland corporate crap created to fill up a company webpage.”

The kicker? Copyblogger not only uses corporate storytelling itself, it also preaches the power of narrative in multiple widely-shared blog posts.

Neil Pasricha: The Last Day of School

The Story

This Canadian proponent of positivity burst onto the online scene in 2008, when his daily blog, 1000 Awesome Things, caught the attention of Wired and CNN.com. Pasricha’s The Book of Awesome is a #1 international bestseller, and 1000awesomethings.com now sits at almost 56 million hits and counting.

In this blog post, #6 in his countdown, he recalls the memory of the last day of school:

“Maybe your teacher brought a batch of homemade brownies in a heavy glass tray and everybody sliced a square with a plastic knife while passing around yearbooks…. Making plans for pool parties, summer birthdays, and sleeping in every morning gives you a great rush and as you walk home with that pen-scratched yearbook in your light and baggy backpack… AWESOME!”

Why It Works

Apart from the infectious positivity of his simple-pleasures worldview, part of the overwhelming success of Pasricha’s crusade of awesome has to do with the way he uses stories to spread his message.

This little vignette perfectly encapsulates the Awesome ideology, all while taking the reader on a sepia-toned trip down memory lane. Who doesn’t remember the last few days of school? Pasricha captures the sights and sounds and excitement of the oncoming summer break with playfulness and precision, adding one more simple pleasure to his list of totally-wonderful-things.

Why Should I Care About Corporate Storytelling?

If you’re a content marketer, copywriter, or even just write for your company blog every now and then, you should care. Because, in this digital world saturated with content, you need to make yours stand out.

According to Copyblogger, “8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That’s a disappointing statistic – and all the more reason to up your content game.

How do you get your potential customers to read past the headline copy? Why, by serving up a story, of course.

Don’t believe me? Check out this study run by the guys over at Buffer – they decided to test the story-theory out for themselves. Using a post on their Journey to $100K blog, they ran a basic A/B test, in which one set of visitors saw a version of the post with a simple story in the intro, and another set stumbled upon a no-nonsense intro, sans storytelling. As it turns out, the post with the narrative introduction had almost 300% more people scrolling all the way to the bottom, and spending five times more time on the page, than the story-less post.

Is there any reason not to jump on the corporate-storytelling-bandwagon?

In fact, some – like Jon Hamm – think that it’s not only smart to start corporate storytelling, it’s absolutely necessary.

“How we embrace this difference between content and stories and then bring true storytellers into our world,” states Hamm, “will be the key to the future success of our industry.”

Forget “Once Upon a Time” – storytelling is all around us. And the sooner we recognize its importance, the sooner we can harness its power.

And that’s a story your audience will want to devour.

Lucy Zemljic

Lucy Zemljic is a Content Creator here at Catalyst Canada, working for globally recognized clients in the insurance and tourism sectors.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Corporate Storytelling

  1. This was an extremely well-written piece, Lucy! I believe that every successful content marketer would agree with you. Every brand ought to realize that the best way to engage consumers is to tell one-of-a-kind stories that utilize vivid imagery. Do this, and they’ll have no problem forming an emotional bond with their target market.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Michael! I’m glad to hear that my piece resonated with you. It’s wonderful to get feedback from other content marketers, especially on a topic that you’re particularly passionate about. I couldn’t agree more – forming an emotional bond with your target market is key, and I truly believe that stories are the best way to do so. It’s in our DNA!

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