If you’re a technology marketer, you’d better be a good storyteller. Jonathan Opp explains why.
Storytelling is crucial for tech brands. Look at almost any successful brand today—Amazon, Google, Airbnb, Salesforce, Red Hat. One thing they all have in common is that they are telling a consistent story about who they are and why what they do matters to us humans.
We’re fascinated by storytelling (we do it all the time for our clients), and we offer workshops to help people build their storytelling skills for business. I sat down with Jonathan Opp, host of more than two dozen of these workshops across the country (and internationally), to talk about why storytelling is so important for tech, and to hear what’s new in our upcoming event.
How do you define storytelling in a business setting?
Everyone in business needs to communicate. Whether it’s sharing ideas, selling products, or inspiring employees. If you’re in business, you’re in the business of persuasion.
The reality is, facts aren’t enough. Especially today when we have far more facts than we could possibly need. If you have something to communicate, story is going to help you get heard, understood, and believed.
Storytelling is about making facts human.
Here’s a simple way to look at it: Storytelling is about making facts human. It’s communicating from a perspective of people–through experience, with emotion, conflict, characters, change. The characteristics that make stories compelling also can be applied to the communication you create in business.
It’s explaining the what by focusing on the who and why.
When wrapped in story, data and facts become even more compelling and memorable. We’ve all been experiencing and sharing stories our entire lives. We’re just putting those same techniques to work for you in business.
Why is storytelling valuable for business, and especially for tech companies?
Business communication is about awareness, memorability, and persuasion. For this, nothing can match storytelling. Storytelling is the oldest and most powerful form of communication we have.
Technology is always changing. But people never do. People always want the same things: To give meaning to their work. To create impact. To feel secure. To be respected. To feel connected to the people they love.
Think of a movie you saw last year. You saw it only once. Just two hours out of a whole year’s worth of information. Now imagine a friend asks you to describe the plot–do you think you could?
Probably without much trouble. Maybe you’d first picture the lead characters, their quirks, how they reacted to each other, how they changed. You’d visualize the scenes—a city street, a living room. You’d feel the emotion of the challenges those characters faced—an apocalyptic disaster, a pivotal life event. And soon much of the movie would come rushing back to mind, as real as the day you saw it.
Now imagine a business presentation you attended last week. It had slides filled with well-researched charts and well-reasoned bullet points. But what do you really remember? Were you persuaded?
The problem isn’t the information, but how we package it.
I’ve been helping technology companies tell their stories for more than 20 years. Technology is always changing. But people never do. People always want the same things: To give meaning to their work. To create impact. To feel secure. To be respected. To feel connected to the people they love.
These are people stories. People stories are timeless.
Technology companies desperately need storytelling. Our dev teams turn out amazing new features every day. It’s the brand builder’s job to connect those features to people who will use them. The story isn’t just about what products can do, but what people can do.
Even in the seeming cold, unemotional world of enterprise computing. Especially there.
The story isn’t just about what products can do, but what people can do.
The truth is we’re persuaded by emotional arguments–then often use facts and data to justify our decisions. We buy products and services all the time not just for what they do, but what they say about us. That doesn’t stop with cars and designer jeans. And that will be true as long as humans are making decisions.
Marketing to robots is a different workshop.
And don’t think storytelling works only for nonprofits—or even advertisers with soft-drink company budgets producing Hollywood-worthy commercials. Any time you’ve a message to get across, a few simple storytelling techniques can help you get heard and remembered.
What are the key storytelling skills you think every technology communicator and brand builder could benefit from?
We’re natural storytellers. We’ve been doing it our whole lives. We’re going to help you find some new ways to apply those same concepts and skills in a business setting.
You just need to remember that every great story has similar common elements. You only need to add a few of those elements, even in small ways, to bring your content to life.
This doesn’t mean you have to start your next presentation with “Once upon a time…” We wouldn’t recommend that. Unless you like lots of eye-rolling.
But in fact it’s so simple. You just need to remember that every great story has similar common elements: Characters—heroes and villains, a setting—sensory details, environment where your characters life, tension and obstacles to overcome, and an arc that shows how people change. And sometimes you only need to add a few of those elements, even in small ways, to bring your content to life.
Also, we’re going to help you use a storytelling arc to organize the messages you want to get across. This arc has been repeated many times in many timeless stories—and that’s why it works. From “Star Wars” to “The Karate Kid” to “Harry Potter.” Just by reorganizing your information and revealing it a particular sequence can draw an audience into your message and help that message become more memorable and persuasive.
How do we humanize our messages? How do we use stories to reveal the values in our brand? How do we turn the customer into the hero?
At the Power of Story workshop we’ll show you how and also give you some practice toward helping you get there.
We’ll also provide some powerful models that can help you organize your messages at a high level, using these same storytelling principles as a foundation.
Who is the Power of Story workshop for?
Anyone who has to communicate ideas in a tech landscape. It will be particularly useful for people who communicate in a business or organization. Especially if you have to communicate on behalf of your organization. But also if you’re charged with communicating your brand story internally.
If you need to tell the world who you are, what your business does, and what you can do for them, this workshop will help you discover new ways to do it.
On the day after the workshop, how will attendees be able to put their new skills into practice?
You will change your approach in how your communicate–whether it’s reordering or redesigning your presentations, organizing web content, or helping you rethink how to communicate an idea in your next meeting.
You’ll take a step back and consider whether you’re trying to convince your audience with facts alone, or are you also revealing a human story behind it?
Not just describing what your product can do, show what people can do with it.
Not just describing what your business does, but who you do it for, and why you do it.
And you’ll have a whole set of new tools to help you bring your content to life.