Storytelling is an idea you’re hearing tied to marketing and business success more and more lately.  The idea I’ve been talking about for years.

In the context of marketing and business success storytelling really does rock.  Here are seven reasons why:

1.  Storytelling is part of our DNA.

Hamilton Wallace, small business marketing consultant, talks about story and how it relates to messageBefore books we told each other stories.  We passed along our culture and values around campfires.  Our parents or tribe or community elders — like the Native American storyteller depicted in the image — didn’t present a lecture on bravery or truthfulness.  They told a story about it.  And we listened and learned.  Ten thousand years ago, and last Sunday in church.

Story has continued as the root unit of communication into the printed and electronic word (the front page story, our lead story tonight).  Like fight or flight, mom and apple pie, the urge to form tribes and communities, etc., story is part of us.

Shouldn’t you use story in your attempts to gain attention and persuade people?!

2.  Storytelling cuts through the clutter; it’s what truly differentiates you.

Disney versus Six Flags.   Apple versus HP.  Google versus Yahoo.  Some are built on story.  You can guess which ones.  You “know” Disney.  Not so with Six Flags.  Ask anyone at Disneyland and they’ll tell you they don’t have rides, they have stories they put you into.  Time after time Google has done things that raise eyebrows.  But they always ask the same question, Will it benefit the user?  In addition to “Don’t be evil,” the story Googlers understand and live is creating a better online experience for people.

3.  Storytelling is the best way to actually communicate — to connect.

What do the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Tora and every other holy book have in common?  Right, they tell stories.

Communication, actual communication, occurs when you achieve shared meaning.  You may read my web page or sales letter (or holy book), but have I communicated with you?  Is your understanding of what I’m talking about the same as mine?  Tell me a story and the chances are better it is.

4.  Storytelling isn’t done very well or very often; use it and you will stand out, cut through and connect.

Tell a story.  Quick, while not that many companies are doing it.  I met James shortly after he had lost his job and declared himself a salesforce.com consultant.  After he had tried (and failed) at attracting prospects to his website and converting them into leads.  Reluctantly, he hired me to create a new search campaign and train him.  We went through some rocky weeks; his budget was modest and the competition limited the number of visitors he could afford.  But after chipping away at both the campaign and optimizing his website, the leads started to flow.  And flow.  In the third month of James managing the campaign himself, six months after we began together, he had to pause the campaign (too much business).

Yes, I am a Google Adwords expert and yes I train my clients how to manage their own campaigns, but after hearing about James and comparing three Adwords experts, which one might stand out in your mind?

5.  Storytelling spawns word-of-mouth; get better at it and watch your word-of-mouth soar.

Word-of-mouth is, basically, people telling stories about you.  If all you say about your company is feature/function/benefit stuff (Our gears experience 30% less downtime. . .We’re the oldest. . .We’re the biggest) you’re not giving people too much to talk about.  Tell a story about a customer who called at 2 AM after a competitor’s gear failed; and how after three years as your customer they’ve had zero down time.  Better yet, put them in front of a video camera and let them tell their own story.

Tell stories worth repeating.  Better yet, do things for customers that are worth talking about.

6.  Storytelling stops people long enough to stick around and listen to your message.

Your story normally isn’t your message.  Your story is that thing nobody else can say.  It’s often the thing that caused you to do what you’re doing.  It’s a moment of reflection that captures why you are unique and makes people WANT to be a part of what you’re doing.

Here’s the best example of story I have found.  This company invests in businesses to end world poverty.  This is their story:

You don’t even have to finish the video to want to know more about what they do.

7.  Finding your story will set you free.

Okay, I stole that from the “The truth will set you free” people.  But it’s true.  Finding your own story is different from telling stories.  But while I’m on the subject of storytelling, finding and telling your story is truly liberating.  It clarifies choices and sharpens your direction.  Everything you do becomes more congruent and, with that new congruency, people (customers) respond.

One thing, though, finding your story is really, really hard.  Most of us never find it.  Others chip away at it.  Others stumble upon it.  I caught my technology partner telling his story (he didn’t know it).  We were taking a break at a conference in San Jose.  We went to the Computer History Museum and he stumbled upon his first computer and blurted this out:

John does network support and has an unusual gift for helping people understand and use technology.  This video, better than a thousand words, explains his supportive, empathetic approach to computer support.

After these 42 seconds, wouldn’t you want John helping you with your computer issues?

Plus, as John’s story demonstrates, your story doesn’t have to be elaborate or dramatic.  It needs to be real.  And meaningful to you.

Start telling stories and watch how people respond.

. . .oh. . .my story?  I thought you’d never ask.