Zain Jaffer is the founder and president of Zain Ventures, a family office that invests in real estate and proptech.
Oftentimes, we think of corporate communications as distinct from storytelling. The former belongs to the realm of practicality and objectivity, while the latter belongs to the realm of emotion and persuasion. However, this distinction is a false dichotomy. Corporate communications and storytelling should go hand in hand to properly elevate your messaging and inspire others.
Great stories can survive for thousands of years and touch millions, even billions, of lives. When business leaders concentrate exclusively on the power of the bottom line, they miss out on the deeper, more universal magic of a good story. Far from being a mere PR tactic, good storytelling can form the foundation of everything a business is and does. Whether you’re communicating with shareholders, employees or the general public, what you say and how you say it can make a profound difference in how your brand is perceived.
Sharing With Shareholders
While shareholders make a living by closely analyzing hard data, emotional factors are involved in every investment. Bringing storytelling into your presentations can breathe life into these critical numbers, helping shareholders comprehend and retain the data more effectively.
Many of the tried-and-true techniques that writers and storytellers use are equally applicable in the business world. The greatest stories tend to involve some element of change or transformation, usually achieved through a significant conflict or decision. Finding those inflection points in your own company’s story—for example, when you switched from a startup to a scale-up or launched a new product or service that put you ahead of the competition—and using data to support them boosts shareholders’ trust by demonstrating cause and effect.
It’s also crucial to remember one of the most masterful arts of storytelling: the cliffhanger. Speaking about the successes of the past can help shareholders believe in senior leadership’s decision-making skills, but the prospect of an exciting future can help investors become strong advocates who are personally attached to your company’s long-term vision.
A Company Of Storytellers
Adding a personal touch to stories can be helpful in the boardroom, but it’s fairly indispensable when communicating within a company. The best leaders are those who inspire others to become leaders themselves, and this is best achieved through authentic, relatable storytelling. Executives who internalize their company’s story and tell it engagingly can motivate people in a way that presentations and graphs never could. Anyone who has founded a company has a story to tell—one involving sacrifice, struggle, learning and triumph. Being honest about everything that goes into building a business and making effective use of anecdotes helps employees feel connected both to the company’s story and to leadership personally.
At a former company, a customer told me our services helped him gain enough income to quit his job and pursue his entrepreneurial dream. When I shared that with my employees, it helped galvanize the team and create a qualitative shift in the way we viewed what we were doing. We weren’t just selling an effective service; we were changing our clients’ lives. This altered the way we communicated with our clients and each other, and I believe it contributed to our success.
Relating To The Public
Telling stories to the broader public involves a synthesis of the other two forms of corporate communication. As with shareholders, data-driven narratives are essential to building trust and excitement; as with employees, stories that spread by word of mouth are the most effective.
Nothing looks better for a business than having customers as voluntary advocates. Internally crafted PR campaigns are obviously powerful tools, but the stories that arise from real-world interactions will be the ones that most powerfully shape the public’s perception of a company. While it’s impossible to fully control these kinds of stories, companies can exert some influence on them by practicing what they preach and ensuring that interactions with customers always embody their core values.
All forms of corporate communication work together in a reciprocal fashion. While it may seem difficult to negotiate all these levels, the solution is actually simple. Rather than regarding storytelling as an outward-facing asset, executives should view it as essential to the inner core of the business. When a story is authentic and speaks to people on a personal level, it becomes much more than advertising. It’s how business leaders can make the most of their position and influence.