Storytelling has played a central role in human communications since times immemorial. Storytelling predates writing. Oral narratives were used by many ancient cultures as a way of passing along their traditions, beliefs and learning from generation to generation. Over the centuries, the nature of storytelling has significantly evolved with the advent of writing and the emergence of new technologies that enabled stories to be embodied in a variety of media, including books, films, TV and the Web.
While contemporary storytelling is mostly associated with entertainment, education and culture, it also plays a major role in business. In particular, storytelling is widely used in the development of brands for products and services as well as companies.
Establishing a brand requires much more than advertising, mindless jingles or assertions that no one believes. It is akin to engaging in a conversation with your intended audience, where you talk about your challenges and aspirations for the product and the company in order to create emotional associations and expectations. In short, you are creating and telling a story about your brand. And, the more powerful, important and complex the messages you are trying to convey, the more important it is that you do so by telling a compelling and emotionally resonant story.
Good storytelling is particularly important when introducing a complex and potentially disruptive offering in the marketplace whose value is not well understood. It’s a good way of explaining what the new innovation is all about in as simple a way as possible. As a concrete example, let me share my experiences with the development of IBM’s Internet and e-business strategy in the mid-late 1990s.