6 Lessons from the Heart Series Conference on How Storytelling Can Grow Your Business and Impact

Courtesy of Paper Ban Photography

Corporate thought leaders, non-profit founders, celebrities, media gurus and social change-makers gathered in Los Angeles’ trendy enclave of Culver City last week for a two-day exchange of ideas about how to use business as a catalyst for social transformation.

While The Heart Series Conference is about connecting purpose and business strategy, the core message I came away with is that storytelling is the mortar that holds together the bricks of any conscious capitalist’s cathedral. No matter how many lives you save with your one-for-one giving model, how amazing your employee engagement platform is or how much money you spend on your marketing campaigns, effective storytelling is essential to successfully scaling positive social change and growing your bottom-line.

Here I’ll share six key takeaways from the conference’s experts on how and when to use storytelling to strengthen your company and contribution.

3 Tips on how to tell compelling stories that convert

1) Know your audience: Just as you wouldn’t speak to a child the same way you would speak to your accountant; you wouldn’t use the same medium or content to reach foreign exchange students at UCLA as you would veterans in Michigan. Find out where your target audience is consuming media, in what format and what they value most. Once you know that you can tailor your content to the people you want to connect with.

Melissa Lavigne-Delville - whose company Culture Co-Op has done extensive research on Generation Z (7 to 19 year olds) - shared some intriguing insights from her work that can help your brand connect with the 60 million American’s starting to enter the workforce and gaining expendable income. They are nostalgic for a time before technology, she said. “They are not going to lose digital because it’s in their DNA but at the same time they want the real thing.” So, when you’re looking to connect with this generation think about engaging them in a way that invokes the feeling of genuine experience.

Melissa Lavigne-Delville (Courtesy of Paper Ban Photography)

2) Focus on individuals: Broad statements about how climate change is destroying our planet or how millions of people are dying from cancer every year are overwhelming and intangible. Tell an authentic story about how your work changed one person’s life. People to people relations create emotional resonance that’s stronger than big numbers and systems perspectives.

“The most important thing is to have a good story and make it not about you,” said Adam Mordecai, Upworthy’s Editor-at-Large. “Find those human stories and tell them in the way people can relate. Great storytelling is the only thing that will help you go viral.” To boost conversions even more, “Give people an emotional place to go,” advised Mordecai. Make a small ask — whether it’s writing a letter, contributing to a cause or sharing a post — make it tangible.

3) Create immersive Experiences: The more someone can empathize with impacted people or causes, the more likely they’ll be to send a donation, buy a product or sign a petition. “Proximity seems to be the antidote to apathy,” said Molly Swenson, Chief Marketing Officer at Ryot Media.

In 2015, Ryot made a VR film that placed viewers in a solitary confinement cell and coupled the film with petition to ban youth solitary confinement. “We’d never seen a conversion rate like that before,” said Swenson. Ryot realized “we should probably get into the VR thing.” In essence, the closer you can get to putting someone in somebody else’s shoes the more likely you are to establish an emotional connection with the viewer and multiply conversions.

3 Tips on when to use storytelling to build your brand

4) Creating Partnerships: Regardless of whether you run a small start up or a global conglomerate, partnerships are critical to business success and that also goes for social impact. As I mentioned earlier, knowing your audience is key to telling a good story, especially when you’re in the initial stages of forming partnerships. Clearly illustrating shared values and how collaborating could advance your mutual interest is essential to creating successful partnerships.

Denielle Silber, Associate Director of Corporate Alliances at the International Rescue Committee, an organization that aids displaced persons, shared how Rescue, is using the immigration ban to create and strengthen partnerships. “It’s not just about capitalizing on it for philanthropic purposes,” she said. “Ask ‘what can these partners do to advance the movement?’” By connecting Rescue’s mission to assist displaced people with Silicon Valley’s story of attracting a diverse international employee base, Rescue was able to make partnerships that help strengthen their ecosystem of support.

Abby Maldonado (Courtesy of Paper Ban Photography)

5) Attracting talented and diverse employees: Numerous studies show how diverse teams are more dynamic, innovative and competitive. But attracting and retaining top talent is easier said then done especially when company culture caters to heteronormative white males. Abby Maldonado, Diversity Programs Specialist at Pinterest, specified that diversity is bringing people from various genders, races, cultures and sexes to the table; inclusion is creating the sense of belonging. Companies looking to attract and retain employees from various backgrounds may be deterring candidates simply by the way they’ve written job descriptions or how the office is set up — I know its shocking, not everyone feels comfortable in a room covered in Star Wars posters with endless Doritos and Red Bull on tap. Textio is a useful resource that can identify bias in job descriptions and suggest changes to create more inclusive copy.

Furthermore, it’s important to have storytellers from different backgrounds discuss important but sometimes-difficult issues of race, gender and sexuality in the workplace. This will help foster inclusive dialogues that embrace various perspectives rather than a dominant narrative that may not resonate with all parties.

6) Media and Marketing: external communications are essential to converting viewers into customers and the way you tell your brand story will often make or break a conversion. “Give your audience a reason to share your content,” said Jason Djang, Education Manager at YouTube. “Content is a proxy for something we want to communicate and we share it because it says something about us better than we can say it ourselves.”

While a viral piece of content may bring more eyeballs to your brand it doesn’t build relationships. “Our customer base wanted to discover more passion and more meaning,” said Ann Wang, Co-Founder of Enrou an e-commerce site that sells socially conscious products. By telling amazing stories about the communities Enrou supports they invite consumers to find that meaning in their day-to-day. People are going to go back to the organization that introduced them to the causes they love and that’s what will sustain your brand and mission over time.

From L to R — Aaliyah Williams, Adam Mordecai, Jaclyn Lindsey, Jason Djang (Courtesy of Paper Ban Photography)

Stories awaken us to struggles and triumphs that we may not experience ourselves but can relate to on a human level. And that’s what makes people feel connected to your brand, cause or product. Yes, coupons and promo codes may boost sales in the short-term but what the Heart Series drove home for me is that in order to build meaningful relationships that withstand the winds of time you must connect on a heart-to-heart, human-to-human level and that’s what will energize your stakeholder community to support you to grow your business and your blessing.***

I write about purpose-driven business and environmental issues. To read my latest follow me on Twitter @JedamiahWolf