10 Things Storytelling Won’t Do for Your Business or Nonprofit

I know both the power and the shadows of story. One of those shadows is the ideas that story always works in every situation. It will not. Here are ten things storytelling will not do for your company.

Real stories can change your company. The best way to express story is through storytelling. However, your stories must be true and they must be a central focus of your organization in order to be effective. As a storytelling coach and trainer since 1986, I have been using story long before it was the current buzzword of today. I will be telling stories long after people are done “doing” stories. I know both the power and the shadows of a good story. One of those shadows is the idea that story always works in every situation. It will not. Here are ten things storytelling will not do for your company.

“But, but…the gurus promised that storytelling would (choose some buzz words: MAGNETICALLY or EFFORTLESSLY + ATTRACT, GRAB, or HOOK) our customers. Why is my company drowning?” Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

1. Fix difficult management. 
If your CEO is not onboard with your new storytelling process, your process will fail. If your management team has significant problems, control issues or is otherwise unhealthy, a good story will only cover it up for a brief moment. Truth will always win-out.

2. Correct a Bad Promise. 
If your company makes promises it never intends to keep, your storytelling will be perceived as lies. Lies will destroy a business or a nonprofit organization.

If there’s monkey-business with money, no amount of storytelling will fix that problem. Photo by Mathieu Turle on Unsplash

3. Fix financial misbehavior.
If there are questionable corporate money issues or books that have been “cooked,” storytelling will not cover financial impropriety.

4. Keep your clients after bad service. 
Your great story, expressed in storytelling or any other media, may bring in many new customers. However, if these new people experience poor service, they will not return. Rather, they will create a new story of how your company really works- and you can bet that story will spread on the Internet faster than any story you have tried to bring forward.

5. Keep employees who are mistreated. 
Telling stories of how great your organization is will not win out over a worker’s long-term negative experience. While storytelling can help with healing after major changes and real apologies, reality always conquers any fake fable the company may create.

Customers who have been ignored. Employees who feel screwed. No storytelling is going to fix those Cats and Kittens in your world who are angry. Apologies might work. Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

6. “Make” people buy your widget. 
Repeatedly, business owners want me to teach them the magic words that will make floods of customers come in their door. This does not happen. Your multiple stories will become bedrock upon which deeper relationships may be developed. Let your customers build their trust in you on this rock, not the sand of jingles and campaigns.

7. Force a “viral” anything.
A true “viral” Internet element is hard to create and even then is rather random at any rate. The few marketing campaigns that have gone viral usually did not equate to profits for the companies involved. Skip the gimmick and focus rather on the genuine stories of your group.

Storytelling isn’t automatically viral. It doesn’t give you a crystal ball. You still have to do the work. You still have to advertise. No crystal balls. No magic wands. But, nice stock photo anyway. Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

8. Replace all your other marketing.
While research shows that storytelling can carry big ideas, storytelling is not the last marketing tool you need. Older methods of marketing such as direct mail and the latest tools such as social media should be used to bring your story to your new and current clients.

9. Survive the “gimmick” mentality.
In my corporate career, I have Moved Cheese and Flung Fish all while trying to connect with folks in One Minute. These fad trends have come and gone. On the other hand, the importance of story seems to be hard wired in our DNA. If you treat storytelling like your last gimmicky management trend it will fail, too. A phrase like, “Our focus for this year is on storytelling” is a coffin nail for success. Make story your new baseline for your company’s future and you will do much better.

10. Be free of charge.
Not everyone is a natural storyteller. I think that each person in your company can easily learn to recognize and recall stories but they will need training and coaching to learn to express them in forms such as storytelling, writing, video and more. This takes time and training to get this correct for your company.

However. . .

Story still contains the same power to change lives, connect people, and build communities just as it has done throughout history. Do not get too discouraged in these ten warnings. Think of them as my advice to you on how to move past the mythology (truth wrapped in story, used for good or bad) and get to awareness of the right way to use our tool of story. I think that having realistic expectations of this tool will help you use story to its full potential.

  • ** Find Sean Buvala at seantells.com. The currency of Medium is clapping. Please use the clap button. It will help you magnetically attract more customers. No, that’s not true. **