• Bill McMahon

Updated: Dec 12, 2018

In the last few years, Business Storytelling has become a major buzzword. Are you asking yourself, “Why is this a thing?” Many business owners and C-Level executives find it difficult to understand the importance of Storytelling to their marketing and branding. They get stuck in the mindset that sales of their products or services are driven by statistics. But that’s not how it works. And for small-to-medium size business owners, who lack a huge promotional budget, understanding the basics of effective business storytelling can make a huge difference in scaling their business.

People don’t buy intellectually, they buy emotionally. The statistics only serve for them to justify their emotional purchase to themselves. So what moves your prospects to buy or not buy what you’re selling? Storytelling has a lot to do with it. It helps establish your brand, appeal to your customer’s emotions, and inspires trust. Once all that is in place, your prospect is far more likely to convert into a client.

So what is effective business storytelling? A narrative that tells not just the bare bones of how/when/why your company was formed, but illustrates the driving passion that fuels you and your team. Why do you love what you do? What makes you so enthusiastic about helping your clients? Why do your existing clients remain your clients? If you can communicate that, you will have taken a huge first step toward engaging your audience fully. Don’t be afraid to make your story personal, with an anecdote or an experience you can share. Humor is a good tool, but be sure to keep it appropriate. You don’t want to offend or alienate your reader.

Your business story doesn’t necessarily need to be epic or complicated – in fact, simple and straightforward is best. Clear, concise and compelling content is key to effective communication, whether on your company website, promotional copy, videos or any other media. Authenticity is key here; don’t exaggerate either your business narrative or the results you achieved for your clients. Testimonials are a good thing, but they should be honest and direct, and verifiable.

And finding the right voice for your business – the correct tone, mood and verbiage – is a critical component to reaching your ideal clients. For instance, I have written blogs for a high-level custom jeweler, a security consulting firm, and an e-newsletter for a Broadway producer, and each has its own distinct voice. Creatively I’m a playwright, and I have been told I excel at distinguishing each of my characters’ voices. When I’m helping a client craft their unique business voice, I think of their business the same way I think of my characters – each with its own background, motivation and mission.

If you’re creating your own content, or having a member of your team do it, be sure to proofread everything, at least two or three times. Then have another team member look it over just to be sure. Nothing undermines your branding like having misspelled words and/or grammatical errors in your copy. It damages your first impression, makes you look unprofessional, and erects a wall between you and your ideal clients. I know this sounds rudimentary, but you’d be amazed at what I have found online.

And finally, it’s a good idea to check out your competition’s storytelling on their websites or other copy. You don’t want to copy their content, but you do want to explore how you can distinguish your story from theirs.

  • Bill McMahon

The Heavenly Bodies exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum and Met Cloisters is revelatory on many levels. To start, the Vatican has loaned a large number of items from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy that are breathtaking for their beauty, artistry and richness of materials. In fact, there is so much gold, silver, silk, satin, and precious gems on display that, religious inspiration aside, the thought that occurred to me was that perhaps the main thing that Catholicism and Haute Couture have in common is the love of luxury. Make that worship. The subtitle for the show is “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” and the designers’ imagination on display is perhaps even richer than the Papal vestments.

Those Vatican articles are the only thing in the Met show that visitors are not allowed to photograph, which raises an interesting question. Is the Catholic Church somewhat embarrassed by its history of amassing immensely rich trappings, amid the current climate of reform, embarrassing disclosures of past misconduct, and public indignation? One doesn’t see Pope Francis wearing any of the elaborate miters, vestments or other papal accessories on display. In fact, the richest of the Vatican items on display are the Papal Tiaras, crowns that were traditionally worn at the investment of the new Pope – but the last time one was donned was back in 1963, by Pope Paul VI. Paul ceremoniously placed it on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, dictating that it be sold and the money donated to charity. This was a new tiara, donated by the city of Milan, where Paul was Archbishop before being elected Pope, and it was not adorned with gems of any kind. There was some protest from traditionalist Catholics about the Pope abandoning the tiara, just as there would be protests about the abandonment of the Latin Mass. Such is the power of ritual and history. Encrusted with gold, silver and literally thousands of precious and semi-precious stones, the ancient tiaras are masterpieces of the jeweler’s art. They are also witness to the history of tribute and indulgences that marked the previous eras of the upper ranks of Catholicism.

Catholic groups from eleven states organized a protest outside the Met shortly after the exhibit opened, calling the display “heavily sacrilegious.” There are, admittedly, some of the fashions on display that betray an ironic, even satiric take on Catholic history and tradition. Rick Owen’s “monk” ensembles, with “peep” holes at the groin, are a conscious parody of the legend of lascivious monks, and arguably a criticism of the Church’s coverup of priestly sexual misconduct. And while some of the other designers’ work has what might be construed as a critical edge, yet there are many pieces that seem to express a devout spiritual inspiration. Several are informed by the vision of angels, saints and the cult of the Virgin Mary, particularly expressed by the wedding ensembles on display, most especially the veils and head dresses. There are even examples of haute costumes made specifically to dress statues of the Virgin, one by none other than Yves Saint Laurent. So exactly what is the Catholic connection for these designers? Many were raised in the Catholic faith, but most are no longer practicing. The majority of the designers, living or dead, are/were gay men; what is their relation to the religious tradition?

I think for most of the designers, it was the power of ritual and iconography that speaks to them most directly and informs their work, rather than the religion itself. Several of the costumes, by Thom Browne, Valentino, Madame Grès and Claire McCardell are actually informed by the more ascetic, pared back habits, cassocks and headwear worn by nuns and priests. Using mostly a restrained palette of black, brown and white, they show restrained elegance paired with innovative design and construction. They contrast dramatically with the elaborately rich, ornate and wildly colorful creations inspired by the Papal treasures, and seem to reflect the sense of ritual rather than the power of iconography.

At the Cloisters exhibit, the effect of the setting for the costumes was even more dramatic than at the Met. A 1967 Christobal Balenciaga wedding ensemble is shown with the mannequin facing the altar, in a shaft of light. The emotional effect is stunning and immediate – no matter how lapsed a Catholic you may be, it is impossible not to be moved by the sense of holiness and sacrament. Again, it feels informed by the Nun’s habits worn in Europe, the head piece spectacularly sweeping over the dress. For all its drama, the gown and headpiece are simple in design and construction, the dress made with a single seam. Devoid of ornamentation, its richness is derived from the beauty of the design and the shimmering dove-white silk.

At the Cloisters, the only items not allowed to be photographed by visitors were three dresses by Alexander McQueen, designed shortly before his suicide, and again, one wonders at the reason. McQueen was a legendary bad boy of fashion, yet the three dresses on display are awash with religious iconography. What statement was he making, or was it not a statement beyond the aesthetic?

It is a question that we are left with in all the magnificent work on display at both the Met Fifth Avenue and the Cloisters. Perhaps it’s also a question we are left with when considering the many masterpieces of the Renaissance that were commissioned by the Pope or the Vatican? What were Michelangelo’s religious views? When painting the Sistine Chapel, was he imbued with a deep religious fervor, or was this just another job for him? Certainly his love of the human body and the heroism of the Biblical stories and figures he portrays are evident, but what of his feelings of faith? Again, it’s a question we can’t answer. What we are left with, either with the Heavenly Bodies exhibit or with the Renaissance, is the absolute beauty of the work itself. And perhaps that is, at the end of the day, enough.

  • Bill McMahon

Here are some startling statistics: every second, 400,000 searches are performed on Google, which adds up to 3.5 billion per day. About 81% of people only skim online content, and people form a first impression in only 50 milliseconds. That makes it more than challenging for you to get your message out.

This is why I stress the importance of finding the right voice and the right story for your business. Because the right voice and narrative will speak to your dream prospects and convert them into dream clients. Your business voice, once established, will help tell the story of your company, distinguish you from your competition, and reinforce your branding. Your business voice is an essential tool for creating a compelling narrative for all your business communications. And that narrative is key to standing out in the online informational overload era we currently live in. Storytelling, as any branding or marketing expert will tell you, is key to grabbing the attention of your audience and drawing them in, showing them how you understand their pain points and that you’re passionate about helping them.

You may find the Charmin Bears cute or annoying (like me), but they’re characters telling the Charmin story, and their success is undeniable. Charmin was the third best selling brand of toilet tissue in the U.S. in 2017, with about $1.09 Billion in sales. (Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/188710/top-toilet-tissue-brands-in-the-united-states). That’s some seriously successful brand storytelling.

You don’t necessarily have to use animated critters to craft successful campaigns – not every product or service would deem that method appropriate for their brand. Again, it goes back to what the right voice and story for your business is. If you’re currently struggling with your campaigns, check out my free guide to Effective Business Storytelling: https://storytellingcontent.lpages.co/storytellingcontentfreeguide/. Thanks for reading.

© 2017 Bill McMahon 

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