The Storytelling of Business

It’s one thing to have a great story, but equally important is the art of communicating it.

In my corporate presentations, I share ‘behind the curtain’ techniques of how that’s done and how top leaders share many similar character traits. The ‘Storytelling of Business’ is so relatable. Everything from sales to marketing, branding to HR, they all involve the principles of storytelling and communication.

Matthew Luhn speaking at a conference

Think of the key traits of a hero – a clear vision, perseverance, authenticity and vulnerability. This is how we make a character likeable, something everyone can identify with and relate to. Everyone loves an underdog! There are so many different storytelling techniques that are commonly used in marketing.

All the way back to the first animated film like Snow White, animators would look at themselves in a mirror, trying to draw that expression on their character. In advance of our movie Inside Out, we talked to psychologists to learn about universal emotions and expressions, collecting data on facial expressions. This included learning about our eyes’ micro-movements and what they reveal. For instance, when you lie, your pupils go in a certain direction. When you remember what something looks like, visually, you look up. And when you are remembering what something felt like, you look down. So when we animated Woody and Buzz in Toy Story, their pupils were going in the correct direction – something that had never been done before.

The ultimate goal for an artist is to leave the ordinary world behind and go into the subconscious – that’s where all the good ideas are – in the places where you’ve hidden away all those things that you don’t want the world to see. Namely your real fears, your real desires. A blank canvas is the scariest thing for an artist/a creator. I think a lot of people reckon that an artist stands back, looks at the blank canvas and says ‘I’m gonna create a masterpiece’. However, what actually happens is more like ‘how am I gonna not screw this up!’. The best thing that creative individuals can do is to get out of the fear zone. One way is by just keeping busy all the time, having no time to sit, dwell, or overthink things.

We’re at a point where you can now copyright and trademark almost anything. Likewise, any service can feasibly be replicated. So companies have to ask themselves why customers choose one thing over another? Well, a lot of it has to do with the feeling around that company, the visual storytelling that is being conveyed. Also whether the company feels relevant and up-to-date. When a company develops an image of, or reputation for, being irrelevant or ‘once great’, it’s one of the hardest things to come back from. How can they pick up the pieces and make themselves better, cool or relevant again? There are only a few companies that have done that – Apple and Disney, for instance. They have unravelled at their height but were then brought back to life again. In theory, all companies that are unravelling could be rescued by, not just one good story but, multiple stories that fundamentally change people’s perception of a company. That can happen.

It can be done by changing the product, the story of the company, how it relates to the consumer. The most important part is how it relates to the consumer. When companies are doing really well, people rally around them, support them, buy from them. But often the testimonials they use could be better stories. It’s not just about getting a quote, it’s about sharing a story of how somebody’s life has been changed specifically because your company (or product) has given them something they want or need. That’s powerful. Those are the stories companies need to tell. Real-life problems that people face – anything from being a parent to having health issues – and how people’s lives were made better by their product or service. These are much better stories, they’re what people want to hear and respond positively to.

There are certain products and brands that make you feel a certain way. An important tactic many stories (and companies) rely on is the ideal and sentiment of the multi-generational family. One of the reasons why a brand like Adidas is so cool is because it has a pedigree in everyday society. Our grandparents wore Adidas, our parents did, we did (or do), and now our kids too. It’s the nostalgia element. Nostalgia is a very powerful tool when used right, it really pulls on people’s heartstrings like the subtext of a story – that is to say, when a character says something, what’s even more important is what they’re not saying – the invisible ink between the lines.

I believe that everyone has their own story that’s worth telling. The one thing to remember, and Alfred Hitchcock said it best, is that movies are just real life, but with the boring parts removed.

Matthew Luhn is an original story creator for Pixar. To book him or any other speaker for your event please contact JLA here.

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