Learn to Tell Your Community’s Story

An area I have been exploring lately has been the role of storytelling in branding. Storytellers have shaped our societies and the way we think for all of recorded history, and before that to the days of cave paintings. The 35,000-year-old paintings on the walls of the Lascaux Caves are our earliest recorded evidence of storytelling, and since Lascaux dozens of other examples have been discovered.

John Kotter wrote a piece on the power of storytelling. He said “Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best–and change–from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.” Robert McKee wrote this about the power of storytelling – “Accurate information, sound logic, and the facts are necessary, of course, but truly effective leaders in any field — including technical ones — know how to tell “the story” of their particular research endeavor, technological quest, or marketing plan, etc.”

Stories Make a Lasting Impression

CEOs are beginning to embrace and understand their role as corporate storytellers, and the profound impact it can have on organizational performance. I am exploring the role of storytelling on building a community’s image and making it more competitive for capital investment.

The fact is, our brains are wired for stories. Keith Oatley is a professor of applied cognitive psychology and a novelist. He describes stories as “simulations that run on minds”. He says that just as pilots-in-training spend time on flight simulators, stories may act as flight simulators for real life.

Psychological research studies are determining that emotions in stories enhance the listener’s understanding and retention of the message and attachment with the subject. It evokes empathy and listeners tend to connect the stories they hear with events that happened in their own lives. This is exactly what you want to happen when telling the story of your community. You want potential capital investors to relate to your community on a personal level. The primary benefits of investing capital in your community are more likely to be remembered if told through a story instead of a simple sharing of facts.

Storytelling is an informal learning technique. It is subjective. Many formal training programs & corporate presentations focus on the objective rather than the subjective. That may be why so many corporate training programs are less than effective. Storytelling is personal to the teller and the listener. It allows the listener to envision himself or herself in the story.

Six Typical Story Types You Can Tell

  1. The Who Am I Story – A story about your community’s history.
  2. The Why Am I Here Story – A story about the ability of your community to meet the needs of the capital investor.
  3. The Teaching Story – A story about another company’s success after investing capital in your community.
  4. The Vision Story – A story about what the future will look like if your community is selected for capital investment.
  5. The Values in Action Story – A story that talks about how well your community’s and the company’s culture are aligned.
  6. The I Know What you Are Thinking Story – A story that addresses and dispels an objection to selecting your community for capital investment.

Once You Pick the Story Type, Tell it Well

A story is a reimagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listener’s imagination to experience it as real. You can’t make people listen to your stories, but you can tell stories worth listening to. (Entice, inspire, cajole, stimulate)

Be sure to focus on telling the most important thing well. What is the reason for the story? Be certain your story delivers on the reason. Get it right. Remember, you don’t have to tell the story the same every time, just get the most important thing right every time.

Great stories need emotion. If you don’t feel the emotion, don’t tell the story. You may be better served by getting somebody else in your community to tell the story. Often, executives in a target industry have far more emotion about the industry and why you community is a good choice than you may. Leverage these Ambassadors to make absolutely certain emotion is infused in your storytelling. Remember, emotion makes the story “stick” with your listener. You want the listener to recall your community story when a decision is being made on their capital investment project.

Earlier Posts on Storytelling

Every Community Has A Story – What’s Yours?

More on Storytelling

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28 Comments so far

  1. Bill Kiefaber

    January 21, 2011

    Excellent post!

    Evoking emotions is critical to effective storytelling. You shared the following video years ago and I believe this example is the best I have ever seen about the power of messaging and storytelling.


    Imagine the possibilities if we began to leverage the emotions associated with freedom and the ability to achieve your personal dreams in branding the United States.

  2. George Anderson

    January 23, 2011

    This is very useful. I have been telling stories instinctively without realizing the importance. I tell stories about my successes and failures.

    Thanks so muc for the structure.


  3. David McConville

    January 29, 2011

    Thank you for the reminder.

    In the seventies, we called it the slice of life approach.
    The extraordinarily effective Mr. Whipple ads were just a hyperbole
    of that approach.

    Since I am going back into business, I will employ this
    with the bullet presentation.

    Keep the advice coming.

  4. Rurbane

    January 30, 2011

    Effective at what? Persuasion?

    It can be … but it is an art (not a science).

    “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” Picasso

    To be effective, a suspension of disbelief (trust) needs to be established – and that means that the selection of detail is meaningful (appropriate to the audience) and “rings true,” even if not 100% inclusive of the audience’s knowledge (of the “truth,” as it were), both good and bad.

    To be successful, it has to have value (it has to have a point, and that point has to be redeeming – that is, affirming), and has to perfect a point of view that bridges individual points of view.

    The possibility of change (the reason for the story) can only happen if memory is re-arranged without negating a sense of reality – the broadest sense of memory.

    “Memory has to be strong enough to act without forgetting what we wanted to do, to learn without ceasing to be the same person, but it also has to be weak enough to keep us moving into the future.” Italo Calvino

    The best (most effective) stories do it all – and incorporate each of the points of view listed in the posting – while not belaboring the fact that it is, in fact, a story. It gives people something (good) they didn’t necessarily recognize that they had otherwise. And that would be the point in investing in the development, right?

    The memory, moment and future all blend seamlessly. Just gotta deliver. And hopefully with class and grace.

  5. Paula Lavorgna

    January 30, 2011

    I am new to this forum but I’ll jump in anyway and say that I think storytelling is one of the most effective ways to be remembered or to get a concept across. From the Bible to books to movies it’s all story.

  6. Melanie Stewart

    January 30, 2011

    Storytelling as a method of audience engagement

    No doubt this interaction represents the style of each manager. Story is essentially a visceral interaction, with immeasurable outcomes.

    Well stories capture the teller’s memories and imagination, and the facial expressions that fit the memory come forth. Studies tell us we don’t believe what we hear, but we do believe what we see. It’s through those non verbal nuances that audience is able to understand.

    Manager A tells the shipping employees about a new process, something like “We we no longer pack boxes upside down, and flip the contents, we will do x method instead”.

    Manager B says what manager A said, but adds. “Yes we found that when we watched video about the process, that about 1 in 100 flips that the contents fell and were sometimes damaged, and what a mess” Manager B smiles and looks at one of the employees who just had the experience, and laughs. Manager B informally gives the floor to the employee, which inspires the employee to relate the mess, experience.

    Which Manager has introduced the new method in a way that is going to be more readily accepted by employees?

    My take is this: Instead of the Manager A’s dictatorial “this is the new whatever”, and end of talk, Manager B was able to connect with the employees, explain the new change, make the employees feel secure, while being empowered by the new change.

    NOTE: This post was my comment from a terrific dialog on the LinkedIn group “Leadership Think Tank”

  7. Dave Wisland

    January 31, 2011

    I worked with an individual back in 1979 who was a great storytelling copywriter. He built an entire international advertising agency from the work on this account. The client was Jack Daniels and the stories are legendary brand-building.

  8. Ashley Pinakiewicz

    January 31, 2011

    I think storytelling is crucial to success. Human beings inherently create narratives to make sense of the world, and tapping into that innate behavior is how you best make connections. In the world of business, storytelling is you how make data come alive, how you give people meaning and help them sort through the noise, and how you make connections. The best businesses know how to tell the right story, whether it’s to their customers, their consumers, or the organization itself. Kashi is a great example of a company that lives its creed, and has a story to tell about healthy living.

  9. Scott Sorensen

    January 31, 2011

    I am also new to this forum but can’t stress enough how important story telling is. It obviously must be the right story and be compelling to truly be effective. My thought is “the story” is what your customer buys into and relates too more than the actual product at first. The product is the badge of wanting to be a part of your particular story or tribe.

  10. Tom Buncle

    February 1, 2011

    Great point, Ed. A story is about bringing content to life. It lies at the core of a destination brand or place personality. And it needs to be told in a way that strikes at the emotional heart of the target audience – from historic “blue plaques” to contemporary PR.

    Anna is spot-on in saying that a “brand” shouldn’t be imposed from outside. I always express it as a place’s personality – it is organically generated from within, not externally imposed – and stress that it’s not about creating something new (how arrogant of we temporary trampers on this earth to think we can manipulate centuries of a place’s natural, cultural and human heritage and character to suit a passing marketing fad or consumer whim), although, as Anna says, a personality changes over time – from within, as well as in the eyes of beholders. But it is about clarifying what characteristics of that place have the strongest competitive appeal amongst key target groups, and communicating these clearly, consistently and continuously. Only then am I happy to talk about the brand of a place.

    Semantically, I agree with Anna that the term “branding” is a cumbersome and potentially misleading form of business jargon that contains an unfortunate implicit subject-object notion with its consequent assumption of external imposition, rather than of eliciting a long-distilled essence from within. Nevertheless, it’s a useful shorthand – if these principles are understood and sensitively applied. Simon Anholt said it best with the term “competitive identity”.

  11. Terrence Gargiulo

    February 1, 2011

    “The shortest distance between two people is a story.”

    I’ve been experimenting with 2 minute “story style – playing with different forms of stories (analogies, visual metaphors, references to other stories, telling stories, etc…” – sort of organizational poetry – here’s a link to the videos (love to get some feedback):


    Stories certainly do a great job of encoding messages. They also work in some other interesting ways.

    The “leaders develop leaders,” movement started 20+ years ago in places like GE, Pepsi and Shell brought forward the power of teachable moments and conversation. Story-based forms of communication are present in meaningful conversations. It’s the peer to peer, informal channels of communication in organizations that carry values, tacit knowledge, personal experiences outside the domain of work that are relevant and meaningful, etc… Stories are operating in these interactions all the time.

    Often, the only reason to share a story is to elicit stories from ourselves and others. Leaders need to spend more time eliciting stories than telling them. Actively listen to the stories and watch how they can improve communications and build satisfying, productive, rewarding relationships.

    Story-based communication skills can be developed in leaders and throughout the organization. We’ve all got them. No one is deficient. It’s just a function of how often and consciously we put them to work. These skills go beyond “telling stories” skills. Here are some resources to learn more about this research and a tool (awarded the HR Leadership Award from the Asia Pacific HR Congress):

    Model of Story-based Communication Skills:

    Here’s a link to a short online version of the assessment (and complimentary for this group):

    Full length version of Assessment Tool:

    Book of Breakthrough Communication Skills Development Exercises:

    Sample Experiential/Active Learning Activity:

    Here’s a tool to help leaders select a story:

    Here’s a piece on Leaders & Stories: Thin Line Between Truth & Manipulation:

    Hope some of these are helpful to folks. This is area of deep passion and practice for me – so feel free to reach out.

    Warm regards,
    Terrence Gargiulo
    President, MAKINGSTORIES.net
    cell: 415-948-8087

  12. Mark Nowotarski

    February 2, 2011

    Mark Nowotarski • If someone doesn’t think storytelling is effective, I have just one suggestion. Come to Jonesborough, TN in October for the International Storytelling Festival and enjoy listening to the masters at work. I moved here a little over a year ago and as a business person have been in awe how these storytellers can capture their audience. It is definitely an artform and skill that I wish I had the capability to master.

  13. rita

    February 3, 2011

    I am from Africa, and a christian. I would say story telling works 100 %. You subtly pass information, warnings, virtues and in the process give illustration from a very non subjective angle. It never comes off as talking at someone. The narrator is removed from the content so always looks non partisan and non intrusive. I would recommend and advocate for any time.

  14. Jaime Marin

    February 3, 2011

    Story telling is definitely an art form, that has transcended from group gathering and conversation to books, the movies and now YouTube, in a way, we all use storytelling in our lives one way or another, we just don’t know that we are doing it.

  15. Al Abbott

    February 6, 2011

    We ask our new clients three questions: Who are you? What’s Your Story? And, Who Cares? Our feeling is that Ultimately your brand is your story and your story is your brand. Your story comes from who you are. The ones that must care the most about who you are are you and those in your organization. You and they are the evangelists of your story.

  16. Jessica Hunter

    February 7, 2011

    “I love stories in business, life & love. When we shut our mouths & actually listen to the story being told we can tell what the teller is deleting & adding into the equation-untruths. Just as telling a good story is an art so is listening.”

  17. marc romano

    February 7, 2011

    Let me pass one on to you that we tend to use to cut through all of the confusing thoughts that go through a client’s mind, and are eventually communicated to us in a confusing jumble of goals and objectives and directions. In the beginning we ask the simple question as it relates to the branding of their firm:

    What does success look like?

    We let them paint the picture from their own minds and encourage them to be creative and innovative in that thought process. As they paint this picture, they often surprise themselves by how in the end, they have defined success in a very detailed and often very creative fashion. We can then take that picture and begin to add the color, further shape it, edit it, and turn it into a realistic and highly relevant milestone that everyone can believe in and work creatively toward achieving.

    Marc Romano

  18. Philipp Reker

    February 10, 2011

    Also, developing products that have ‘story value’ is key to building a successfull business . Check out my recent blog posts on this:

    part I: http://bit.ly/erf0Yj
    part II: http://bit.ly/fX0TDl

  19. Sam Moorthy

    February 16, 2011

    Story telling can be immensely powerful – depending on how it’s used. A good brand tells a story about itself while building a stronger link with the consumer. And it does so without pretence.

    How? Simply because its very existence is often closely linked to the consumer’s life, and so there’s a powerful story to tell.

    Clever brands invent stories. While these can be engaging for a while, they do not necessarily build or strengthen a bond.

    So, my humble two bits’ worth : before brands start telling stories – they need to ensure they actually mean something to the consumer. Relevance and deep connection first, stories then take care of themselves.

  20. Gavin Johnston

    February 16, 2011

    A life as led is inseparable from a life as told; it’s not about “how it was” but how it is interpreted and reinterpreted, told and retold. Narrative, “story telling,” is a particular mode of thinking, the mode that relates to the concrete and particular as opposed to the abstract and general. Stories serve a number of cultural, social and psychological functions that can and should be used in positioning a brand. The choice of words and subjects in a story convey to the creator and the listener what meaning a brand has beyond the surface. That’s powerful. It turns a one-way encounter into a dialogue with your customers

    The power of the emotionally influential, culturally relevant, dramatic story in the business process can mean the difference between seeing the positive growth of brand equity and failure.

  21. Tami Belt

    March 4, 2011

    People remember – and repeat – stories, not statistics. While you need to back up what you say, it’s the crafting of a great story that grabs attention and attracts customers. Great stories capture personalities behind a brand and bring companies to life.

  22. Tom Pettit

    March 4, 2011

    I dont want to repeat anyone’s comments because so much brilliant insight has already been contributed to this thread. I’ll try and add a concrete aspect- to me, the one thing I try and remind myself when putting together anything related to branding is this: For facts and figures or even individual ideas, it will take you 27 repetitions to get the average person to remember something. If you have a compelling, well-crafted, and emotionally engaging story, no matter how short or long…. It only takes one.

  23. Joan Mansbach

    March 5, 2011

    Most definitely; the story, when it has substance and is related in an engaging manner draws the customer in and make them feel part of something special. My client, Thierry Mugler created an incredible “dream” for his Angel fragrance customers. They bought into the dream and the fragrance, making it #1 for 10 years and it continues to be a classic.

  24. Matthew Kruchko

    March 10, 2011

    Nice post Ed.

    Our philosophy at Applied Storytelling is that a brand is a story told in the marketplace.

    More and more organizations are seeing brands this way and now. Destinations and hospitality businesses are crafting their stories, too. In the world of brands, cities and regions are the last frontier.

    They are more complex than most corporate or product brands. Worse, they are subject to a number of misleading myths and misconceptions. To succeed you must achieve four overarching goals: Sustainability, Transparency, Inclusiveness, and Focus.

    When you start to look at your community story/brand start by asking these questions:
    1. Is my story coming across clearly?
    2. Is my story consistent?
    3. Is what I am saying compelling?
    4. Am I truly connecting?

  25. avantgaard

    March 15, 2011

    Relationships based on authenticity is one of the most important key factors in business success. Story telling brings “approachability” to a company via its “down to earth” appeal.

  26. Baurzhan Issayev

    April 14, 2011

    Couple of admired stories that depict quite complex issues and deliver not so obvious, but easily ‘retellable’ ideas — ideas really worth spreading.

    * Hans Rosling on population growth and how and when China & India rise, — http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_on_global_population_growth.htmlhttp://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_asia_s_rise_how_and_when.html

    * Dan Pink — Suprising Truth about What Motivates Us,


  27. Baurzhan Issayev

    April 14, 2011

    Couple of admired stories that depict quite complex issues and deliver not so obvious, but easily ‘retellable’ ideas — ideas really worth spreading.

    * Hans Rosling on population growth and how and when China & India rise, — http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_on_global_population_growth.html http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_asia_s_rise_how_and_when.html

    * Dan Pink — Suprising Truth about What Motivates Us,


  28. Myrna RH Araneta, Ph.D.

    April 15, 2011

    Dr. Myrna Roberta Araneta • Yes. It is a very effective and powerful tool for research, for inspiring others and organizations to make an intentional change Stories are at the intersection of people’s synthesis of learning, they are tools for thinking, You can move through complex information more efficiently through story devices than through standard forms of discourse and numerical presentations. The best way to explain a complex situation is to connect with a metaphor, a myth, or stories. These are about a few impact created using narratives or story telling methods.

    I did a research, which is now published in a book format entitled– Inspiring Lives: Personal Stories of Sustained Transformation, which described through narratives (stories) the circumstances surrounding individuals who made personal change journeys and how they eventually emerged into a new life of meaning, purpose an destiny. A typical quantitative presentation of numbers could not have done justice to the learning and message of this work. One colleague once said: “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” “If a picture is worth a thousand words a story is worth a thousand pictures.”

    I’ve read about using stories in branding published at the New York Times.
    I should say, P&G has a wealth of history and stories to connect its brands and make a powerful impact.As a matter of fact, I recall we used P&G, history, etc. and created a video of stories about P&G, its leaders, products, etc.to welcome and train new hires. So, why can’t we use it to bring powerful images and messages that will impact the brands and their benefits.



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