How to use storytelling in the professional services industry

23 October 2020 5 min. read
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Neuroscience research shows that storytelling is one of the most effective ways to attract people’s attention. Petra Smith, founder and managing director of boutique marketing agency Squirrels & Bears, explains how professional services firms can use storytelling for brand building and marketing strategies.

Stories are a universal language that everyone can understand. They have the ability to present new perspectives and influence mindsets of others as our brains create connections which are much more intensive compared to facts and data. Tapping into people’s emotions is how stories inspire and motivate, and eventually, drive action. Because logic might make people think, but it’s emotion that makes them act.

Especially in professional services and consulting, storytelling can help to engage with clients, and help them on their buying journey. Due to the intangible nature of services, clients are buying a promise and unless they can trust that promise, they won’t be motivated to engage.

Using stories in business creates a competitive advantage – helps to create an effective communication strategy, both internally and externally, triggers interest with potential clients and strengthens loyalty with your existing ones. It also affects how your clients remember you and helps to motivate your team.

How to use storytelling in the professional services industry

To create and deliver impactful stories that create emotional connections, consider the following key aspects:

Know your audience

To trigger and keep your listener's attention, you need to know your audience well enough to be able to identify relevant stories and chose the best way to tell the story, so it triggers the intended reaction. Show your audience that you understand the challenges, context and culture of their situation to build trust, and tell the right story at the right time and visualise your story to allow your audience to create an emotional connection that can impact their thinking.

Don’t be a hero

Your clients are the heroes of your story, not you. Your role is to help them succeed, so guide them through the story, instead of putting yourself in a position of the hero. Instead of focusing on the features of your products and services, make your story about their aspirations - the results and experience your products and services will create. Answer their questions and present solutions in a context that is relevant to them, in a form of a simple story.

Speak up about the challenges

By talking about the challenges your clients face, you deepen their interest in the solutions you offer. Defining and addressing their challenges help to create trust that will connect you with your clients. If they could resolve their challenges, they would - the reason why they are interested to listen to you is because you can understand they frustrations and provide a solution.

Articulate the solution

Make it clear how your products and services will make your audience succeed and use stories to present alternative scenarios. Visualise your stories to allow your clients to create an emotional connection that can impact their thinking by presenting alternative scenarios and perspectives that they wouldn’t consider otherwise.

Use the power of silence

As any virtual artist will probably tell you, white space is just as important as the drawing, and a composer would probably say that the pauses are just as important as the music itself. Similarly, silence is a powerful storytelling tool. Intentional silence draws emphasis – either on what has just been said or what’s coming next, and gives your listeners the time and space to think of their own interpretation.

Get to the point

You will never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Getting immediately into the action part of the story helps to set the tone and capture your listener’s attention right from the beginning. Limiting the information also helps to engage the imagination. Provide your audience with just the right amount of detail to give it context, otherwise they will quickly lose interest, or even worse, get bored.

Give your story structure

To create an impactful story, consider using these story types:

Introduction – Plot – Solution
One of the oldest and simplest stories that starts by describing the situation, followed by presenting the problems that the main characters are trying to solve, and gradually building up the tension until the problem is solved.

Before – After – Breakthrough
This story type begins with a problem, ideally one that you can solve, and then describe the situation in which the problem does not exist, followed by explaining how you got there, or present specific solutions to the problem.

Introduction – Critical point – Happy ending
Start with introducing the main characters of the story and describe how their situation became complicated, so that you can engage the audience in the introduction. Use a combination of facts and emotions to describe the breaking point and talk about how the situation has improved after this point. End the story positively.

Departure – Challenge – Return
Also known as the “hero's journey,” this story type focuses on the hero, who must go on an adventure in which various challenges await him, but eventually completes a mission and returns with new abilities. This story works ideally as a description of a client who experiences a complicated situation until he finds a solution through your company.