Does business survival require better storytelling? Nearly 500 corporate communicators think so.

The folks who produce the Incite:Marketing and Incite:Communications Summits in New York asked their attendees what are the most pressing concerns they’d like to have covered in the September meetings. Storytelling and how to better engage customers was at the top of their list.

I think there are two primary reasons storytelling in business has become such a trending topic.

  1. As well all know by now, the consumer is in charge. They have more power over brands than ever before due to immediate word of mouth marketing (both good and bad) enabled through social media. The brand landscape is immensely crowded with little differentiation which floods consumers with choices. And companies are trying to learn how to engage with their customers on the customers’ terms.
  2. Death by data is the second and perhaps more pressing concern. Data is meaningless to the mind, and yet most corporations have a difficult time communicating without pie charts, graphs and numbers wallpapered in powerpoint decks.


The first challenge of communicating with customers on their terms has been with us for several years. But it’s the content of that communication that is now getting the attention. That is why I believe we are hearing more corporate communications and marketing professionals asking for more storytelling and learning better ways to tell those stories.

Here’s my simple equation for thinking about how to bring meaning to data to inform your stories.

Data + Context + Metaphor x Story = Meaning

Data requires context, expressed through metaphor, and amplified by story to create meaning.

Let me translate. We have to have data to understand where we are and where we’re headed in this world. But the numbers mean very little to our minds, because our brains are programmed to understand and predict events. How we prepare for how future events might unfold is literally a life or death proposition for our brains, which focus on one primary thing: survival. Numbers allow us to guestimate the future, but out of context they are just data that confuse the mind and distract it from it’s primary purpose: survival. However, wrap that data in the trojan horse of story, and you will penetrate the mind’s defenses and bring meaning to your message.

I’m hoping to attend the Incite Summits this Fall. Will you be there and what are your most pressing concerns as a corporate communicator or marketer?

2 Comments On This Topic
  1. T. Caine posted
    July 3, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Would you say the same is true for sustainability in general (not necessarily sustainable businesses, but perhaps those as well). The position of sustainability is also loaded with data, but attraction and commitment remains sluggish. I’d argue that the ability of advocates to tell the sustainability “story” and not just rely on a sea of numbers if part of what is holding them back. More stories? More metaphors? Saying that sustainability needs to convey its “value proposition” better sounds a bit strange given that we’re talking about the natural environment (not a valuable, but an invaluable resource), but the reasons as to why sustainability is so imperative on the personal level is still clearly lost on a large portion of the public.

  2. Business storytelling will save us from drowning in big data | posted
    July 8, 2013 at 6:31 am

    [...] living room by bringing meaning to data through storytelling. Here’s my simple equation from an earlier McKee podcast for thinking about how to bring meaning to data to inform your [...]

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