Storytelling is a must for business. Why? Because people love stories. How you’ve got where you are. The seemingly impossible barriers you’ve overcome. The principles and determination that has kept you going when others have fallen away. The joy you’ve brought to customers and staff alike.
At Christmas time, we wondered what the story of Christ’s birth can tell us about business storytelling.
The greatest story ever told. That’s what George Stevens famously titled his film about the life of Jesus. His sources, and ours, were the four gospel writers: very distinct but powerful storytellers.
- Matthew – the gospel for the Jews
A man who knew his audience inside out and pitched his tale to push all the right buttons to make them sit up and take notice
- Mark – the quick-cut documentary maker
Piling up incident upon incident to build a compelling proposition
- Luke – the dispassionate narrator
Helping his readers sit back and reflect by looking at scenes in depth
- John – the poet
An impressionistic canvas which draws his audience in through emotional and spiritual metaphor
How do you create a compelling story?
Donald Miller’s book ‘Building a Story Brand’ outlines seven steps by which brands can create a story which clarifies their message. These facets are apparent in the Christmas story, not just once, but multiple times.
Stories start with a character, someone with whom we can empathise, someone we root for. Mary and Joseph are an ordinary couple facing extraordinary challenges. And the story sets up the objective early – the world needs a Saviour and the whole story tells how God, in the least auspicious of circumstances, brings that Saviour into the world.
Let’s take Joseph’s journey.
The first time he gets involved, he faces a problem – his fiancé is pregnant. How to get out of that one? While he agonises, he meets his guide; an angel visits him in a dream.
The guide gives him a plan and a call to action – “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 20, 21)
Joseph does what he is told and is saved from failure, in his case the shame and humiliation of having to reject Mary as his bride and achieves success because they were unified as a couple.
But the story does not end there of course. The repeated nature of jeopardy and overcoming is manifest throughout the story.
When Mary and Joseph (character) get to Bethlehem, there is no room for them at the inn (problem). When all seems lost, the innkeeper (guide) offers them what help he can (a plan) and tells them to use the stable (call to action). They find somewhere safe for the night (saved from failure) and the baby Jesus is born (success).
The Magi, or Wise Men, have their sub-plot within the overall story. Their problem is they’ve been waiting for a saviour to be born and want to give him gifts, but they have no idea where it will happen or how to get there. They receive one of the most famous guides in any story – a star appears in the East and moves ahead of them. Their call to action is “follow the star”. And they safely arrive in Bethlehem and present their gifts to the baby.
How does the Christmas story relate to your brand?
All the above illustrates the multi-layered nature of the complete narrative, one which, if we pause to consider, we recognise is true of our own brand story as well. No business goes smoothly from strength to strength; success tends to be a series of struggles.
Miller’s thesis is to make your brand the guide to help your customers through the problems they face. In the gospel retelling of Jesus’ birth, God’s supernatural guides and the occasionally inspired human one, like the innkeeper, help our characters keep moving forward towards the goal which has been set.
And, of course, Christ’s successful nativity in a Bethlehem stable is but the first stage of an even greater story.
Merry Christmas and may your brand story be powerfully and purposefully told in 2019.