The financial services industry – heavy on data and metrics – might not seem like the right place for corporate storytelling. But dry, generic messages of performance history, customer service stats, and brand reputation won’t help differentiate a company from the competition. It’s storytelling that helps companies move beyond data, and humanize their services.
Janine Kurnoff, Founder of The Presentation Company, says that whether talking to institutional or retail clients, companies need to communicate complex ideas but formulate them into easy-to-digest messages that spur decision-making.
So how can storytelling transform the traditional financial messaging of the past? It’s simple: Money and the security it represents are emotional— and there’s nothing that taps into emotions better than storytelling.
Stories are the Great Differentiators
Every company is striving to differentiate themselves from the pack. Kurnoff points out that not only must sales teams compete for new clients, they must also regularly re-sell existing clients every few months or years. Charts filled with performance data just don’t elicit emotions very well — even those that show a soaring upward trend. But when human stories are placed into the mix, the results offer a new way of looking at dry statistics.
Consider this case:
XYZ Financial is trying to convince a technology company to renew their retirement plan for another three years. In the past, the XYZ sales team has leaned heavily on simple messages of stellar brand reputation and outstanding performance metrics. In addition, they always showcased their reliable customer service, top rated portfolio managers, and latest technology advancements. While these criteria are all important points, the reality is that their competitors have been offering nearly identical messages.
So one day, the XYZ team decides to lead with storytelling instead of matrices. Their pitch looks something like this: Meet Joe. Joe is 30, married and works at a leading tech company. Joe was able to purchase his first house this year because his 401K plan performed so well.
Here, XYZ is telling the story of how financial success impacts an employee – and the effect is powerful. Without showing a laundry list of market performance data, the firm is proving the result of great numbers and excellent customer service. Not only is buying a first home an emotional experience, it’s a highly specific one that anyone in the room can relate to.
Storytelling is Limitless
All great stories are comprised of a narrative arc – a high-stakes quest or journey. Kurnoff teaches that this arc should establish a setting, introduce characters, describe conflict, and find a resolution.
Raw data can never communicate such dynamics so poignantly. And the best part about business storytelling? The possibilities are endless. It is easily applied, whether you’re pitching ideas, giving recommendations, or providing internal updates, or presenting to a customer or prospect externally. Storytelling helps contextualize what your audience needs to know and do with the information being shared. The innate interest human beings have in stories helps corporate storytellers break down complex ideas and relate them back to key business issues.
Corporate reputations and branding are important, but the reality is that they too often feel interchangeable. Promises of great services are hard to gauge, but hearing a story about how it works in real life for real people requires storytelling.
Today, many financial services firms are training their teams on how to tell stories. They are learning visual storytelling skills from places like The Presentation Company and Lynda.com, both of whom I have been profiled on Forbes in the past as companies making data visualization easier. They are persuaded that storytelling will help them shine in a fiercely competitive industry.
If these companies can do it, so can you!
Republished with permission from Forbes.com