Home > PR > What Does “Storytelling” Mean to You? 105 Answers from Communicators

What Does “Storytelling” Mean to You? 105 Answers from Communicators

Storytelling is a powerful means of persuasion; it can be both a strategy, as in an overall narrative but it also can be a tactic, like using vignettes; here’s what a recent survey found.

Years ago, there was a consultant in the DC area that had an unusual title on his business card: “chief storyteller.”

I always thought the title was strange. The idea of “storytelling” was even stranger.

To me, it conjured up a mental image of campfires and roasted marshmallows. I couldn’t imagine a vice president of marketing at any of the local tech companies could get behind that idea.

Perhaps that consultant was ahead of his time. Flash forward 15 years later and I’ve come full circle. I’m a believer in storytelling. There’s a science to it. People – even those with analytical personalities – have a physiological reaction to good stories.

So, it’s no surprise then that storytelling has surfaced as a top tactic in the annual JOTW Communications Survey for the last three years. Yet storytelling can mean different things to different people. That’s why we included a dedicated and open-ended question about storytelling in the 2020 survey.

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105 Communication Views on Storytelling

We asked: What does storytelling mean to you?

More than 230 of the 300 total respondents wrote in responses. I’ve read every single response, eliminated many that more or less said the same thing, and narrowed it down to the 105 verbatim responses below.

Please note:

  • The word cloud you see below represents all 230+ responses; and
  • Not everyone is a fan of storytelling – and some of those responses are included at the bottom.

The list of 105 follows below the graphic.

1. “A way to engage audiences and communicate key message points through personal stories of customers or employees relating to their experience with the company, service or product.”

2. “A beginning, a middle and an end to something of interest to your audience.”

3. “A credible way of engaging the target audience.”

4. “A main narrative that drives the key messages in all PR campaigns.”

5. “A narrative – sparked by data but driven by emotional content – that furthers the aims of the institution.”

6. “Approaching news from a less-formal, more human angle. Putting the news into relevant, approachable context for the reader.”

7. “As humans, we are united through stories. Storytelling humanizes the message you are communicating in an interesting way that allows an audience to connect.”

8. “Bridging the gap of human connection that goes beyond economic and corporate status.”

9. “Bringing a brand to life; connecting people to the work; making what you do meaningful.”

10. “Bringing humanity and texture to data, research and products.”

11. “Capturing the authentic connection – in a compelling, relatable way – behind the consumer pain point and the solution of the brand, for example.”

12. “Cohesive, compelling brand narrative that makes an emotional connection and all the tactics that flow from it such as thought leadership, website, and social.”

13. “Communicating organization or product values and impact through real-life examples.”

14. “Compelling content with a beginning, a middle and an end that connects with a consumer emotionally and realistically.”

15. “Conversational marketing.”

16. “Conveying occurrences of the company in a conversational and interesting way, just like telling a story.”

17. “Crafting a human story (with emotion) to get a point across or change minds.”

18. “Creating a compelling and succinct story of a brand or personality.”

19. “Creating a narrative with an arc, actors, conflict, and resolution that audiences can compare to traditional tales.”

20. “Creating an atmosphere for a recipient to identify with the narrative. Relatable themes that create memorable connection and response.”

21. “Developing a narrative arc with strong, relatable characters who live their values and make a difference.”

22. “Developing a narrative that supports an organization’s vision and is quickly understood by target audiences. Then, communicating it across all relevant platforms consistently and clearly.”

23. “Developing a plausible, memorable, repeatable narrative that reinforces a larger point.”

24. “Drawing readers into a story that engages and enlightens them about something meaningful.”

25. “Engaging a reader on an emotional level and *subtly* addressing brand messaging from that standpoint.”

26. “Engaging people with interesting stories.”

27. “Engaging various audiences with compelling stories.”

28. “Engaging your audience, not by preaching or bragging, but by conveying colorful, descriptive and humorous stories that deliver an underlying message.”

29. “Explaining work or policy through real human stories and impact, rather than through data or abstract arguments.”

30. “Finding a hook that connects to the audience on an emotional level.”

31. “Finding a way to make content relatable, digestible and interesting. Making the user benefit the priority and the sales solution a smaller focus.”

32. “Finding stories about activities, successes, customer experiences and staff experiences.”

33. “Framing issues so they more directly and passionately relate to audiences.”

34. “Framing the key message within an engaging and interesting narrative.”

35. “Getting individuals, not organization leaders, to tell stories that support the communication goals of the organization.”

36. “Having a narrative about the client or the project, not just a bunch of talking points. Often that involved tying the client into something bigger than itself.”

37. “Having someone share their experiences or tell their story. [Showing] how the issue relates to your audience.”

38. “Humanizing the brand.”

39. “Humanizing the marketing message.”

40. “Illustrating values, thought leadership or the value and use of products or services through an organized campaign of shared anecdotes.”

41. “To me storytelling is about bringing more human elements and emotion into our campaigns.”

42. “In this context it is reporting and otherwise gathering the narratives of people and then amplifying their experiences to help further an organization’s mission and solve the problems it works to change.”

43. “Influencing through example (the story).”

44. “It is an engaging narrative that reads more like fiction.”

45. “It means creating a scenario that: resonates with the audience as a shared experience; simplifies something that might seem difficult or unattainable; aligns audience interests with company initiatives.”

46. “It means incorporating personal experience to help gain an understanding of important issues and shared perspectives.”

47. “It means putting the set of facts into a clear narrative that tells the audience why this story is important to them.”

48. “It means telling a story about the use of our product or service in a way that is both engaging and enlightening to prospects as well as existing customers.”

49. “It’s not promoting a product, service or company – it has drama, emotion, tension – it’s relatable.”

50. “Long-form journalism.”

51. “Making complex issues relatable.”

52. “Making things relatable to the audience.”

53. “Making things relatable, pulling heart strings, making a connection, making people laugh or engage somehow, being interesting.”

54. “Narrative that is easily relatable to the consumer.”

55. “Demonstrating your value through examples of your success in ways that people can relate.”

56. “Owning our narrative in an engaging and accessible way that ensures we are a part of the conversation.”

57. “Painting a picture in the reader’s mind. Writing so that the reader can understand (perhaps a more technical topic).”

58. “Painting a picture, putting brand messages and news in context, creating a narrative that connects the dots and builds interest.”

59. “Personalizing our messages using member or customer examples.”

60. “Persuasive text- and imagery-based content built around the client’s news and activities that feature the basic elements of storytelling in a compelling and engaging narrative.”

61. “Picking a human-interest point of a story and selling it.”

62. “Placing the context of the message into a framework that appeals to different audiences at an emotional level.”

63. “Presenting information about our business in a more personal way that allows the audience to see themselves in the situation. Creating a story around a person or organization with which the audience can identify.”

64. “Presenting information by telling an anecdote or about something that happened that relates to the information you want to convey.”

65. “Providing a first-person account of a real-life situation or scenario that is compelling, heartfelt, and honest – and inspires people to action.”

66. “Putting a face or personalizing public affairs issues so that people understand relevance and importance to them.”

67. “Shaping a business message within a narrative structure using well-defined ‘characters’ and situations into which they are placed.”

68. “Sharing a case study, use case, benefit or scenario in terms that your audience can relate to.”

69. “Sharing a lesson of value through a relatable parable. Usually depicted through a hero’s journey to create listener empathy.”

70. “Sharing experiences to create a stronger bond.”

71. “Simply put, no one wants to be sold to ever. Yet everyone loves a good story. To me, storytelling in comms and PR is about being able to meet audiences where they live and giving them information in a way which they’ll actively seek out to consume.”

72. “Stories of outcomes.”

73. “Storytelling about what our people to build our culture.”

74. “Storytelling is communicating the core messages in such a way that shapes how people feel about an organization, a person, an issue or a brand.”

75. “Storytelling is focusing on compelling human elements that illustrate the aspects of a product or service that a company wants to communicate to clients, prospects, partners, investors and other audiences.”

76. “Storytelling is the age-old art of communicating your organization’s message in a compelling way to inform and inspire your audiences.”

77. “Storytelling is the back story behind whatever it is you are trying to explain to build trust and rapport, so readers return for more content.”

78. “Taking all of the pieces of business and putting it all together into a compelling narrative.”

80. “Talking about the organization beyond its products and services.”

81. “Teaching or making a point through stories and anecdotes.”

82. “Telling a company’s story in a way that feels authentic, true and interesting to the audience.”

83. “Telling a compelling narrative about your organization, its purpose, its people, and those it impacts.”

84. “Telling stories that create an emotional bond and empathy.”

85. “Telling the company’s story – getting the message out – in a memorable way. It relies more on narrative and emotion to get people to feel and believe.”

86. “The ability to clearly and succinctly tell why your brand exists and, as a result, the specific advantages your brand has over other brands in the marketplace.”

87. “The ability to move beyond throwing facts on paper, instead creating a compelling narrative that enables better association with the content.”

88. “To me, it’s the ability to take the essence of an idea and turn it into a narrative that is compelling and creates a required action or evokes an emotion.”

89. “Two things: a) It means embracing a long-form, long-term strategy to communications that b) publishes rich, emotional content produced from a humanistic perspective about things your customers (and your market) care about most.”

90. “Using a story to convey your message and make it sticky.”

91. “Using an anecdote to frame or explain an issue.”

92. “Using an anecdote to make someone understand (or understand more deeply) a need or topic they did not before.”

93. “Using real-life situations (or made-up examples) to communicate a key message to target audience that will engage them better or differently than other communication tactics.”

94. “Using stories to convey the key aspects of your business, rather than pushing out data points and facts.”

95. “Using your own words, personalities and identity to share information that resonates with the intended audience.”

96. “Weaving together the messages to cohesively convey the ideas in an engaging manner and to focus on the needs of the reader.”

97. “What our high school English teachers used to stress: Show don’t tell.”

98. “What we are about and making that relevant to our stakeholders and clients.”

99. “Writing compelling information with a visceral connection.”

Not Everyone is a Fan of Storytelling

100. “A buzzword that makes me ill. A skill that not all have. An approach that isn’t appropriate for all.”

101. “A buzzword that results in corporate drivel.”

102. “Bull#@$%. No one, other than idiots, care about ‘stories.’ Do you provide a useful product or service for an affordable price? Yes or no. End of story.”

103. “It’s a fabricated word that emerged a few years ago to define public relations professionals. I do not use it and hope it will disappear.”

104. “It’s just jargon for getting your message across.”

105. “Personally, I hate the term. Implies a degree of fantasy … telling a ‘story.’”

* * *

Take what you will from those responses, I have found storytelling can be both a strategy and a tactic, depending on the use-case.

It’s is strategic, when it’s an approach, or when developing a backstory and overarching narrative. It’s tactical when documenting anecdotes and vignettes, such as case studies. In both cases, storytelling is a very powerful means of persuasion.


About the JOTW Communications Survey

Ned’s Job of the Week (JOTW) newsletter (sample) and Sword and the Script Media conducted the third annual JOTW Communications Survey to understand trends in the field of communications. A total of 300 professionals took the survey:

  • 95% of respondents are based in the U.S.;
  • 92% report having 11 or more years of experience;
  • 52% of respondents are in-house communicators; and respondents come from more than a dozen different industries.

Detailed demographics are included at the end of the report embedded below, which can be freely downloaded on SlideShare.

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Image credit: Photo by Reuben Juarez on Unsplash

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