HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Why Storytelling Is So Important to Your Employer Brand

Have you ever watched a movie and felt your heart racing or had to wipe tears from the corners of your eyes? Have you ever listened to your friend tell a joke and laughed out loud or gotten goose bumps from the recounting of a spooky coincidence?

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Of course you have because that’s what a well-told story does to us. It affects us emotionally, and it can change our physical state—and can even become imprinted and memorable.

When we watch a good movie or read a good book, we feel what it’s like to be those characters and vicariously experience their life and the situations they find themselves in.

When you use storytelling in your employer brand—to tell your employees’ stories of challenges and triumphs—you give candidates the chance to feel and experience what it’s like to work for your company. That allows them to make a more informed decision about whether they will be a good match for your culture.

Let’s take a closer look at why storytelling is so important to your employer brand.

The Power of Purpose-Told Stories: The Trojan Horse

A purpose-told story—which is the kind of story you should use in employer branding—contains a lesson or message. In this kind of story, at the very moment the audience is feeling what it’s like to be the hero, they’re also feeling what it’s like to learn the lesson, see the world through the hero’s eyes, and understand the motivation and desires the hero is experiencing.

Those lessons and messages become unforgettable. Your brain confuses the story with the real experience and the emotions that go along with it.

Before we were even able to write or record the wisdom of life experience, we passed learning from generation to generation using the simple mechanics of story.

The story of the Trojan horse is one such purpose-told story. I will never forget my primary school teacher reading the story to our class. We listened in silence, wide-eyed, hanging onto every word.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the tale, the Greeks pretended to sail away from Troy, leaving behind the big wooden horse containing an elite force of men, including Odysseus. There, they waited until nightfall, and the Trojans, believing the horse was left as a victory trophy, pulled the horse into their city. That night, the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under the cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.

When the story was over, the teacher asked the class what we thought of the story and what we thought would happen if another wooden horse were presented outside the city gates. “Don’t let them in. Leave it outside!” we all shouted.

“Why?” the teacher asked.

“Because it’s a trap.”

Very quickly, the teacher managed to teach us a valuable life lesson. Metaphorically, a “Trojan horse” meant a trick, something not to be trusted. If it looks too good to be true, we should be wary of it.

The teacher could have saved some time and simply gathered us together and said, “If something looks too good to be true, be wary of it.” But if she had, I doubt any of us would have learned that lesson in a profound way. By using such a gripping story, it stayed with me forever, and I bet it’s the same for all my school friends.

Storytelling and Your Employer Brand

When you create the written architecture of your employer brand, it must be accurate. But more than that, it must effectively move people. Your words must reflect on what it feels like to be part of your organization.

Your employer brand must resonate with your internal audience in such a way that they proudly agree with what it’s like to belong and contribute to your organization’s purpose. A good employer brand can remind people why they do what they do.

For your external audience, as a minimum, your employer brand needs to provide enough information to both rationally and emotionally evaluate whether they could fit in and value being part of what you’re presenting to them. You must be able to compel the right people to act and, with that very same message, repel those who wouldn’t thrive or find value and meaning as part of your team.

Your ability to achieve these goals depends on your ability to effectively wield the power of story.

Story is the most essential gift we can give to an employer brand—to communicate it, to breathe personality into it, and to make an emotional connection with an audience. Story is how we make sense of the world; it’s how we make decisions and rationalize what’s happening all around us.

Without story, the most you have is the ability to get the attention of your audience for the right reasons. Without story, we would argue, you do not have an employer brand capable of doing its job.

With story, people will be able to connect with your brand on a deep level. Internally, you will be able to recruit willing advocates, ambassadors, and brand activists who knowingly protect, nurture, and proliferate your employee experience and the culture that fuels it, and externally, candidates will be able to feel what it’s really like to work at your company.

Find Your Stories

The best part about using storytelling in your employer brand is that you don’t need to invent these stories. These stories already exist within your company among your people.

The purpose of telling stories in your employer brand is to reveal what it’s like to work at your company—the values, the behaviors, the culture. All you need to do is ask your employees about their experiences and stories.

Ask them, “When did you know you made the right decision to join this company?” or “What has been your proudest career moment here?” or even “What are the most moving stories you’ve heard about working here?”

Once you uncover the inspiring, powerful stories hidden within your company, share them. Pass them on, and spread the message of your employer brand.

For more advice on storytelling in employer branding, you can find Give & Get Employer Branding on Amazon.

Bryan Adams is the CEO and founder of Ph.Creative, recognized as one of the leading employer brand agencies in the world, with clients such as Apple, American Airlines, GVC, and Blizzard Entertainment. Adams is also a best-selling author, podcaster, creative strategist, and specialist speaker.

Charlotte Marshall was named the 2019–2020 Employer Brand Leader of the Year and has successfully built and launched five Fortune 500 employer brands. She is an in-demand international speaker and the global employer brand lead at Danaher Corporation.