I urge you to watch this video right to the very, very end. Don’t be tempted to tune out after the first thirty seconds or so. You might think, as I briefly did, that it perhaps looked a bit too slick to have an authentic impact.
But I watched it to the startling end. And there’s a lesson in it for all of us about the power of storytelling.
It’s been produced by Network Rail, as part of their annual campaign to prevent deaths on the railways. As a reporter, I covered all too many inquests and spoke to all too many distraught parents whose lives had been destroyed by one rash act by their child or teenager at a railway line.
So why am I sharing it with you, a business audience?
Because I cannot remember when I last saw a form of communication, designed to persuade and change behaviour, that demonstrates so powerfully what ‘storytelling’ can do.
And that is relevant to you in your own business communications. You’re always being told, aren’t you, that storytelling will deliver more sales, happier clients and loyal staff. But you may have wondered what that actually means in practice.
So let’s look at what Network Rail have done here. And ask yourself — could I do the same in my business?
- They’ve put their video front and centre of their campaign. Yes, their News Release contains a range of data, statistics and quotations. But — I’ll be honest with you — I barely looked at that before clicking on the video link.
- They’ve found a real case study. Yes, it’s heart-breaking, but that is because it is true. As humans, our instincts are to empathise. I’m no psychologist, but I have noted that experts tell us human beings relate best to other human beings.
- They’ve gone granular with the detail in their ‘storytelling’. The sweetheart on the bus. The kick-about with his mates. Spag Bol for dinner. The experts also tell us that we relate to picture-painting details far more than abstract concepts.
And the result? You’ve been emotionally engaged. So your behaviour may be changed.
Isn’t that what you want in your business? Emotional engagement, and changed behaviour? I sincerely hope it doesn’t trivialise Harrison’s death, by suggesting that it’s okay for you to note what Network Rail have done, and use stories — albeit, much less heartbreaking ones — in your business.
- You’re promoting a new product? Find a case-study of somebody who’s used it recently. Ask them for the detail of what they liked about it, how they felt emotionally after they’d used it. Go granular on the detail.
- You’re explaining a complicated new service you offer, that others don’t? Go on camera yourself to tell the story of how you came up with the idea, and what you hope it will achieve. Have some props handy that are relevant. You could record it at the desk where the penny dropped, and tell them that quirky fact. Go granular on the detail.
- You’re introducing a new HR policy that needs a bit of explaining? Find a case-study of someone who’s been helped by it, and chat to them on camera about their story. Their kids love it because they’re around more? Ask if you can use some photos of the kids in the edit. Go granular on the detail.
It needn’t cost a fortune. You don’t need to get an entire production team in with actors, as Network Rail did, for obvious reasons. These days, a decent phone and mic, with some thought about the lighting, recording one simple conversation, can do a professional job. You’re unsure about editing? I bet some young gun on your team won’t be …
I sincerely hope that in taking the death of an 11 year old boy, and using it to explain how powerful a tool video can be to get a message across, I have not caused offence. As a courtesy, I asked Network Rail if they were okay about me using their video to illustrate the power of storytelling. They said they were more than happy for me to share it in this way.
I do hope you never have to tell a story on camera as distressing as Network Rail did this week.
But I do wish you well as you consider how much more powerful Harrison’s story is as a short video — rather than a sad statistic.