The tradition of storytelling is a uniquely human characteristic that has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Much of what we know about human history was preserved through written stories and oral traditions. Even before the great ancient civilizations, we got an insight into how primitive humans lived and hunted through the images hand-drawn on cave walls.

Before digital archives, we relied on stories, myths, and legends to learn the lessons of our past and to pass on our gained knowledge to future generations. Today, in the digital era where technology can connect people instantaneously from opposite ends of the globe, more people are empowered to share their stories and connect with others more than ever.

Telling stories is one of the best ways to captivate a person’s attention, and to inspire empathy and feeling. People turn to stories to pass on knowledge, to create bonds, and to record memories. One of the biggest industries worldwide is the entertainment industry which thrives on the power of storytelling. Stories build connections between people and ideas, and so much more. Stories convey culture, values, purpose, and history that unite and inspire people. Telling a story solidifies relationships in ways that factual statements, bullet points, numbers, and sales taglines cannot.

There are scientific studies that prove storytelling is the best way to impart information on the human psyche. In fact, noted cognitive psychologist Jermone Bruner suggests that people are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it is told through a story. Not only do stories tend to stick in our memories, but they also engage our emotions (who didn’t cry when Mufasa died in the Lion King?) and transport us into scenarios we would not be able to experience otherwise.

Recently, in today’s world of rapid online communication, businesses and marketers have become keen on the benefits of storytelling. Experts estimate the average American consumer is exposed to possibly thousands of ads per day. With all the competing messages in this consumer environment, combined with competitive pricing, quality and service, customers are beginning to place more importance and attention on an organization’s purpose and the story it creates as it interacts with the community.

Storytelling can help bring your business to life and create emotional connections with your customers and  employees. In fact, according to studies, 87% of consumers say they will purchase a product because the company advocated for an issue they care about. In short, consumers want to feel like their purchase with an organization is helping to make the world a better place.

Your customers are looking for your small business’ community story. How your business tells this community story can provide you with an advantage that will help you stick in the minds and hearts of your customers and employees.

Maybe you’re thinking that your small business doesn’t have a community story. Well, we know from our 2020 Spring Into Kindness Small Business Study that 99% of small businesses like yours have given back to their communities in the last year. Not only that, 70% give back throughout the year, and 97% prefer to give back to local causes and communities. So, if you are one of the many small businesses doing good in your community, you definitely have a story to share.

So, how can a small business like yours create an emotionally impactful and memorable community story? We’ve found from our experience that a strong community story is made up of three parts: authenticity, transparency and visibility. Let’s explore these ideas.

Authenticity is the basis of your community story

One of the key takeaways we discovered from our 2020 Spring Into Kindness Small Business was that small businesses primarily give back to help their communities grow. When we asked what would make a community giving campaign successful, most businesses we studied told us it was the good it does in the community (71%) and the personal satisfaction (63%) they received from giving back.

This genuine desire to give back and help your community shows that small businesses are authentic about what drives your organization and your purpose for being in the community. Making the causes that matter to your organization the center of your community story can help your customers understand your cause and create emotional connections to your business.

For example, the Mitten Brewing Company in Saugatuck, Michigan, has made its charitable giving a big part of their purpose and a focal point of its website and social media presence. With a quick search of the company, you quickly find out that they have helped raise more than $200K for local causes since opening in 2012. Scrolling through their social media accounts, you can see employees and customers engaged through kindness and giving back to the community. These good deeds are having an impact on the community and their business. They conducted an in-house survey and found that 61% of guests visit the brewery because of their community giving efforts.

We know that helping your neighbors and community is a driving force that inspires small businesses like yours to give back. Making these authentic stories of kindness the centerpiece of your community story can help engage your customers and employees behind the causes that matter to you while driving awareness of your business and purpose.

Transparency helps to tell your community story

One of the most important parts of effective storytelling is how the story is told. You might remember falling asleep at some point in a history class during your school days. Being lectured to or staring at a PowerPoint presentation isn’t the ideal way to absorb a story. This concept also translates to how businesses tell their community stories.

We know from studies that consumers use the internet to look up information about organizations they are interested in. In fact, 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business. In order for you to take control of how your community story is told, being transparent about what your organization gives back to the community is essential.

Our 2020 Spring Into Kindness Small Business Study revealed that small businesses are overlooking some opportunities to show their community how much they care. We found that most small businesses are undervaluing the true impact of what they give back to their community. A majority (73%) of small businesses record the financial aspects of their charitable giving, while less take into account things such as time spent volunteering (41%), in-kind products and services (35%), and so on. It isn’t just money that has value, time and resources—especially for small businesses—have a value too.

Larger businesses and corporations have made corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports part of their annual shareholder reports. In fact, as of 2019, 86% of the S&P 500 was filing sustainability reports for their shareholders. In today’s economy, more and more businesses are working to make social responsibility a facet of their community giving stories. Small businesses like yours are giving back to the community in ways larger corporations can’t. Providing clear insight into all you do for your community can give you the edge over other businesses.

Doing good helps create trust, which helps deepen relationships with your customers. This will inspire them to support your business with their purchasing dollars. This enables you to keep giving back to the community creating a communication loop that helps your business and community grow.

Make your community story visible

The last component of making your community story powerful is being visible. Customers want to be shown what you are doing to help grow the community, not told. That means making what you give back a visible part of your business identity. Much like how Mitten Brewing Company made details of their Mitten Foundation a visible part of their website and social media presence, when businesses do good, sharing the results helps strengthen the message and inspires more to support your cause and business.

Customers are looking for information on your business. There are so many ways people can leave their impressions of your business on display on review sites like Yelp, Google, or Facebook. However, your business can take control of how your story is told by being visible about every dollar, hour, or thing you contribute to your community. Giving back takes all sorts of shapes and sizes, and no matter what or how much your business gives back, it helps show your customers that you care and appreciate them.

So, if you do good, you can do better by sharing your community story. All it takes is one emotional connection through kindness to influence a buyer’s purchasing decision. However, you can’t be shy about sharing. If the motivation to give back comes from the heart, and is authentic, sharing your story and making it a visible part of your presence helps keep your business and cause top-of-mind when it’s time for customers to make a purchase.

Small business community storytelling  platform 

At seedership, we have seen small businesses like yours giving back to the community even through hard times. We are inspired by the stories we’ve seen and covered businesses taking leadership to respond to the needs of their communities and offer support even during the most difficult times. Every interaction your business creates with your neighbors helps tell your community story. And in these uncertain times, we need uplifting stories to rally around, give us hope and shine a light on the best of humanity. Businesses support their communities, and communities help support the businesses that care about them. Because after all, we are all in this together.

You give your community character, a place to gather, opportunities to work, and valued products and services. Beyond that, you donate your time, money, and in-kind goods consistently and throughout the year. We know that you have so much responsibility on your plate as a small business owner that sometimes it’s hard to sit down and track and share the results of the good your business does. Our platform is designed to help you create authentic, transparent, and visible community stories to help your business and community grow.

Jennifer Smithberger is chief seeder and co-founder for seedership, a marketing platform for small businesses to align their community-giving efforts to achieve more visibility, impact and growth.