Stories move people to action by engaging their hearts and minds. Every middle market company leader knows the crucial difference between presenting data (KPIs, metrics, etc.) and telling a story.

The story connects data points around a narrative framework that’s engaging and memorable for people. As The Storytelling Edge author Joe Lazauskas explains it, “stories are memorable, while random facts or data are quickly forgotten.”

Business leaders can use storytelling to engage and inspire their stakeholders, including investors, employees, colleagues, customers, and beyond. Those leaders and companies who can tell a good story will gain a competitive advantage over rivals who cannot. “Storytelling is a core skill for every middle market business, and you should be developing this skill,” says Lazauskas. This post will explain why stories are so powerful, what constitutes a good story, and how middle market leaders can leverage storytelling to engage their stakeholders.

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is a deeply human pursuit, a medium to shape events through narratives that connect to our human psyches and emotions. Storytelling has been essential to human history and the evolution of the human brain. There was a 2-million-year long period from the beginnings of humanity until the time we learned to write when humans learned how to survive in a dangerous world through telling stories that transmitted key survival lessons (e.g., run from tigers, work together to hunt). That prehistoric oral tradition helped countless generations of humans live longer and reproduce. 

As a result, natural selection hardwired our brain circuitry to crave, learn from, and pay close attention to stories. Research in neuroscience shows that the human brain’s emotional circuitry lights up according to the emotions in a story, so listeners feel as if the story is physically happening to them. A powerful and inspiring story can make listeners feel powerful and inspired, and act upon those emotions. Stories viscerally connect with the human brain in ways random data never will.

Storytelling to Build Company Culture

Since all your stakeholders are human, you can use storytelling to engage their emotions and convince them to act. The first rule of storytelling is that the story must relate to the concerns and needs of the listener. Stories are about them, not you. Job candidates, for example, don’t want to hear how amazing the person interviewing them is. Instead, what a potential employee needs to know is how he or she might fit into the culture of the company, how the company will support the candidate’s growth, and how the candidate fits into the plans and needs of the company. 

Middle market company leaders should thus work to understand the concerns and problems of their various stakeholders (that means listening first), and then craft stories that relatably address those concerns and problems. So when it comes to engaging employees, leaders should be crafting and telling stories that communicate the mission and culture of the companystories that explain why the company exists and how it positively impacts the world through the work it does. If your company’s goal is to “exceed customer expectations,” then you should be telling stories about how your employees are actually doing that every day. Your company culture gets transmitted via the stories you and your employees tell every day.

Storytelling to Grow Customer Loyalty

Your middle market company’s customers need to know your story too, and understand why you exist. Why are you in business and what unique value are you offering them? You can pay tons of money for marketing, PR, and advertising, but it’s easy for customers to tune out this “interruptive” messaging. By telling stories that express your why, you can more closely connect with customers so they want to hear more about you, and want deeper relationships with your company based on emotional connection. 

Middle market companies that can create great stories that connect their offerings to the needs and emotions of their customers will be the ones who build long-term trust and drive lifetime customer value (and long-term profitability). Begin by defining what makes your company unique, how its offerings address the needs of your customers, and then build your storytelling around that uniqueness and the value you create for your customers. As author Donald Miller says in Building a Story Brand, “the most important challenge for business leaders is to define something simple and relevant their customers want and to become known for delivering on that promise.”

Storytelling To Support Change 

Every great story is basically about change, how the hero starts in one place and ends up in another (usually better) place. Storytelling can also be a great way to drive change management initiatives because stories transmit your why. Why is this change initiative needed right now? Why do we need employee buy-in/participation? Why will the change make us better, bring us to a better place? Stories can directly address the uncertainty and fear that are common, human responses to all change initiatives. Stories can comfort and provide direction.

The most powerful stories are often about change amidst continuity. “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, is among the most imaginative adventure stories ever told, filled with far-flung places and wondrous creatures. Yet the story’s arc begins in Kansas and ends in Kansas, and is about a young woman who simply wants to go home. Change can be a fearful thing: it helps if leaders can tell stories about continuity by emphasizing the company’s “core cause,” which is your mission of impacting other people (i.e., it’s your Kansas). That core mission isn’t about profits, but about the impact your organization has on your customers. The core doesn't change even if your strategies, tools, and tactics do. As Harvard Business Review explains it, “effective change leadership has to emphasize continuityhow what is central to ‘who we are’ as an organization will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.”


When we were children, stories sparked our imaginations. No matter our age, all humans yearn for great stories because they serve our emotional needs in so many ways, big and small. They offer comfort, provide important lessons, give us a sense of direction and belonging, transmit shared values and help build collective cultures, inspire us to action, and more. As this post has made clear, storytelling may be the most important and transformative business skill middle market leaders can develop.