Want Results? The ROIs of Business Storytelling

3 Levels, 18 Categories, 5 Impacts

I was talking with a colleague the other day who's an engineer. He loves what I do as a business storyteller. But he scratched his head and asked me with a perplexed look on his face. "But Karen, how do you measure the actual results of business storytelling? I mean, how can you possibly figure out the ROIs??"

I laughed because I've gotten this question A LOT over the years. So here's my answer. 

I recently wrote about the personal ROIs any leader will experience who masters business storytelling. But that's only one side of the coin.

The other side are the business ROIs a company will experience. So what are those? Inquiring minds want to know!

Purpose-driven companies are going to want to pay particular attention to the ROIs of business storytelling because storytelling is one of the most potent ways to link up your Profit, Stakeholder, Culture, and Leadership quadrants.

Typical business ROIs are about financial gain: increases to the bottom line, increased sales, increased market share, decreased turnover, and the like. These are hard ROIs. And storytelling has plenty of examples to show hard ROI figures:

  1. Significant Objects Project -- A total of $128.74 dollars was spent on garage sale items costing no more than $1.50. Personal and heartfelt stories were then written and attached to each garage sale item. That $128.74 dollars yielded $3,612.51 when resold with the stories. One lone item -- a statue of a horse's head bought for about for .99 -- resold on eBay for $62 with the story attached, more than a 6,000+% increase.

  2. Lakeland Medical Group -- 90 days, 6,000 stories, patient satisfaction scores in the 95th percentile after not budging for years out of the 35th percentile.

  3. Garland Hospital -- realized a miraculous turnaround in 12 months. They were hemorrhaging money and in the verge of shutdown. By wedding detailed financial goals with continuous sharing of individual, department, division successes -- real stories from real people -- they were in the black and thriving (cited in the book Wake Me Up When The Data Is Over, Chapter 6)

  4. Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson received the longest standing ovation in the history of TED talks, and raised $1 million dollars right after his 18-minute talk on "We need to talk about social justice." That's $55,000 per minute that he spoke.

None of these examples are unusual, by the way. All of them connect to one of the 3 levels of business storytelling: Transactional Storytelling. Transactional storytelling is when I tell you a story and you buy my product/service. This is the most elementary level of business storytelling. And it's relatively easy to measure as a hard ROI. And wouldn't we all like to experience one of the examples above? Yessiree.

But there is another type of ROI that business storytelling excels at. These are soft ROIs. Soft ROIs are harder to measure and they take a circuitous route before they show up as a hard ROI. These soft ROIs for business storytelling correspond to the 2 other levels of business storytelling: Relational and Transformational Storytelling.

Let's take a look at what these soft relational and transformational ROI items are:

  • Connection

  • Authenticity

  • Loyalty

  • Trust

  • Empathy

  • Alignment

  • Engagement

  • Reputation

  • Leadership

  • Inspiration

  • Listening

  • Memorability

  • Influence

  • Decision making

  • Change

  • Transformation

  • Mindfulness

  • Confidence

Values In Action Stories.jpg

In other words, storytelling is about emotional connections and these ROIs reflect that. Some in the business storytelling field refer to these are ROEs: Returns On Emotion.

As content marketing guru Lee Odden says, "Often, clients want to know the ROI of a single tweet, status update, or blog post. In fact, it's not about these individual moments -- it's about the emotion and trust that is created when a business shares a lot of moments over time. It's about the overall story, not the singular message."

Now why are these soft ROIs important?

Since these soft skills and resulting ROIs are harder to measure and take work, why should we even care? For these 6 critical reasons:


Between 2014-2015, LinkedIn analyzed which soft skills were most desired that led to job offers. Hands down, communication trumped all -- followed by teamwork, critical thinking, social savvy, creativity, and adaptability. In 2015 the Wall Street Journal surveyed 900 executives. 92% said soft skills were either equally important or more important than technical skills. But 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with soft skills.

According to the National Bureau of Economic research (2015) All job growth and wage growth since the 1980s is in occupations requiring both high cognitive and high social skills.

Jobs requiring LOW levels of social skills are ripe for automation. Goodbye job!

According to data from the Occupational Information Network from the US Dept. of Labor, social skills grew by 24% from 1980-2012 while math skills grew only 11%. The importance of social skills continues to grow by 2% each year through the 21st century.

Social skills rule.


In 2016 DDI conducted an assessment of social interaction skills impacting performance. 15,000 leaders participated in 300 companies in 18 countries and 20 industries who were from the front lines and being considered for executive positions. Lots of insights emerged, but as it relates to storytelling influence, two key points emerged from the study: empathy and involvement for mastering successful conversations were the two biggest drivers of job performance.

But only 44% were able to listen and respond with empathy. Empathy turned up as a critical missing skill.

Oh and BTW, storytelling is one of the easiest ways to build empathy, involve others, and create successful conversations.


OK nice performance stats – but here's the kicker: the top 10 companies on the Global Empathy Index -- companies like Microsoft, Tesla, Facebook, and Google -- generated 50% more earnings than those ranking lowest. In addition, average earnings for the top companies on the Index were up 6% in 2015 while the bottom 10 dropped 9%.


A study released by CEB (formerly the Corporate Executive Board) showed that B2B customers are more than twice as likely to consider a brand that shows personal value over business value. Personal value is conveyed through third-party success stories. As the CEB study pointed out, buyers perceive little difference in the business value offered by different suppliers.


John Kotter and James Heskett in their book Corporate Culture and Performance talk about companies who continually share their Values In Action stories (this is a story about how we live our values) and their purpose driven story (sharing their This Is Why We Exist story). These companies see a revenue growth 4 times faster and a share price growth that is 12 times faster than companies who do not live their values stories and purpose driven story.


On another note, in a survey of 500 US employees (published in What People Want: A Manager's Guide To Building Relationships That Work by Terry Bacon), what employees really crave from their leaders are the following soft skills:

  1. Honesty (90%)

  2. Trust (86%)

  3. Respect (84%)

  4. Genuineness (76%)

  5. Appreciation (74%)

  6. Responsiveness (74%)

All of these qualities are generated through the stories you tell and the talk you walk.

One of the most power pathways you have to enhance your personal career success, increase performance via social skills, grow the business through empathy, articulate the personal value products/services bring to customers, align and strengthen corporate culture, and deliver on what employees want – is through storytelling.

So here's the bottom line

Business storytelling is a mighty method for building soft skills and generating both hard and soft business ROI.

Mastering business storytelling is one of your most effective and efficient vehicles for hitting multiple ROIs all at once (i.e. generating a hard ROI like increased sales combined with the soft ROIs of increased listening and increased trust). 

There are defined strategies, processes, and tools for building your storytelling skills, and you can get started right away.

As a result of its storytelling efforts, Siemens has changed how it measures the ROI of storytelling. For example, they know the story is working when people get tears in their eyes, when they get choked up, or they walk away and say, "Wow, that's really powerful."

They also know a story is working when behavior changes as a result of listening to a story -- like wearing safety goggles after watching a story about someone who didn’t and what happened.

Or when someone in the general public views a Siemen's story, shares an insight with a Siemens' employee, which then starts a conversation, which can then lead to serving a customer.

"So I think for us," says Keith Ritchie, storyteller at Siemens, "this sort of thinking is a bit of a game changer."

Don't leave home without a story to tell

  • Harness the power of storytelling for your organization

  • Build your leadership and leave a powerful legacy with your stories

Want to get this done?

Contact Karen today about 1:1 business story coaching

or in house trainings

Want to get this done? Contact Karen today about 1:1 business story coaching or in house trainings.