Why every business needs a corporate story
Some months ago I was waiting heart-in-mouth to run a corporate story session for eight alpha-males preparing to sell their extremely lucrative software business. They had convened at 8.30 for a high-level strategy meeting before starting my session at 9.00. Would I be able to convince these men they needed stories? Would I be able to facilitate these techy geeks to find their stories? Loud testosterone fuelled laughter emanated from the boardroom and I heard the golden words from the CEO, “before we start let me finish my story”.
Everybody uses them, everybody tells them and in general we all enjoy receiving them. In fact as human beings we are hard wired to tell stories – we are natural storytellers. This is the key to their power because people find stories effortless and pleasurable to exchange, and that is why they are so successful at travelling across online social communities. The Internet is just another environment along with the water cooler, the bar or the playground, to swap stories. You don’t have to push a good story it flies by itself. This is both a threat and an opportunity for the business community. I could put that another way; it’s a dangerous time for existing businesses and an exciting time for new ones.
The traditional method of getting your business noticed and adopted by the customer is to push messages and branding about your company out there by spending swollen sums on advertising and marketing campaigns. It’s expensive – you have to pay high and push hard to make messaging work because no one will help it travel.
A good story about your company carries your message wrapped in a narrative that people will willingly pass on for free. What’s more stories are persuasive, emotional and exist in the real world with us whereas messages and branding are alien, invented content, which appear to bully or bribe. So as I said, an exciting time for new cash poor businesses who can spread the word by being excellent at what they do and then make sure they generate stories about it. Authentic stories from them or their clients will travel fast, and the word about the good work they do will be passed on with the story.
But why is it dangerous? Well the relationship with the consumer has changed. For a start they expect a relationship, it’s a two way street. They are now expecting transparency, excellence, respect and dare I say it…input. Your corporate story defines who you are and why a consumer would want to have a relationship with you and increasingly they don’t trust corporations who don’t appear to have one.
10 years ago it was possible to have a successful business by running fantastic ad campaigns and holding a lot of meetings to talk about customers. This is no longer the case; customers are meeting to talk about you! Information is being exchanged about how you dealt with them, what your products are like, what its like to work for you and where you’ve really screwed up. This information is being exchanged in chat rooms, on Twitter, on Face-book, in blogs and the form it takes is the most successful form of communication in the world – the story. See the problem? A juicy story that puts a black mark on your professional reputation will fly across the Internet and could be in the in-boxes of 1000’s of people by the end of the week. But imagine the potential if that’s a good story – 1000’s of people heard you did a good job.
So first and foremost a business today needs to take measures to ensure customers are likely to tell good stories about them in every part of their dealings with them. But in addition, businesses today who want to survive and thrive in the new order need to be listening to those customer conversations, joining those conversations and introducing their own stories.
To tell the right stories you have to be clear on your corporate story. It turned out the software guys found building a corporate story almost instantly good business. Their issue was they wanted to offer their highly complex specialist service to less obvious markets, and their struggle was to express the value of their offering to a market that didn’t even know it needed it. To their surprise building a client focused corporate story saw the jargon tumbling away and clear personal client benefit emerging. With this insight the team saw that short punchy case studies of successful client experiences of these personal benefits were going to be the powerful marketing tool they’d been looking for. Forget the stats and spreadsheets, this was a currency that reps could pass to potential clients who would pass onto colleagues without any expertise or jargon required. They have since run sessions in many other parts of their business and to my delight; pass on the story of their epiphany to others, creating new potential clients for me.
Online or offline, customers are swapping stories about you today and basing decisions on their content. A clearly defined corporate story will inform the way you do business with customers which generates good stories about you. It will also focus your efforts to send your own stories flying off around the world to fight battles against the competition that you won’t even know are happening.
—- Ann Booth Clibborn