Big brands have been making clever use of storytelling for decades and now finally SME’s too are starting to catch on to the benefits of making an emotional connection with their stakeholders. Sharing your vision and values has never been easier in this era of multi-media connectivity, which is why we’ve decided to explore one of 2016’s most important communications trends and discover how to make the most of what you already have.
“Entertainment and corporate communications have intertwined for as long as there have been things to sell and stories to tell.” Alan Berkson, Freshdesk
“This machine is not a space ship; it’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It lets us travel the way a child travels: round and around and back home again to a place we know we are loved.”
The compelling ‘Mad Men’ character Don Draper, creative director at a New York advertising company, pitches a campaign for a slide carousel to Kodak. While projecting pictures of his family and reminiscing on his mentor, he smartly interweaves his personal story with Kodak’s new technology and their wish to become a household name.
In every season of the Emmy Award winning television series one pitch stands out. The common denominator is the personal experience that helps sell a product. In Don Drapers words: “Trying to establish a deeper bond with the product – it’s delicate but potent.” Or, as Peggy Olson puts it during a pitch for Burger Chef: “Every great ad tells a story.”
And although we’re referencing a drama series, the show’s appeal lies in how relatable not only the characters are, but the stories they are selling too. People tell business stories to communicate and connect with employees, customers, colleagues, partners, suppliers, and the media. Business stories differ from regular stories, in that you tell them with an objective, goal, or desired outcome in mind, rather than for entertainment.
When you tell a story well, it can create an intense, personal connection between your audience and your message. Effective stories can change our opinions, they can inspire us to achieve goals that we didn’t think were possible, and they can show us how we can change things for the better.
Things to Sell and Stories to Tell
“Entertainment and corporate communications have intertwined for as long as there have been things to sell and stories to tell,” writes Alan Berkson from Freshdesk in a zdnet.com blogpost.
If traditional advertising is dead, brand storytelling is experiencing a meteoric rise, proving that although times may change, human nature does not. The easiest way to someone’s heart is through a perceived personal connection. Whether it’s your ‘about us’ page, your Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile or Facebook page – even the tone of voice of your internal communications – your ‘story’ is what turns your stakeholders into believers. Authentic, transparent and relevant communication holds the key to your success.
Thankfully, great communication isn’t exactly rocket science. From your clients and suppliers right down to your team members, you’ve already built a relationship. Strengthening that bond is simply a matter of combining all the ingredients you already have lying around to create your narrative:
mission + vision + values + strategy = brand story
In Alan Berkson’s words: “It’s what your company stands for, and how it’s making the world a better place. It’s a story that comprises your strengths AND your weaknesses.”
According to Incite’s Summit White Paper 2016 on Corporate Storytelling “your brand story extends beyond your marketing campaign and defines your company holistically. People buy into that story, not your product. They are alienated when you don’t live up to that story, and they are increasingly loyal and passionate when you do. Customers have plenty of choice nowadays. Yours is not the only option. You want them to choose to associate with you, not the competition.”
And it’s not just customers either, employees too want to know the ‘why’ of the company they work in, they want to feel connected and inspired. Chances are you chose your employees and suppliers conscientiously and without them your business wouldn’t be the same. By making them an important part of your narrative you are able to show how much you value and appreciate them.
“It [storytelling] is especially useful for leaders, for example when leading people into the future, taking them through change, influencing, unifying people towards a common purpose, transmitting values, motivating and inspiring. Incorporating stories into your messages helps to develop a shared sense of identity.” says Vera Woodhead, coach and brand developer, on allthingsic.com.
Some more sound advice from Alan Berkson: “Companies and their brand managers need to come to terms with the reality that they are no longer the only voices in the conversation. It begins with listening. You need to have the right tools and processes in place to hear and, most importantly, understand the consumer and then weave them into you corporate story. [That story] needs to be infused into everything, from marketing, PR and customer service, to HR, product development.”
It’s easy to miss an opportunity to connect so you want to be both selective and aware of your approach. In order to engage your audience your message needs to be concise, memorable, understandable, differentiating. A proper strategy is key. Your story is made up of different elements and not all of those are suitable for every channel. Once you’ve formulated your story and plan of action it’s time to share your message wherever, whenever you can.
We’ve all been there: we’ve dedicated time to keeping our lines of communication open, have raved about our great new services and special offers to clients and have shared our best photographs and most titillating insights on social media, only to find that we’ve failed to garner the reactions that we were hoping for. Our audience has failed to connect, our message has simply passed them by.
In fact, it’s your corporate storyline that ties everything together and not making use of what you already have is quite simply a missed opportunity. In order to build a dedicated following you need to make sure that your narrative holds across the many communication channels you utilise.
Messages have to reflect your vision in order to stand out from the crowd. Simply reposting interesting articles that are relevant to your field of business won’t do anymore. Where is your company’s view on the matter? Why should people care what you’re up to? What does your team have say? Get your story straight and your audience will start feeling that personal connection you’ve been seeking.
Not everyone gets away with Don Draper’s charades, but if you stay aware of pitfalls and keep it real, your story will surely be one of success.
Our top picks from Incite’s White Paper:
1. Determine where your brand story will come from. The main lesson here? Don’t manufacture something from nothing. Pick something you’re already doing. This can be aspirational (a “campaign for real beauty”), it can be a legacy point (the rich history of…), it can be based on sustainability and corporate responsibility, or it can come from your employees.
2. Don’t tell it yourself. This is beyond marketing and communications. You want to accentuate a message that’s already out there. Twenty percent of marketers say customers have more power to define your brand than anyone else. Your employees are a good bet, too.
3. Make sure you can tell it persuasively. If you’re going to ascribe the responsibility to tell the story to employees instead of the marketing and communications departments, you’ll need a different set of processes to sign off. You can’t strangle a story by running it past legal every time you have an opportunity to propagate it.
4. Ensure that this is for the long term. A brand story is most emphatically not a campaign with an end date. It’s far more wide-reaching than that. You need to plan further ahead and build foundations that last longer than any typical marketing campaign planning process you’ve done before. That means getting employee buy-in (which is why we talk not about creating a story, but about accentuating an existing one). This isn’t a paint job – it’s something people sign up for.
5. Use the story with more than just your customer base. Your brand story will help engage and build morale with your workforce, too. Use it to do so.