If you’ve parented a young child in the last 50 years, you might have read the children’s book by P.D. Eastman, “Are You My Mother?” In the book, a young bird whose mom has flown away to acquire food wanders around asking various animals and even construction equipment whether they are his mother.
With the renewed interest in storytelling in the business arena, many companies seem to be scrambling. Storytelling is Hot! SOS! We Need a Story! In nascent marketing campaigns, you may have seen businesses using trial-and-error methods, essentially saying:
Are You My Story?
Building a narrative for your brand allows you to connect emotionally with your audiences; it’s vitally important.
But discovering your company’s story and how to frame it shouldn’t be a chore.
“Our story is so boring!” you might say. “We saw a need, we started a company, and now we work at the company.” You’re not that dull. Access your inner child and have fun crafting a grown-up story for the corporate world. Here are a few tips to jump-start your storytelling process:
1. Your story needs a Problem and a Resolution. A good story simply needs an obstacle (or two) and the way you overcame it. Simple, right? Maybe your founder failed at inventing a cloud computing system 152 times before succeeding. Or perhaps the design of the perfect BMX bike cup holder wasn’t working until a memorable Eureka! moment.
2. Your story needs to be factual and consistent. Hopefully, it goes without saying that your story should not be fabricated. Storytelling in the business realm should be the very best, fleshed-out retelling of the facts you want the world to know. Each time the story is retold, the facts should remain the same.
3. Your story needs to fit into soundbites. Although the reality may be that your company took years of minute moments with tons of infinitesimal twists, you will still need to boil it down for public consumption. When a journalist asks you for the story of your brand, you will want a message that fits easily into a sentence or two. “Jeff and I met building Lego Mindstorms in middle school. Twenty years later, we put together a 3D printing business that created the world’s longest bridge.”
4. Your story should match the tone and scope of the products or services you sell. If you sell trail running shoes, your story will likely be very different from a children’s cancer hospital. All of your accompanying pieces (print ads, videos, blog posts, news releases) will follow from the story you tell. Make sure your brand story and the way your executives tell it matches your desired messaging.
5. Still stumped? Your story may match prevailing archetypes. The Living-in-Your-Car archetype involves overcoming financial obstacles to succeed. Perhaps, like Apple, your company began in someone’s garage. Did your founders have trouble finding an investor who believed in them? Ah, now the story gets juicier. Don’t be afraid to use every facet of your company’s background to build out your story.
Perhaps The-Agony-of-Defeat story fits your company best. Whether B2B or B2C, people love a good phoenix story. Did your company ever crash and burn? Have you been able to rise from the ashes?
What about Homegrown Charm? If your brand can call upon nostalgia or the small-scale personal touch, use people’s love of old-fashioned tradition in your company’s story. Remember the Snapple commercials from the early ’90s featuring the Snapple Lady at a desk answering consumer questions, one by one? If your company opened up five years ago, it doesn’t have to be old for the “homegrown” archetype to work. Perhaps your CEO started your organization based on values and lessons instilled in her by her great-grandfather. The story can be old and venerable, even if the company is brand new.
Are your products or services designed to help people stretch their boundaries? Or at least feel like they are? Perhaps the adventurous archetype is the story line you should pursue. If your target audience is the type that bucks convention and appreciates a company that does the same, share the story of your brand’s beginnings and how a quirky outlook still affects the workplace.
Or try using the Voice-of-the-People approach. Why not allow your clients tell the story of your company? Do you remember the American Express series of commercials featuring small businesses? Not only was the company telling the story of its card but also the stories of each small business and how American Express had played a role in its growth.
6. Your story should be something everyone in the company can retell. Along with your mission and values, the story of your brand lives within each employee. Do they know why you exist? Your employees are your best brand ambassadors. Make sure they understand and can share the story of how and why your company does what it does.
7. Your story needs to continue to change. As you share your brand story with clients, partners and the media, remember to keep up with the pulse of your company as it is today. Over time, your story will continue to evolve. Perhaps your CEO opened the business with one goal in mind: to help consumers rent moving vans. But now, the company donates 5 percent of every move to help children in Uganda receive necessary surgeries. Your story should grow to encompass the tales that will need to be told.
Most of all, a strong company story solidifies the brand with partners, clients and employees. Enjoy the process of creating your unique message. When you arrive at the right mix of intrigue, fact and soundbite, you can ask yourself, “Is This My Story?” And you’ll know for sure that it is.