The Stories We Tell
The importance of the enterprise narrative has rarely been more manifest. Articulating and communicating the corporate story has also never been as challenging as it is now in a market place peppered with ever-increasing digital/social/mobile channel options. We believe that it is not hyperbolic to suggest that the success or failure of a company, whether mature or newly minted, balances on being able to clearly deliver their raison d’ etre of the enterprise to each and every one of their stakeholder constituencies.
Businesses employ stories all the time, via branding, marketing or promotion, in order to share the mission of the organization, translate their offerings into understandable, recognizable and desirable value propositions and demonstrate the positive impact of their corporate activities on society writ large. The problem, and it is a crucial one, is that most of them do not do it very well. There are a variety of reasons and drivers for this failure. Our thesis is that most of them never invest the time in defining how they want to be perceived by their audiences and crystalizing what value their offerings are supposed to deliver. Someone wise once said that your brand is what you customers think of you and that is why brand strategy necessarily must begin with the story.
As a rule, organizations tend to not be very introspective unless forced to by circumstance – deteriorating performance metrics, market evolution or some external dynamic that renders their business model less competitive. While this too often translates into offsite brainstorming and strategy sessions that reorients the business model, the true roots of performance challenges are a failure to understand and then share the company story.
This understanding is critical to telling the company story as it is through that process that they identify the core of an enterprise's value proposition and craft the narratives that simply and compellingly relate "that value" to customers, prospects, investors, media, employees and others in a way that motivates them to think or act favorably. The reality is that an organization’s constituencies do not care about its marketing goals. But everyone likes a good story and the companies that can tell theirs and have it resonate possess a real competitive advantage. Great business performances often elude otherwise strong organizations because their stories are poorly conceived or inadequately told.
For a business, an effective corporate story articulates the essence of the corporate business plan – Who are we? Why do we exist? What do we do? Why should you care? It is not an abbreviation of the business strategy but rather an exposition of the core beliefs that drive the business strategy. Communicating the brand promise/corporate story is the responsibility of every individual in the company. That is how an organization ensures that the story is clearly articulated across all potential channels and touchpoints to ensure consistency wherever the market is engaged.
Conversations surrounding brand have moved beyond the marketing department. All the stakeholders of an organization—customers, employees, investors, partners, vendors, and yes, even competitors—are telling some aspect of the story of the brand. But, for the brand strategy to ultimately be successful, they all must speak with one voice.
To accomplish this requires developing focused, cost-effective programs that enable companies to reinforce the story (and differentiate themselves) through every action they take. This requires not just consistent market-facing communication. Internal stewardship of the brand balances on developing and constantly reinforcing that one voice.
Corporate storytelling relies on facts, never fiction, and is grounded in meticulous competitive and market research and it digs deeper and reflects on the core principles that define a company and its personality.
Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers, text or images on a slide do not.
Storytelling is an art and a science and it is rarely easy. At the end of the day an organization, no matter what their structure or agenda, is selling something. To be successful in that mission, articulating a story that communicates the essence of the enterprise in the simplest, most direct manner possible is the critical path.