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3 Compelling Components of Corporate Storytelling

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Telling your company story is imperative and corporate storytelling is as much of an art form as writing a novel.  Yes, a PR company can help, but in order to be effective AS a story, it needs to be told and re-told, which means everyone has to be able and willing to tell the story. Additionally, your story will influence your company culture, the way your customers relate to you, everything. It’s important to get the story right.

You’ve probably heard that there are only 7 basic stories ever written. Every single story falls into one of these categories – each its own journey:

Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return
Comedy
Tragedy
Rebirth

One of the great modern-day corporate stories is Steve Jobs returning to Apple after his humiliating exit. It’s a “Voyage and Return” story. Look closely at those stories. What’s missing? The motivation, the characters, the setting and/or place. This is where telling your story becomes individualized and authentic. Personally, I believe one of the most compelling story aspects is motivation, but setting/place can also set a compelling stage for the journey and the characters. What makes Steve Jobs return so compelling is the setting/the time. Apple was in trouble. Big trouble. It was his chance to return to his visionary roots and undoubtedly, his time away from Apple contributed to the turn-around.

So let’s look at a few of the OTHER elements that contribute to a great story.

The Character

In corporate story-telling, the character can be a founder or the brand. The best brands have personalities all of their own. One of my absolute favorite brands is Coca-Cola. For over 30 years, their brand has been a happy one, spreading joy around the world. I envision Coca-Cola’s brand persona as a group of people from around the world smiling together and laughing together as the life of the party, the center of the action, the group everyone gathers around. Notice how my character is defined by the setting (the world, the party), we’ll get to the setting in a minute. The point is to envision your brand as a persona, who are they? Are they serious or comedic? Are they reserved or wild? Are they old or young? Your brand is as complex as a person, so you can enjoy the multiple aspects of your brand, but the important thing is to choose no more than 1-2 personality elements to focus on. Simplicity creates powerful brands, and multiple personalities muddle them.

Keep in mind, in our example of Steve Jobs,  Steve Jobs doesn’t make the story compelling, Steve Jobs is more compelling (as a character, an icon) because of the story. This is true of all stories – the character is made great by the other elements of the story, not the other way around. Without the other elements in the story, there are no compelling characters.

Motivation and/or Inspiration

Marketers will recognize this is “The Why.”   What’s the compelling motivation behind the main character’s actions? Is it service? Is it retribution? Is it righting a wrong? Is it glory?  Great motivations drive action. Sometimes, in novels or films, a truly compelling character will have conflicting motivations, this can be true in corporate storytelling as well. For example, perhaps the character is driven by both the need to serve and glory. Humans often have conflicting motivations, but for the purposes of corporate story-telling, it’s most effective to emphasis one motivation. In corporate story-telling, we rarely have 1,000 or more pages to develop our character’s motivation. Focus on a single motivation as the driver.

Interestingly, using the above example of Steve Jobs’ motivation, in the corporate story about Jobs’ return, the motivation is left absent. This is brilliant because it leaves us all to wonder and speculate what his motivation really was. Personally, I believe the reason its left out of this corporate story is it’s probably unflattering, but leaving it out makes the motivation as absent even more powerful than if it had been included.

The Setting/Time

In corporate story-telling, the setting and time are often represented as the “ah-ha” moment, which is made richer by what was happening to the character or in the world at that moment. Was the character liberated? Frustrated? Was there an event that triggered the action? Perhaps the setting/time impacted the motivation and most certainly impacted the action.

Take for example the Coca-Cola brand, they started spreading joy at a time when globalism was really first taking hold, also during a time of great cultural upheaval for the United States, 1971. The “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” is considered the world’s most famous commercial and it’s joy and happiness is in direct contrast to what was happening in the United States at the time. Somehow, the brand of Coke delivered a much-needed smile to America. In fact, the story behind the creation has similar-it happened under frustrating circumstances.   Coca-Cola didn’t hold a mirror up to us, it provided us with an escape. Since then, Coca-Cola has always focused on creating moments of joyous respite, during the best of times and the worst of times.

 

Keep in mind, while you must have all these components in a story, one of these components will be the star. In the Coca-Cola brand example, the star is the setting. In the Steve Jobs story, the star is the journey.

If it’s time to create or reinforce your story, begin with taking stock of these elements, determine where your strength is and be sure to simplify your story so it’s easy to tell. If you’re “stuck” with your story, contact us. We will help you create a story worth telling and even work with you to create content that tells your story.

WHY Your Storytelling Isn’t Working

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Do you know why people respond (or don’t respond) to you brand storytelling?

The answer doesn’t lie in your typeface, your graphic design or even your social networks.
The answers lies in your strategy and customer clarity.

Let me put it another way: do you know what motivations your customers respond to most powerfully?

Several years ago, I launched a marketing incubator designed to help marketers connect the dots between personality types and motivations. What I learned when I did that was few marketers understood how to trigger basic motivations and even those who did, didn’t really understand why they worked. These were great and successful marketers who were committed to becoming even better. These weren’t lazy marketers, these were great people, good at what they do.

Before I go on, let me explain something: I did not make up these motivations. I am not even the first to write about them. They are ancient and hard-wired into the human experience, in fact, these motivations reside in the largest part of our brain, what I call “the other 90%.” Simply put, these motivations are not some flash-in-the-pan-do-whats-trendy-now strategy, these are strategies which trigger reactions from the oldest part of our brain.  Over the last few years, more and more has been understood about these motivations. But one thing is clear: despite the fact that these motivations developed in the earliest days of humanity’s survival of the fittest experiences, these motivations are very much alive and well today. What triggers them in the modern world is just different than what triggered them in our earliest evolutionary days.

So over the next weeks, I’m going to write a series about the seven Captivation Motivations all marketers should know. But not just marketers, product development, developers and anyone else who’s trying to trigger an immediate and memorable reaction.

The first Captivation Motivation I’m going to cover is so over-discussed and yet misunderstood, I wanted to get it out of the way: Storytelling

It’s important to understand WHY storytelling works and as importantly, what stories trigger us to buy.

If you take nothing else away from this blog post, understand this:

People buy for two reasons: it either reinforces how they see themselves or it reinforces how they want to be seen. (Tweet This)

In essence, every purchase we make is part of our story and we know this, deep, deep down.

What stories do we like to listen to?
Stories about us.
Stories that make us feel smarter, better, part of something.
Stories that reinforce how we see ourselves or reinforce how we want to be seen.

Why is this? It’s because the biggest part of our brain is focused on, you guessed it, us.
This is why brand stories have to be very carefully crafted.
As marketers, we want to tell the brand story, but the reader wants to read a story about them.
This disconnect is HUGE.
And yet, we see excellent examples of great brand story telling all the time. Simplistic and elegant and purely captivating.
One of my favorite examples is Coca-Cola. They kicked off their brand story telling years ago with “I’d like to teach the world to sing…” So celebrated and so ingrained in our culture, that it was the final episode of Mad Men and suggested as the career pinnacle of outrageously creative Don Draper.
Coca-Cola continues to tell it’s story through it’s consumers. Think about the soda bottles wrapped in names and now adjectives like “VIP” “Latino” “Super Star.” Every single on of these is designed to tap into how we see ourselves or how we WANT to see ourselves. You can even buy your own personalized bottle. When this first released and still today, it created a ton of user generated content on social. People loved taking pictures of themselves with bottles that told their story. Reinforced their place in the world.
You never once see Coca-Cola telling some long drawn out boring-as-all-hell story about what goes INTO the bottle, or who works in marketing at Coca-Cola, no. The story is always about the consumer and the story or movement they want to create. There is connection, not disconnect. You are Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola is you.
The reason Coca-Cola’s brand value is somewhere in the neighborhood of 45% of the company’s value is because the brand “gets”  the consumer, not the other way around. (Tweet This)
Apple is another great brand, although I personally feel they’ve lost their brand-way a bit. Still, the company is one of the most valuable brands in the world, regularly commanding a premium for technology that has been commoditized. Why? Because the brand had complete and total clarity from beginning. It didn’t make computers, it designed products to enhance our lives. They key word was design. Elegance, simplicity, easy integration into our lives. If Apple hadn’t insisted on these brand traits, it would just be another computer and laptop company. But again, these brand traits, they were customer-focused. They weren’t about Apple, they were about the user. And Apple has some crazy brand advocates who feel like owning Apple helps define who they are. Owning Apple helps them tell the world who they are. That is the pinnacle of advocacy and brand storytelling.

So when you start to integrate story telling into your digital brand strategy, ask yourself three questions:

Who is the story REALLY about? (hint: be honest with yourself here)
How does it reinforce my customer’s image of themselves or the way they want the world to see them?
What emotion will they feel after finishing the story?