Why Every Organization Needs a Story Strategy

July 29th, 2015

Why Every Organization Needs a Story Strategy

Every organization and any business of any size (including entrepreneurs!) must tell a variety of stories. Most of what we hear lately focuses on the core purpose story, also known as the brand story. And that is a really important story because, if it is done well, it says to the world who we are and what we value. Well done, this core story allows customers to see themselves in that narrative. This is just one piece of the larger strategic story puzzle.

Today, every business needs a larger story strategy that encompasses a variety of stories told by advocates outside of marketing and the C-suite. These stories must also be shared across the organization in order to bring product, engineering, customer service, marketing and HR into alignment to better act on the company’s core purpose.

Story Strategy and Stories Every Business (Regardless of Size) Must Tell

Do you have a story strategy that encompasses many types of stories? Your strategy defines not only who you are; it defines what stories you tell, how you share them across your organization (that includes a story bank for all parts of the organization to access as needed), and how you’ll manage and lead changes, updates and engage others to tell their stories – including employees, customers and executives.

And, there are many other stories a business should tell in addition to the core purpose story because different stories do different things. A story strategy is about having a larger strategic direction that guides decision-making. Here are some of the most important stories businesses must tell as part of a successful story strategy:

  • Core Purpose Story: Who we are, why we do what we do, and what we value. This story serves as a strategic GPS for decision-making. If a course of action doesn’t fit or advance the story, the organization doesn’t pursue it unless a new, updated story is warranted
  • Origin Story: It intersects with core purpose and value stories
  • Customer Stories: Your greatest social proof. And these aren’t just their successes with your products; these stories make them the heroes.
  • Employee Stories: Business are people and people help other people. Your employees are often the best storytellers.
  • Product Stories: These can be customer stories – told by the customer. The focus is not on the product; it’s on how the product or service makes peoples’ lives better.
  • Failure (we screwed up an are making it right) Stories: I’ve failed, you’ve failed. Imperfection is human. Sharing how you’ve grown and the lessons learned from failure are important ways to connect on a meaningful and human level that inspires. Related to these are Redemption Failure is a great thing and a key motivator for being better.
  • Success Stories: These are OK here and there, just not all the time. Too many brand stories focus on the ‘look what we can do’ aspect and over time, these lose credibility and authenticity.
  • Evolution Stories: These are ‘hey we are evolving’ stories, so it’s OK to have stories that show we are ‘works in progress’. These stories lack perfect resolution. This is where you invite other to share their thoughts (‘hey, what do you think?’). With a lot of storytelling approaches it is true that audiences don’t like unresolved stories; however, these types of stories show that companies are living organisms that are supposed to change. And as long as a company has a direction, it’s OK to say ‘we know where we want to go; we’re just not there yet.’ No one is expected to always have everything end perfectly. That is not realistic, and stories that work too hard to have a perfect ending are one-dimensional. Humans are complex and so is life. Stories that showcase inherent contradictions or dilemmas along the journey are real, multi-dimensional, rich and often make for better stories. Simple stories are great; yet life is complex and so are some stories.
  • Change Stories: When an organization needs to guide employees through change, stories became invaluable. They provide guidance and leadership. When you want to change strategy and behaviors, stories are critical. These are, “We are in it together,” stories.
  • Culture and Values Stories: These stories matter both outside the company and inside, and these should be the same. The stories employees tell each other are some of the most important stories because they speak to overall organizational health. I’ve said it many times: When the stories employees tell each other turn negative, that does not augur well for the company. There are no sound walls. If employees don’t believe in the company, rest assured neither will customers.

 

Employee Storytelling Adds Value and Scale Beyond Marketing

Another key point to sustainable and successful storytelling is that many of the internal stories should be told through advocates outside of the marketing function and the C-suite–just like with customers. Not only is marketing often not the expert or originator of the best stories though they certainly add value, they also can be bottlenecks that constrain authenticity and destroy value. IBM found that allowing internal experts outside of the marketing function to have consistent contact with customers and blog about their experiences and stories resulted in a more than 7X increase in customer lifetime value.

The best storytellers inside the company are often those closest to the customer. While stories of values and change must have executive stewards who are credible storytellers–no two ways about it–these stories must be bought into, and adapted, and championed by employees or they don’t work.

Employee and customer advocates are a company’s most important scalable resource. That’s how stories achieve scale, velocity, and credibility. Great storytelling belongs not just to execs; it belongs to employees and customers who ratify, change, and champion those stories.

Do you have a story strategy? What other stories do you tell?

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