Is Your Business Telling the Wrong Brand Story?

Kathy Klotz-Guest

Kathy Klotz-Guest, CEO of Keeping it Human, joins the Content Experience Show Podcast to discuss what businesses get wrong about building their brand story.

In This Episode:

Kathy Klotz-Guest

Keeping It Human

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Full Episode Details

Kathy Klotz-Guest

How to Start Telling a Truthful Brand Story

What story does your business tell about itself? How much (if at all) has that brand story changed since you first went into business, and how much have your employees’ and customers’ stories changed it?

According to storytelling strategist Kathy Klotz-Guest, too many businesses aren’t honest with themselves in their answers to these questions. Rather than embracing growth, confronting failure, and addressing what she calls “story gaps,” brands opt for a singular, static brand story. This refusal to treat brand storytelling as an evolving practice damages a business’s ability to connect with its audience.

The solution, Kathy explains, is allowing multiple brand stories to coexist. Your business is as complex and ever-changing as the people who run it—its storytelling should showcase that.

In This Episode

  • Why it’s okay if your brand story changes over time—and why it’s a cause for concern if it doesn’t.
  • The red flags that indicate you’re telling the wrong brand story.
  • Why businesses should share more stories about failure.
  • How to identify and fix “story gaps.”
  • The overlooked skills that will help your team start telling better stories.
  • Why Kathy left corporate marketing to become a storytelling strategist.

Quotes From This Episode

“How do we create a culture that understands storytelling so that everybody is headed the same direction?” – @kathyklotzguest

If you're selling a solution to a problem your customer doesn't have, you have a story gap. Click To Tweet

“Are we telling stories of rebirth, or hey, maybe a product failure? Maybe we released a product, and it didn’t do well, and maybe we have to tell the story to the market of what we learned from that failure.” – @kathyklotzguest

Resources

Content Experience Lightning Round

If you were to write another book, what genre would it be, and what would the narrative arc be?

Kathy would love to write a life skills book and see it illustrated like a graphic novel!

See you next week!

What Great Brands Do That Good Brands Don't in Content Marketing

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Episode Transcript

  • Anna

    Hey everybody. Welcome to the Content Experience Show Podcast. This is Anna Hrach from Convince & Convert. Now, Randy Frisch isn’t going to be joining us today but that’s okay because we have an amazing guest. We have the wonderful Kathy Klotz-Guest. Now, Kathy is a keynote speaker, story telling plus creativity strategist, improv comedian, and author of Stop Boring Me, How to Create Kick-Ass Marketing Content Products and Ideas Through the Power of Improv.

  • Anna

    Now today on the show Kathy and I dig into a lot of storytelling. Now storytelling is one of those things that it’s a pretty hot topic buzz word, everybody seems to be talking about it nowadays. We know that it’s really important and we need to be doing it, but Kathy actually breaks down what storytelling means to organizations and where they can get a start on telling not just their story but the multiple stories that go into organizations. It’s a great episode. You’re going to love it and instead of me telling you all about what she talked about, let’s just go ahead and bring her in and hear from herself.

  • Anna

    Kathy, thank you so much for joining me today. I am really excited to talk to you, because, one, you came so highly recommended from my colleague, Lauren Teague of Convince & Convert. We had a kind of gush session over you about how great you are, but then, two, you are talking about one of my favorite subjects today but before we get into that, would you mind telling everybody a little bit about yourself?

  • Kathy

    Sure. I consider myself kind of an ex-marketer or sort of a… because most of the work that I do is marketing but it’s creativity, it’s improv, it’s taking all the tools in my toolbox, all of my background, and it really is working with teams and companies to help them understand what creativity and storytelling leadership looks like. It means more than just telling stories and marketing. How do we create a culture that understands storytelling so that everybody is headed the same direction and you’re using the stories that your employees are telling, you’re using the stories your customers are telling, and you’re using stories for innovation and creativity as well. I think it’s really the way we think about stories is… even my own thinking about it has evolved from where I started. That’s a little bit in a nutshell.

  • Anna

    I love it. One of the things I love, speaking of your story, is that you started off in corporate marketing.

  • Kathy

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • Anna

    What happened? You kind of like woke up one day and were just sort of like, “I think I want to do this other thing.” What about that sort of narrative arc to this podcast?

  • Kathy

    You know, it really is… it’s a little anticlimactic. I wish… I had these parallel lives and they were sort of similar trajectories and I was working in marketing and eventually sort of ran marketing and by day I was finding stories and training executives and doing media training, pitching, and all that stuff, and then I was, five to six nights a week, I was hitting stages and doing comedy and improv and I had done that for… I’ve done it now for over two decades. I had these parallel lives going and what I realized was all the work I was doing on the stage was making my marketing better.

  • Kathy

    I was bringing in concepts that I learned that I thought we should all be doing this. We should all be doing it. Why is it when we go to see a stage play or work or improv or comedy show we’re at the edge of our seats and we’re laughing and we’re engaged and we have this range of emotions, but then we go back into corporate life and we write like…

  • Anna

    Yes.

  • Kathy

    An officer that’s like, “Dear Helen, the war has been so hard on me.” It’s like why do we write so formally and why do we write so boring? Why do we write like we’re not human beings? We have these two lives. For me it was just a process of over time realizing that this whole other word could inform and elevate the work that I was doing in marketing.

  • Anna

    I love it. So you… Okay, so now you spend your days, after the corporate marketing gig, you now spend your days teaching everybody how to tell stories and storytelling. One of the things that you had mentioned was employee stories and the different stories that are there within organizations and I love that you mentioned multiple stories, because so often today when we do talk about storytelling as a content community, as a marketing community, we talk about sort of one story which is the brand story. But you alluded to multiple different stories and I love that. Help unpack that, because it sounds like we are very focused on one thing when there’s multiple different stories.

  • Kathy

    Yeah. I love that because I agree. It’s such a… I think it’s a myth and I think it’s a disservice. I think it’s hard. If you say our brand story is X and everybody’s trying to constantly come up with new ideas for X, and that’s important. There’s no doubt that that’s important.

  • Anna

    Right.

  • Kathy

    I think ignore these other stories, which are bottoms up, there’s top down, then there’s bottoms up which is the employee experience with X. Maybe the way that that story translates for them and what it means to them in their world is slightly different, and are we letting them tell their stories of their interpretation of that? Are we telling customer stories? Are we telling customers customer’s stories? One step removed in the value chain? Are we telling the story about reinvention? Are we telling stories of rebirth or hey, maybe a product failure. Maybe we released a product and it didn’t do well and maybe we have to tell the story to the market of what we learned from that failure. I don’t think we tell stories of failure enough. We’re not glorifying the failure, but what did we learn from it that can serve our market better? How did it make us better leaders, better listeners?

  • Kathy

    I think there’s so many transition stories, or even the story of we don’t know what we’re going to do. We have to pivot and we don’t know the ending of the story. We’re still writing the story with you. We had to pivot out of this market. It wasn’t working. Now we’re in this other thing and we’re still writing the story with you and you, our customers, we’re taking your feedback to help us figure out the next steps.

  • Kathy

    There’s the to-be-written story and we don’t always have to have these perfect endings. I think there’s all kinds of stories that need to be told and I think we have to stop looking at the brand story as there’s just one story that, “Aaah.”

  • Anna

    Right, the shiny-

  • Kathy

    The shiny object on the hill. It’s like there’s so many of these other stories.

  • Anna

    Yes.

  • Kathy

    And if we could… actually I think it’s liberating because if we can start to say that wow, there’s these other stories, it opens up possibility and that’s a huge thing.

  • Anna

    Totally. To your point to, I think a couple of things that you mentioned 100% in agreement with where I think we’ve all experienced this where we are with a company or with a brand and there’s this beautiful, immaculate story that’s just veneer. But then working there you’re like, “I don’t experience that. That’s not me. That’s not internal. That’s not how we operate. We have a totally different story.” It’s hard for employees to be engaged in that story and be engaged in that company when there’s that disconnect, when it’s just that veneer. But then also to your point about really allowing employees to embrace that story and then share it out as their own.

  • Anna

    Then the other thing you mentioned, sorry, I’m all excited now because you just said so many wonderful things, is about… there’s this tendency for brands to say like, “Okay, this is our story. It’s on paper. It’s official. We’re done.”

  • Kathy

    Yeah.

  • Anna

    But to your point, it’s so refreshing when we see companies who come out and are like, “You know what? We goofed. We screwed up. We heard your feedback. We’re going to evolve and change.” It’s so, you’re right, liberating to see companies continue to evolve.

  • Kathy

    Mm-hmm , yeah. I think the thing we forget is that your story, the big company story, and there’s many stories layered throughout the organization, that story is a living, breathing organism and it evolves. So just because you put it on paper doesn’t mean you can’t…

  • Anna

    Right.

  • Kathy

    Respect the paper everybody, bow to the paper. It’s on paper. It’s like no. It’s like we… if the story isn’t working for people, then change the story. It’s got to serve the people, your customers, the employees, and when there is what we call story gaps and we’ll talk, I know, more about this, that’s one of the gaps I refer to is that when the employees are saying, “That’s not how we experience our brand story,” listen to the people who are telling you bottoms up. You have to have a reconciliation of top down and bottoms up storytelling so it makes sense to the people whose job it is to advocate and to live it everyday. If they’re saying, “Uh-uh. I’m sorry, but that is not our story,” I would worry. I would start to worry because they are the most important champions that have to live it. If employees aren’t happy, ain’t nobody going to be happy. We’ve got to start there.

  • Anna

    Yes, and it has to be believable. For those listening, what would you say are some early indicators, or just even some clear cut signs just off the top of your head that maybe the brand’s story isn’t quite what they think it is? Any sort of gotcha, look for these signs, these are telltale symptoms?

  • Kathy

    You know, sometimes the symptoms are big red flags and sometimes they’re smaller things. I think any time you have a disconnect internally, that is a big red flag. If employees are saying, “We don’t get it.” I’ve seen this happen a lot with acquisitions. In Silicon Valley, where I live, where a big brand will buy a smaller brand for the story, but then that big brand isn’t part of the small story. Then the people who are getting acquired are like, “You bought the story, but you are not… this is not… we are not the same.” That’s a big red flag.

  • Kathy

    And when customers are saying, “No, that’s not our problem,” and you see this a lot where we solve for everybody’s day to day health needs or whatever and customers are like, “No, that’s not what we see you as,” those are some big disconnects. Sometimes it’s more subtle. It can be when you run out of ideas on how to tell a story differently, you probably haven’t delved deep enough and your story isn’t expandable enough and it probably sounds like everybody else’s stories and that’s a disservice.

  • Kathy

    So there’s all these little kind of red flags because storytelling should have all these different facets and if we’re telling them, and here’s a good test, here’s a litmus test. If I were to go to my customer, if I’m Company X and I go to my customer and I say, “All right, introduce me to one of your customers,” and if two layers removed I can see a ripple effect of the work that I had on my customer, that I changed something so profoundly for my customer that it changed the way that they served their customer, and if I can make a link in my story two layers down the food chain, I know that that’s real.

  • Anna

    Wow. I like that.

  • Kathy

    That’s something we don’t do enough of, because if you are fundamentally changing and doing real work to your customer, your customer should be able to have some type of story about how it helped them, then in turn pay that forward, that goodness down the food chain. I don’t think we hold ourselves to these storytelling litmus tests enough. We should, because I’ll be honest with you. I know you’re done, I’m preaching to the choir here. I think I’m just done with these superficial high level stories of I just want world peace. Well that’s Miss America. Who doesn’t want world peace? That’s not your story.

  • Anna

    You know what, I would even argue Miss America has evolved beyond those traditional questions. Some of the questions they get now, I’m like I would have no clue how to answer that in a succinct way in under 30 seconds.

  • Kathy

    Yes.

  • Anna

    Agreed. You know what? This is so amazing and those red flags, I think everybody can start to look for them and really run through that litmus test. Everybody, go ahead and chew on some of those red flags and start to think about your brand’s stories, not just the one story, but the brand stories. We are going to take a super quick break to hear from our sponsors, but when we come back, we are going to hear more from Kathy about some storytelling gaps and some ways that you can get back on the right track and even add to your own toolbox. So everybody stick around. We will be right back.

  • Jay

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  • Jay

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  • Anna

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  • Anna

    Hey everybody, welcome back to the Content Experience Show Podcast. We are here with Kathy and we are talking about so much good storytelling information. This is an exciting episode for me if you all can’t tell.

  • Anna

    So Kathy, before the break, you had said something that piqued my curiosity which was story gaps. Let’s talk about those. First, what exactly are story gaps and why are they so critical for us to watch out for?

  • Kathy

    Story gaps are something I think are easily overlooked. I think we don’t think about them. We talk a lot about gaps and all kinds of expectations and storytelling too has gaps, but they can hurt the credibility of our story because what good stories do is they close the expectations gap and bring everybody into alignment. But it happens. You see story gaps with companies will talk about their story being one thing and customers are like, “Yeah, no.”

  • Kathy

    A really quick example that comes to mind of this is… I did some work for a tech company a few years ago and they were selling themselves as a SaaS hosting solution to Excel. They were selling to accounting and financial teams who spend three out of four weeks every month closing books from the prior month, so they are backward looking because that’s how long it takes to do the accounting for the prior month.

  • Anna

    Right.

  • Kathy

    Imagine your team is spending three quarters of their time closing out historical numbers versus being forward looking about how you can save money. They were selling this and selling this. Excel is too cumbersome, blah, blah, blah and I said, “Here’s the problem. Your customers are saying Excel isn’t broken.” Excel’s not broken. The real issue wasn’t that Excel was broken. The real issue that people really had was time. Time was the big factor. If you can go to a CFO and say, “Look, okay, Excel might not be broken, but what if we can save you 50%, reduce 50% of your time so that your team isn’t just looking backwards, but now they can go through future contracts and save money and be forward looking. What would that do for your bottom line?”

  • Kathy

    When you shifted away from Excel, that’s a story gap. They were selling Excel’s broken, Excel’s broken and telling this story but the customer is saying, “That’s not my problem.” If you’re selling a solution to a problem your customer doesn’t have, you have a story gap. It’s a big, big fundamental thing. Employees have the same thing. I mean, we just talked about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to employees that will come in to do some work with a team and they’ll be like, “Hey, what do you think of our company’s story?” I’ll say, “You know what, more importantly, what do you think? Because you’re the employee.” They’re like, “I don’t… I know what it says on paper, but that is not our experience with the brand.” That is a huge gap. Or worse, I’ve experienced it where you ask everybody in the corporation, you might get different wording, but everybody should sort of have the same vision.

  • Anna

    Right.

  • Kathy

    But if you sit down and you talk to every department, outside of marketing, innovation, HR, whatever, engineering, if everyone’s telling a different story, and I’ve seen this happen, of who you are in the world, you have a story gap because not everybody understands your mission and that’s a huge problem. So these story gaps live everywhere.

  • Anna

    I know. I wish people could see me cringing right now because yeah.

  • Kathy

    Yeah.

  • Anna

    It’s crazy. I love that example that you gave because they weren’t… technically they weren’t wrong. They were selling a product that was different and it could provide service, but it was like the way that it was framed wasn’t right for their audience and the delivery of it wasn’t tailored to meet their needs. So neither party was wrong, but perception is reality.

  • Kathy

    Exactly right. You can have a very solid story but if the story doesn’t frame the way that your customer says to themselves, “Here’s my problem,” and it doesn’t fit into their worldview, it doesn’t matter what your worldview is. What you have to do is map to the customer’s worldview about how they define their challenge. That’s what matters.

  • Anna

    Yeah.

  • Kathy

    You know, it’s just a little bit of tweaking, but it can make all the difference. So you’re right, it’s not about being wrong as much as it is about bringing these worlds into alignment so that they see a solution with what you’re offering.

  • Anna

    Yeah. That’s gorgeous. Who out there today do you think is a really stellar example of a brand that’s telling this 360 story and it’s really three dimensional and there’s multiple different stories? Who are some examples people can look to to say like, “Oh,” and sort of have their light bulbs go off?

  • Kathy

    I think when you can get yourself out of the big story, you have it. I’ll say it again, because nobody cares to buy your stuff. It’s how are you helping free up and change the life of your customer? I think Microsoft, one of the things that… If I were going to say a big company today I would never have said that a few years ago, but I think Microsoft has evolved to be a really compelling storyteller and I would say IBM as well. I’m steeped here in Silicon Valley and I’m not particularly excited about tech, I came out of tech, but what I will say is Microsoft even has a Microsite for stories and what’s so beautiful about it is they are such a minor character, if mentioned in most of the stories. It’s all their customers and what they’ve been able to do, like model 3D, do 3D rendering of cancer cells in the fight for cancer. Oh, and by the way at the very last bullet, oh with Microsoft technology or whatever.

  • Anna

    Yeah.

  • Kathy

    But putting that spotlight on all the cool, amazing things in the world and how they’re reimagining the world through their customer’s lens and I think that’s exactly the right way to do it is you’re looking at the problem the way your customer defines it. I wouldn’t have said that five years ago.

  • Anna

    Yeah.

  • Kathy

    But they’ve come a long way.

  • Anna

    They have. I think too, often within sort of the conference circuit and even just in the content marketing sort of arena, you hear about those two companies specifically really investing in that storytelling and making those leaps, and first they had to recognize that their story wasn’t maybe as compelling as it could be and maybe they weren’t positioning their things in the right light and I feel… Yeah, I totally agree with you. They’ve really made some investments into that storytelling, and not even just financial.

  • Kathy

    Not even financial. They actually are one of the few companies I know of that actually has a chief storytelling officer position.

  • Anna

    Yeah.

  • Kathy

    They actually have a guy who is the chief storytelling officer. I say get yourself a guy or a gal who is a chief storytelling officer and I love that they recognized it’s so important to the work they do, because again, it’s not just about the outbound stories to the market, storytelling has everything to do with if we tell ourselves that the problem is X, then our innovation in our road map is to solve that problem. Stories are input into innovation. Microsoft has recognized that stories change product road maps, they change marketing, they change the way employees engage, so to elevate it to such a status and actually have it recognized that they need somebody to sort of be that story kind of officer I think is really remarkable.

  • Anna

    Yeah, absolutely. That is actually something really remarkable and hopefully something that becomes a larger trend. But until that becomes a larger trend, one of the things that you mentioned at the very beginning of our interview was that you had to pick up and acquire some new tools for your toolbox and one of them was improv and really having to look outside of your existing skillset. What would you recommend to those listening today to really help bolster their own storytelling abilities or their own ability to recognize when stories have gaps and things like that? How can they bolster their toolbox?

  • Kathy

    I think it’s really the more tools outside of your marketing wheelhouse the better. One of the things that improv did for me over multiple decades is really it honed my ability to see a story, to understand what it would look like, to recognize it, how to shape a story, how to bring emotion and emotional resonance into a story, which I think sometimes companies don’t do a good job but on the stage we do, and I’ve learned how to create emotional resonance.

  • Kathy

    I would say get out of the office, read stuff outside of marketing, take your business list and throw it away, or at least don’t rip it up completely but add to it, augment it, read things that you’re interested in. Read science, read art, read music, read whatever books or things outside of your immediate sort of area of application because what it will do is part of what story innovation is is taking ideas that you might not think go together, but you can be inspired by music or by the environment or by whatever is happening in sports and go, “Oh my gosh, you know what? There’s an element of that storytelling that we can use over here in our corporate world.” The more you expose yourself to these different storytelling types and see the way other people are doing such a great job, inspiration lives everywhere. You can bring it into the corporate space so the way you’re going to see what’s out there and be inspired is to expand I think your content and your worldview and what you’re consuming.

  • Anna

    I love it. Yes. There’s something funny that happens when marketers get into a room and we forget what it was ever like to be a consumer and be on the receiving end of those stories. Agreed. Getting back in touch with our consumer side and just being a whole person. Kathy, thank you so much for being on today. This was amazing. Thank you so much for coming on and talking about storytelling. For those who want to connect with you, where is the best way to do so?

  • Kathy

    Sure. You can visit me at keepingithuman.com, my website. You can also LinkedIn with me, I’m at Kathy Klotz-Guest, and also Twitter, kathyklotzguest, so conveniently enough no hyphen in there.

  • Anna

    Hey, awesome. You must have been like early in the days of securing your handle, because I feel like everything, no matter what it is, is gone.

  • Kathy

    It kinda is. Yeah, and hyphens are just… you know. People don’t-

  • Anna

    They don’t work on Twitter.

  • Kathy

    They don’t work. No, no.

  • Anna

    Perfect. All right, well everybody, go follow Kathy right now and check out her website, check out her book same title, Keeping it Human. Then we will be right back. Now that we’ve gotten to know the professional side of Kathy, we are going to get to know the personal side with a fun question, so everybody stick around and we will be right back.

  • Anna

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  • Anna

    Hey everybody, we are back with Kathy and we have a fun question for Kathy. All right, so Kathy, are you ready to put those improv skills to the test?

  • Kathy

    Yes.

  • Anna

    Perfect. All right. If you were to write a different book, obviously not a business book, what genre would it be and what would the narrative arc be?

  • Kathy

    Oh, I would love to do just a life skills book and I’d love to have it be animated, like a cartoon or like a comic book kind of thing.

  • Anna

    Oh.

  • Kathy

    I think like a comic book, yes, I think would be cool. I would love to sort of have these archetypes has heroes and villains, the corporate villain. Everything would be anthropomorphized and it’s sort of how we can sort of deal with life’s… the little things that life throws at us with a much more of an improvisational attitude. But I would want to make sure they were like stock characters and everybody would be like a superhero or a villain and it would be drawn.

  • Anna

    That sounds amazing. It’s almost like… the first thing that popped into my head was almost like Dilbert for like real, real, real life. Like how Dilbert is an exaggeration of life but this is actually the helpful side of that where you’re like, “Oh, I could totally see myself in that.” So where is the Amazon presale link and how can I sign up, because I would totally buy that book right away?

  • Kathy

    Yes. I’ve got to work on it, I’ve got to work on it. But it would be satirical too.

  • Anna

    Yeah.

  • Kathy

    It would be very comical, very over the top. Exactly. It would sort of be like maybe the cartoon version of Dilbert but heightened.

  • Anna

    Yes.

  • Kathy

    I’d want to make our hero maybe a heroine. I’d want to have a female version for us to kind of see ourselves in it and yeah, just everything heightened. It’s like everything that bugs us about the corporate world on this heightened kind of satirical view because I think about some of the work that we do as marketers and we’re always told, like for example, “Go innovate. Don’t do this. We’re risky, we take risks.” Then you talk to the team and they’re like, “We don’t even know how much permission… what does that mean? What can’t… and there’s a gap. There’s a gap where managers in my experience are over optimistic. They’re like, “I don’t know. We create a great environment for everybody to thrive here.” Then you talk to the team and they’re like, “No, no, no.” It would have to have a satirical kind of like comic book about this.

  • Anna

    Yeah. I agree. I think it’s perfect. I feel like one comic strip panel would have to be almost a flashback to cave times where it’s like, “Go create the wheel,” and at the very end it’s like, “No, make it look like this,” and it’s like a wheel. It’s just what they had in their head the whole time, but the person doing it didn’t translate… you know.

  • Kathy

    Exactly.

  • Anna

    That whole classic go do what’s in my brain but I’m not going to tell you how to do it.

  • Kathy

    Oh, all of it. It would be all of that and like the go innovate, get me 20% on the bottom line, don’t break anything, don’t screw up. Now go have fun. Go innovate. And we’re like, “Oh god.”

  • Anna

    Love it. All right, well I hope that actually really does come true now because I would totally buy that. But in the meantime, we will just have to settle for your other book and then of course your tweets and all of your other updates. So Kathy, thank you once again for coming on. Really appreciate having you here. For everybody else who listens to this show, we will be back next week with Randy Frisch joining me again, but do us a favor. We’d love to hear what you think about our podcast. Wherever you listen to this, Stitcher or Apple, Google, wherever you listen to this, please leave us a review, leave us a message. Let us know what you think and what you’d like to hear next. Until next time, this is Anna Hrach from Convince & Convert. We’ll talk to you soon.

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