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
Voyage and Return
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.
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.
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.
Read more: What is Your Corporate Character?
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