Corporate Storytelling: The Art of Controlling the Narrative
In the age of pervasive media and information overload, it’s more important now than perhaps ever before to have ace communicators on your side. When it comes to rising above the noise, creative communications is a distinct advantage. Given all of this, the emergence of corporate storytelling should be unsurprising.
And yet relatively few companies naturally embrace storytelling as the powerful communications tool it clearly is. There is a good reason that human beings throughout history have used stories to explain concepts, pass down information, and yes, entertain themselves.
Story is the paint that brings words (and numbers) to life.
While marketers have been employing corporate storytelling to engage with consumers and develop brand narratives for decades, it’s time to expand the discussion beyond the marketing department. All of an organization’s stakeholders: customers, employees, vendors, investors, partners, and competitors tell some part of the story.
It’s clear that your organization’s value is more than just numbers and the right narrative can convey this. But the challenge is to get all of these stakeholders on the same page and communicating the story that you want to tell.
So where should you start and what are key elements to consider as you construct the right narrative?
Start with what you like in a good story.
Think about the last great book or article you read. Or think about the last great movie or TV show you watched. It could be fiction or nonfiction. What made it so compelling? What kept you reading or binge watching? Why did you feel invested?
For me, there are three main elements to a captivating story: a compelling, yet relatable plot; intriguing characters with interesting backstories of their own; and a bit of a risk…that element of the unknown that keeps me flipping pages. Of course, the real art of storytelling is in how masterfully the writer weaves these elements together.
Obviously, there are huge differences between writing the “Great American Novel” and compiling your company’s annual report. Still, just as you are invested in reading your favorite book, you want all of your stakeholders to be invested (some literally) in the success of your company. Keep in mind that every communication with stakeholders is an opportunity to strengthen the connection.
How to apply these elements to corporate storytelling:
Compelling and relatable plot: This is the big one. Ask yourself and your team: What is the most compelling storyline for your organization? Hint: it’s more than your earnings per share, sales growth, or funds raised. It’s what makes your organization different from the one next door.
This is your “hook.” Start with your company’s vision for the future. Add in your corporate strategy. Then layer in some key metrics and milestones to help your investor follow along and you’re well on your way.
Considering that you are asking investors to trade on future value, it should feel natural to talk in these terms. But the biggest benefit to building in a compelling plot is that it forces you take a step back from the minutiae and put the data in more relatable terms.
Intriguing Characters: This is possibly the most important element of any story and your corporate story is no exception. Our cast of characters starts with our leading men and women—C-suite execs. But just as important is the supporting cast, who add depth and diverse voices to the mix.
It’s important to have your C-suite front and center, as the face of the company. They are the personification of your organization’s credibility and commitment to shareholders, customers and employees.
But consider highlighting (with appropriate training!) other key employees (e.g., CTO, Cybersecurity Team Lead, key salespeople). Whenever possible give those with the talent and interest a platform to demonstrate the depth of your “bench” using thought leadership pieces, investor days, industry events, or special webinars.
Finally, don’t forget to give your competition a role to play. But remember that they don’t have to play the villain! In fact, it’s safer not to peg them in that role. While angel investors won’t usually invest in competing companies, with public companies it’s common for shareholders to invest in several stocks in the same industry for diversification.
Risk/Element of the Unknown: This element is the trickiest one for corporate storytelling. Suffice it to say, if your company’s narrative arc resembles the plot of Get Out (no spoilers!) in any way, it’s time to revise. Save the suspense.
Still, stories can help people cope with change. If your organization happens to be in a transitional phase, a credible and accurate story can put things in perspective. Fear of the unknown can be worse than reality. So, a coherent story can infuse a level of calm into an otherwise seemingly chaotic situation.
During these periods of unknown risk and an uncertain future, it’s important to return to the fundamentals. If one of your organization’s values is protecting the environment, but when the chips are down, you are perceived as sacrificing green initiatives in favor of larger profits, that hurts your credibility.
If you hire veterans and support military families, but your CEO has proposed cuts to corporate programs that benefit these groups, investors will notice the inconsistency in your storyline. Again, everything depends on finding the right story and getting all the key stakeholders onboard.
Corporate storytelling is a powerful tool for increasing understanding, credibility and the all-important trust factor. The more intangible values that can’t be neatly plotted on a histogram or represented by a formula in a spreadsheet are part of your story.
Everyone loves a great story and your corporation has a great story to tell. Audacia Strategies would be honored to help you develop your corporate narrative. Contact us today and let’s put pen to paper.
Photo credit: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo
Great article. Thanks!!!
Glad you like it!
Nice article. A great reminder that people are not passionate (necessarily) about metrics and data but the story you tell. Metrics are nice, but it’s the picture you paint that can capture the hearts and minds.
Thanks, Scott. Ideally, the story will also drive more engagement, better understanding, and even improved valuation. All worth measuring… correctly!
This is a great topic! Painting a picture (or telling a story) of why your company’s services/products are relative to today’s market is key to getting buy-in (from all stakeholders) for the long-term. Thanks for highlighting.
Thanks, Barbara. Your comment about achieving buy-in from all stakeholders is right on. Different stakeholders have different areas of focus but the right communication vehicle (story) can tie them together and offer a comprehensive and engaging picture.