Eight Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Story
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
Does your company have a story? If not, it should. Moreover, you should put that story in writing and share it so that everyone knows the story. If you do not do it, someone else will. In a worst case scenario, that someone will be a journalist with an attitude problem or an unhappy customer or a disgruntled ex-employee who tells a terrible story about you in social media.
The story does not need to be your history from the beginning − although that could indeed be the basis of the story. It could be a story that starts at a recent merger or with the launch of a product that changed the company. The important thing is that the story defines and gives meaning to your company. It helps people to understand why you exist and what drives the company.
Here are eight reasons why you should write down your business story.
1. Your company story gives meaning to your work
Would you rather work in a faceless, bureaucratic company, performing seemingly meaningless tasks in hopes of maintaining your job and getting a decent monthly salary; or would you prefer to work in a company founded by an idealistic woman with a dream of building a diagnostic tool that runs on mobile phones so doctors in developing countries and disaster regions can more readily detect infections; a company which is facing challenges from the big pharma companies? I expect most of us would prefer to work in the latter business. Working for a company with a story gives your work more meaning and a stronger purpose than working for a company without a story.
2. A story clarifies the strategic vision
I trust your company has a strategic vision. But how well is it understood by employees, customers and stakeholders? A company story puts your strategic vision in context and gives it meaning. Sharing the company story enables employees, customers and stakeholders not merely to know your strategic vision, but to understand it. That means everyone is likely to be running towards the same goal.
3. Your story focuses your innovation
When your colleagues know your organisation's story story, they focus on developing ideas that further the story rather than ideas that detract from the story. As a result, their ideas are more relevant, more likely to be implemented and more likely to succeed. That is what innovation is all about.
4. It establishes values
When your corporate values are a part of your story, your people respect those values more than if those values are on page 112 or a company handbook no one has read in full since the late 1980s.
Your story should also communicate your values to your customers, your suppliers and the public, all of whom will respect you more for upholding those values.
Ben and Jerry's, the ice cream maker, has a well known story that reflects their values. Now, can you imagine a Ben & Jerry's sales manager bribing an Ministry of Education official in order to win an exclusive contract to sell over-priced ice cream in schools in a developing country? No, neither can I. On the other hand it is not so hard to imagine a sales manager in a large, anonymous and storyless conglomerate offering a bribe for such a contract, especially if the manager expected a fat commission in exchange for the dishonest transaction.
5. It makes presentations more interesting
The usual corporate presentation is a boring selection of slides full of financial charts, bullet points and the occasional stock photo of employees who look far healthier, happier and better looking than the employee giving the presentation.
A corporate presentation that starts with a good story, on the other hand, could actually be interesting. Indeed, it probably would be. Everyone loves a good story and if you take the time to craft a good story about your company, you will ensure your corporate presentations become far more interesting.
6. It makes documentation more interesting
Likewise, annual reports, web sites, brochures and the founder's biography are all more interesting if they include a corporate story rather than a list of facts and figures. Even if you need to include those facts and figures, such as in an annual report, the story makes the facts and figures more meaningful.
7. It defines a path for marketing communications
Most marketing communications is little more than bland product and corporate hype. Advertising tends to be forgettable attempts to make a particular product stand out from the rest. But, when you have a great story, advertising can use the story to make your brand seem more meaningful.
Better still, a great story can make people want you to win. When that is the case, marketing communication becomes almost easy.
8. Your customers and stakeholders can identify with it
Customers prefer to buy from companies they identify with. And it is easier to identify with a company that has a meaningful story than a company that is little more than a collection of products and statistics. Better still, customers are likely to become loyal to your brand if they can relate to your story. Likewise, investors get more excited about companies with stories. Venture capitalists are more likely to put money into interesting stories and suppliers understand your needs better if they know your story.
Writing your story
By now, I hope you are so impressed you are already starting to write your organisation's story. If so, you are probably discovering that writing your company story is not as easy a task as it may seem. A good story has a beginning, a middle (where you probably are now) and an end that, in the case of you story, has yet to be written, is hopefully in the very distant future and will include a bit about everyone living happily ever after.
However, great stories are not only about good and happy people who face no hardships, threats or challenges. Such stories would be boring! Think about the novels, films and stories that you enjoy. They include heroes with tragic flaws that destroy, or nearly destroy the hero and sometimes her world. They include great villains.
Usually, the hero overcomes her flaws and the evil intents of the villain. She grows, learns and becomes stronger for the experience.
Your hero(es) might be the company founders, a more recent leader or the company itself. Your villain could be a competitor, the economy or change. There can be more than one villain and more than one threat.
Nevertheless, the story should be short, concise and memorable. It should not be your entire history, but just a sense of what your company is and why it exists.
Once you have the story in writing, start sharing it and see how well it rolls off your tongue, whether it interests others or inspires yawns. If need be, refine the story and share it some more.
And don't worry. Your story is not forever. You can change the story and even create a new story if the future demands it.
Want some help?
If you want a little help putting your company story into words, get in touch. I can help you write the story as well as provide guidance in using the story in communications, innovation and marketing. Learn more here or contact me to talk about your story.
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