Telling Your Company Story
Story telling has been a popular topic in exhibiting over the last several years. I’ve used the term myself when talking with clients. And I do agree that when we are designing a space we have a story to communicate. But I also caution our clients that you need to be savvy as to what story you are telling. You have to sort out what story you want to tell about your company.
When my kids were little we did our fair share of reading stories. Now, we’ve got to make something very clear, though. When I would read stories, we couldn’t just read the story. We had different characters and they needed voices, right? In fact, we have sounds and experiences going on in these books that need the full life pulled right off the pages! So story time in our house was … well, kinda’ epic. (Seriously, the “B” Book was pretty spectacular, and the moose page on It’s Not Easy to Be a Bunny was the stuff Oscars are made of.)
But something was sort of fun along the way. Every now and again I would try reading a book a little different than I had the first time. I mean, Green Eggs and Ham sort of needed a fresh face, y’know? But without fail, if I didn’t do the story the way we were all used to the kids would stop me. “No daddy. Read it right.” I’d start again, and I’d do it closer to what was “normal” for us but still change a voice. The kids would get nearly mad. “Daddy!! Do it the right way!”
Now, my reading skills were on par with most people my age. So I knew they didn’t mean I was getting the words wrong, and at three years old they had no room to talk on inflection and annunciation. I was turning all of the pages at the right place, so that couldn’t be a problem. And, while tempting, I certainly hadn’t re-drawn the pictures. What was I doing wrong? I was telling the story, but by sabotaging the characters we had infused, it suddenly wasn’t the right story. I had changed the entire story by changing the tone. And while it wasn’t technically wrong, I was not telling them the story they wanted to hear.
Now let’s apply this in our organizations storytelling. You see, many of us dive straight to the “elevator speech” we’ve practiced. Or maybe, we use the summary mission statement. If you are an owner or an executive with a long history, you probably have a huge emotional investment in the culture that makes up your organization. Hard work, sweat, a few tears and even literal blood may have been poured into your organization. And you have this fantastic commitment to some key distinctives that are the cornerstone of what keeps this business such a successful venture.
But, what if that isn’t the same reason that your best clients tend to buy from you?
In the early days of Coca-Cola, it was heralded as a tonic. Refreshing yes, but also containing the “properties of the wonderful Coca plant” that could relieve mental and physical exhaustion. Some ads would go as far as to say it was a treatment for a headache. But fast forward to today. In an age where we know that Coca-Cola doesn’t exactly fit in the category of “health food,” sales are still climbing. People are still consuming Coca-Cola, but not as the tonic it was originally touted to be. In fact, even the “cool refreshment” the ads of the 40s and 50s promised have gone away. Today, Coca-Cola promises us happiness. It still refreshes, but the reason buyers still pick up Coca-Cola is as much a lifestyle message as it is taste.
Like my kids wanted to hear the story that they came to accept as the genuine message, the buyers of Coca-Cola have defined the brand that they want to buy over time. Coca-Cola is able to drive some of that message, but they have to make accommodation to why their buyers are buying and meet on some common ground to continue the sales growth and brand status they want. As Marty Neumeier says in The Brand Gap, “Your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” And what would happen if Coca-Cola decided to ignore the brand persona that their buyers have taken to heart? We already know that … Google “New Coke.” It didn’t go well.
So how do you take your company mission and the “About Us” page of your website, and make that meet your buyers? First, try to put yourself on the other side of the table. If you can, have a good “out of company” experience. Try to see your company through your buyers’ eyes. See if you can identify with the key benefits that your customers see. Better yet, if you can conduct a study of the customers who buy from you and see what the top three reasons they buy from you are - that’s a huge win. It doesn’t have to be fancy at all. Don’t worry if the data you get back isn’t Harvard Business Review quality, that’s not your goal. Early on, you just want the perspective shift so you can see that key story...the story the people most likely to buy from you want to hear.
Then, take that story to your shows and try it out.