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Why You Need To Build A Story-Driven Business

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

What drives our desire to get better at telling the story of our products, services and companies? We’re used to thinking of story as a way to create and communicate value. We know the running shoe with a tick on the side is more valuable than the one without because of the expectations and meaning we have attached to the story of the Nike brand. And who doesn’t want their company to be more meaningful and valuable?

What we really want from our story, though, goes beyond the need to be better known, sell more stuff or make more money. We are yearning for a deeper understanding of what we’re here to do and the difference it might be possible to create. The story, not of what is, but what’s at stake and what could be is what drives our desire to succeed.

The most inspired entrepreneurs and successful organisations know how important and powerful understanding the significance of your story can be. What drives Elon Musk, for example, is not building more cars for the sake of selling more cars. Tesla Motors and SolarCity (the energy company Musk is Chairman of) exist to ‘accelerate the advent of sustainable energy’.

If someone were to ask you to tell them the story of your business you’d likely explain what you make, who you serve, where and how long you’ve been doing it. It’s unlikely you’d begin by telling them why any of it matters in the grand scheme of things (even though it does). What’s at the heart of your story? What’s the reason you got out of bed this morning? It isn’t just pride in the product you made, the need to launch the website you coded or the hope of selling the service you designed. It’s the deep desire to change someone or something you care about changing and the belief that it’s possible.

The intended impact of your work on the world and in the lives of the people it touches is where your story begins.

Elon Musk knows what he’s setting out to do over the next ten years because he and his companies are built on a story-driven business framework. Their vision of a sustainable energy economy which helps to avert the collapse of civilisation is the reason they are setting out to;
‘Create stunning solar roofs with integrated battery storage, expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments, develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual and enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.’


1. PURPOSE: Why we exist.
2. VISION: Where we’re headed.
3. VALUES: The beliefs that guide us on that journey.
4. PLAN: How we will deliver on the vision while staying true to our values.

When your business or organisation is story-driven, it’s grounded in a framework of purpose, vision and values that inspire commitment, create momentum and lead to a solid plan for achieving success. This enables you to adapt in times of change because you understand that your story is bigger than the scene that’s playing out in the moment.

What’s driving your story?

Image by NRMA

You WILL Have Unhappy Customers

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

Unhappy customers are a bit of an Achilles heel of the committed entrepreneur, business owner or leader. When you’re working hard to build a business and do meaningful work the last thing you want to hear is that you haven’t met the mark. You can find thousands of practical, stay calm, listen, sympathise, don’t take it personally and solve the problem type articles and advice online. But skillfully dealing with the complaint isn’t the hard part. The more challenging thing to cope with and attend to is our visceral reaction to criticism.

The unhappy customer lays his story at our feet, and we hastily pick it up, place it on our shoulders and carry it around with us. Yes, sometimes our products or services fall short, sometimes we get it wrong even when we’re doing our best. We should always apologise for failing to meet expectations and do what we can to resolve the problem. What we must also do is recognise that often the customer’s fear, anger, remorse or disappointment has less to do with a bad experience and more to do with what’s going on in his life right now.

You WILL have unhappy customers, no matter how caring and diligent you are. There is no way to avoid the pain of this fact. That one in a hundred customer who calls you out is the price you pay for the privilege of getting up to do the work again another day.

So yes, take responsibility for your mistakes and fix the things you can fix—while remembering there are some things you have no way of making good. You are not obliged to own the weight of your customer’s circumstances or worldview. You have an obligation to get back on track for the other ninety-nine customers you hope to serve and delight. Some of the greatest lessons unhappy customers can teach us are not about improving systems, processes and logistics, which in the end are easily fixed. The important learnings are about ourselves, and our resilience and determination to do good work and make a difference to the people we get the chance to serve again tomorrow and the day after that.

Image by FFCU.

Why You Need An If-Then Storytelling Strategy

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

It was a slow Thursday evening at the iconic sportswear store. There were more sales assistants than customers silently wandering through the displays across polished black tiles. Alan decided to approach a customer who had just picked up a premium shoe, turning it over to check out the price.

‘Can I help you?’ he said.
‘No, I’m just looking, thanks.’ she replied.
‘It would be good to get out of those Nikes. Have your tried our SuperBOOST shoes?’ said Alan.
‘No.’ said the customer, as she hastily put the shoe back.
‘They’re really comfortable and last longer.’ Alan said to the customer as she started to walk away.

We would never say half of the things we say or ask many of the questions we ask if we stopped for a second to think how the customer was likely to respond. What if instead of following a script that leads us to a dead end, we anticipated where our questions would lead the customer? We know that 99% of the time the response to, ‘Can I help you?’, will be, ‘No.’ So how can we do better?

An if-then storytelling strategy invites us to be more empathetic towards the customer and more discerning with our questions.

If the customer is browsing for more than a few minutes, then I will ask how I can help.
If the customer is looking at running shoes, then I will ask her what kind of training she does.
If the customer picks up an item, then I will ask her if she’d like to try her size.
If the customer asks for her size, then I will try getting to know more about what she needs from her shoes.

Better brand stories, marketing and sales conversations always start with understanding what unmet need or unspoken desire brought the customer to us, rather than with our need to say something when it’s convenient.

Image by Amira A.

The Right Words

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

When we have a message to communicate, we obsess over finding the right words. Which copy will convert better? How can we construct the perfect offer that draws people in?

What we lose in our attempt to optimise the words is the ability to create a deeper more lasting connection with the reader, user or customer. We forget that we’re not just in the business of trying to win a sale today, but that we’re aiming to build a relationship that sustains both the people we hope to serve and ourselves.

Yesterday a note arrived in the letterbox from our wonderful local council. They’re resurfacing the road and repairing the pavement on our street next week, and of course, there will be disruptions. The note addressed to owner/occupier, goes straight into the project details, time frame, parking and access. It ends with a warning that vehicles parked will be towed and an apology for any inconvenience caused. What a missed opportunity not simply to inform, but to deepen connections with people in the community.

The whole tone of the message could be flipped on its head by positioning as something to celebrate.

‘We’re delighted to let you know we’re starting work on improving your street next week. No more potholes! Obviously, this will mean some disruption and inconvenience for a few days, but we hope you’ll think it’s worth it when you cycle down the brand spanking new road. Here’s what you need to know and how you can help.’

What we say might get people’s attention, but how we say it changes not only what they think, but how they feel and act. It’s worth considering how you want people to feel after they’ve read or heard your message, not just about what you want them to do next.

Image by Hans Splinter.

The Shortcut To The Sale

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

Yesterday I watched a woman squirm as she was being upsold two post-treatment skincare products priced at $300 by her beauty therapist. Think about the context here. She’d just spent an hour with the therapist, giving her permission to ask questions others can’t ask and allowing her to touch parts of her others never see. The client’s vulnerability is laid bare in a treatment room. This is a high trust situation. The therapist leaves her to dress and then meets her outside waiting to take payment—this is when the switch happens.

“These are the two post-treatment creams I want you to use. They will accelerate the results of your treatment today.” the therapist says, sliding two sleek boxes, minus price tags across the counter towards the client. It’s embarrassing to ask the price of the creams or to admit she’s not sure she wants them, especially when they are positioned as required and not optional. Yes, the therapist had permission, she earned the privilege to speak to the customer—then she promptly went and abused it, betraying all the trust she had worked so hard to obtain.

Even us marketers sometimes find marketing slightly distasteful because we know we’re not always doing things that are in the customer’s best interests—things we’re not proud to have done. We know in our heart of hearts when we’re treating people in ways we would find disingenuous, irritating or embarrassing if the shoe were on the other foot. And yet we take the shortcut to the sale instead of the long way round to mattering.

Like the two-sided coin, every moment is an opportunity to choose the right thing over the easy thing. If you’re reading this I know which one you’re shooting for.

Image by Mislav Marohnić.