The power and role of corporate storytelling in business.
Storytelling for brands is the new black. Everyone is talking about it, doing it (yes Nike does), or trying to work out how to do it.
There’s much less focus, however, on the value of corporate storytelling, how storytelling can be applied to the investor relations, corporate affairs and leadership role within listed and private companies
"The stock market can be brutal and unforgiving. It minces no words. But it's arguably the most honest barometer of a company's future prospects. For listed companies, corporate storytelling is about connecting with your audience on an emotional level or personal level and showing investors why they should bet on you." Cary Brazeman
Corporate storytelling has been around for over 10 years, although it’s been slow to gain traction in Australia. I’ve been publishing and writing corporate stories for 30 years, most prompted by an upcoming anniversary or key event, but this too is changing.
Stephen Denning, who wrote The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling in 2005, is seen as the father of the trend. Denning wrote that the leader who saved IBM, the late Louis Gerstner, used storytelling to transform the then-ailing company.
Corporate stories can be powerfully effective in many areas of business, both internally and externally.
Leadership: convey the lessons you have learnt to your staff in an inspiring way.
Internal communications: getting employees to embrace a company’s culture, understand the need for change, even understand the benefits of new systems and processes.
Knowledge sharing: stories of successes and failures within the firm can be rich with lessons.
Brand: stories from the company’s past can bring the brand to life in a convincing way.
Sales: winning over customers. Even a product can be the hero of story.
Creativity: stories can help people to think outside the box.
Web traffic: stories increase the visibility of your site.
No wonder corporate guru Tom Peters wrote in his book Leadership:
‘As I see it, an effective leader, as she makes the rounds of her organisation, must ask one – and only one – question. ‘Got any good stories?’”
Yamini Naidu, who uses storytelling as a key part of her business leadership training, comments that:
‘Leadership is changing dramatically under the influences of technology and globalisation, and leaders who engage their staff get greater productivity. The role of leadership is moving from ‘inform and expect’ to ‘inspire and respect’. The leader’s mandate is to inspire action and storytelling gives them the opportunity to do that.”
Lisa Gray, from NAB is another proponent of business storytelling across many of her leadership roles. Gray says the rising use of business storytelling is because leaders are facing so much ambiguity and complexity.
‘The economy, the customer and the social environment are so dynamic and changing and unpredictable. The old pattern of saying ‘here is the situation and here is what you do about it’ is no longer sufficient.’
Corporate storytelling is more than content and a narrative.
The story goes beyond what’s written in the copy on your website, in your annual report, the text in a brochure or the presentation used to pitch to investors or customers.
If you don’t have a story you are just another commodity – even if you’re an ASX-listed, large company – a replaceable cog in the consumption machine. You have no way to differentiate your brand or your business. Creating a corporate and brand story is not simply about standing out and getting noticed.
- It’s about running your business for the long term and bringing your investors and shareholders along with you in this rather than being at the mercy of quarterly reporting.
- It’s about building something that people care about and want to buy into.
- It’s about thinking beyond the utility and functionality of products and services and striving for the creation of loyalty and meaningful bonds with your investors, customers and clients.
If you want to build a successful, sustainable business you need to harness the power of corporate storytelling. And I have a great example, the book I’ve recently written for Cleanaway.
Cleanaway has deep past (with links to Brambles who started in 1875). While it was formed as a division of Brambles in 1979 it was then sold off in the latter 2000s and went through a tumultuous period of different owners to come out the other end in 2016 under the ASX ticker Cleanaway.
The company’s story is a terrific one and there were three traits that kept recurring: resilience, adaptability and innovation.
Cleanaway’s CEO, Vik Bansal, was clear that he wanted a book that drew on the company’s history, discovered and articulated its enduring traits and linked these with its future.
The book was given to every member of the Cleanaway team and forms a key part of
Vik’s engagement with management and staff, of sharing the company’s story and bringing them into the story its building now.
If you’re thinking about how you can capture your business story, contact me. I’d be delighted to chat with you, understand your goals and discuss how a story can help you achieve them.