Every Business Has A Story To Tell
Everybody likes a good story and why not? Stories are entertaining, instructive, engaging, and above all human; they connect people to people, and businesses to customers. Stories are about communication and communication is the essence of marketing.
We have at our disposal the greatest communication tool the world has ever known, the Internet, and we are wasting it. Websites are used as if they were corporate brochures. The so-called experts would even have us remove its visual and kinetic elements, and turn it into an academic-style journal. We’ve been there and done that. Search engine optimization is great, but who is going to go to your website if it’s boring to view, and tedious to operate. It’s time to move on.
A Communication Venue For The Rest of Us
The Web is a multimedia communication venue, and with increased bandwidth and high speed connections we can use it effectively deliver our marketing messages. But communication is a funny thing, just because we talk, write, and present information, doesn’t mean we are communicating.
Since I am advocating storytelling as a means of delivering your marketing messages, I will illustrate my point – you guessed it – with a story. In his book ‘Information Anxiety’, Richard Saul Wurman relates the following story attributed to U.S. Representative Pat Swindall, of Georgia.
“A woman seeking a divorce went to visit her attorney. The first question he asked her was, ‘Do you have grounds?’
She replied, ‘Yes, about two acres.’
‘Perhaps I’m not making myself clear,’ he said, ‘Do you have a grudge?’
‘No, but we have a carport,’ she responded.
‘Let me try again. Does your husband beat you up?’ he said impatiently.
‘No, generally I get up before he does,’ she said.
At this point the attorney decided to try a different tack. ‘Ma’am, are you sure you really want a divorce?’
‘I don’t want one at all, but my husband does. He claims we have difficulty communicating.'”
It’s a great story; it delivers everything a good story should communicate: a appoint-of-view, information, emotion, and truth about the human condition. The only thing that would make this story more effective is if it was delivered by a human voice that could add character, emphasis, and personality.
Marketing is nothing more than telling your story in an effective way that embeds your identity into the minds of your audience, connecting and communicating who you are, what you do, and why your audience should be doing it with you. Branding and positioning are the results, not the process.
So Tell Me A Story – It’s All In the Delivery
One of the great storytellers of the last forty years is radio broadcaster and commentator, Paul Harvey. In his hay-day he had everything a great storyteller needed to make a memorable impression: the voice, the cadence, the attitude, the writing, and the ‘schtick’.
He presented his commentaries as if he was reading the newspaper, even, reading off the page numbers when he came back from commercial, “Page Two”. He would craft his stories by introducing the listener to a character in the most casual way, perhaps by referring to him or her by a diminutive first name. By the end of the story, he would tell you who this person really was and invariably it was someone famous, and the story he told revealed something unusual or hidden in this person’s background. Each story had a strong point-of-view, and each commentary was ended with the tag line, “…and now you know the rest of the story.” Paul Harvey’s little radio commentaries are a quintessential example of SonicPersonality.
“Content is Not Communication”
Web experts are always talking about ‘content’ and how ‘content is king’ on the Web, but as Curt Cloninger wrote in his article ‘A Case for Web Storytelling’ “content is not communication”.
Content just lies there until it is delivered in some proactive manner, and plain text content on your website is as far from proactive as you can get. Stories must be communicated effectively if you want to deliver your intended message. Left alone, your audience will scan, skip, misinterpret and generally overlook the point you are trying to convey. The only effective way to make sure your audience doesn’t misconstrue the message of your story is to deliver it in a human voice: one with character, cadence, accent, language, and an attitude that represents who you are. A story well told creates expectations and relevance; it creates image and identity, and it focuses on the business promise you must fulfill.
Fakers Need Not Apply
As good as your storyteller is, he or she cannot overcome a fake. You must be honest to who you are, and what you really do. Every business has a character, and an operational ethos. Trying to communicate a message that conflicts with that corporate character is a prescription for failure. Apple and Dell are both good companies, but Apple Computer is cutting-edge; Dell is not. Walmart and The Gap are both successful companies, but The Gap is cool and Walmart is Walmart. No matter how hard a company tries, they can’t be something they are not, and trying can only create false expectations, confusion and failure.
A Blueprint for Creating Your Brand Story
Whether you write the story yourself, or you hire someone to write it for you, you must first gather the necessary material. The easiest way to collect material is to create a series of questions that when answered reveal the Brand Story. Think of the process as an interview.
The Brand Story Interview
- What was the original vision of the company?
- Who were the company’s founding fathers?
- How was the company started?
- What was the guiding entrepreneurial philosophy?
- Is there a creative genius or technical wizard behind your vision?
- What is the big idea behind your product or service?
- What does your product or service do for your target audience?
- Does your vision rely on quality, cost, or uniqueness of your products, services, knowledge or delivery system?
- Has your focus changed since the company was founded?
- What is your vision for the future?
Once the material is collected it must then be put into story form. You are not writing an academic paper, nor are you creating ad copy. You are telling a story, and as such, it should be written as a story. If as suggested you’re delivering the story using audio, you should write it for the spoken word and not for print. There are a variety of multimedia styles that can be used ranging from the radio commentary style of Paul Harvey to the PBS documentary style of Ken Burns featuring accompanying graphics and photography.
Example Of Spoken Word Storytelling:
It’s Not Just The Story, It’s How You Tell It
If you’ve ever tried to tell a joke you heard from a professional comedian and messed it up, you know how important the telling of a story is. It’s not just the words; it’s the rhythm, cadence, accent, intonation, point-of-view, and attitude that makes the story funny, memorable, interesting, or instructive.
Our articles entitled ‘The Sound of Business’ go into detail on how the concept of SonicPersonality delivers marketing messages and Brand Stories in a compelling, inventive, entertaining, and memorable way. It explains the power of the human voice and the necessity of integrating it into your website.
The Medium Is the Message
It is hard to believe that there are any companies of any size or sophistication that don’t have a website, but it is even harder to understand how so many companies with websites, have no idea what the Web is.
The Web is typically described in technical terms, but in fact the Web is merely a venue designed for communication, a place where conversations take place, where information is exchanged, and where transactions are conducted. If you can accept the idea that the Web exists to further your communication efforts, then it stands to reason that delivering your story is your website’s ‘raison d’etre’. And without the sound of the human voice, the delivery of emotional connective content, and the conveyance of clever, interesting, useful, entertaining, and compelling stories, the Web is an wasteland, an uncommunicative environment of random confusion.