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Marcus Mitchell
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Story time

Businesses telling stories to connect with people through sponsorship, ads and face-to-face in sales pitches is timeless. What’s different today is that the benchmark for strong brands is the ability for the brand itself to inspire and be part of that story telling.

The narrative gap

Everyone working with a brand, whether it's established or newly minted needs a ‘toolkit’ of parts to communicate consistently with it and bring it to life. The pieces in the ‘toolkit’ on top of a name, logo and digital assets, are tools such as a core thought (what the brand stands for in a simple statement), visual style (the look and feel that works with the logo and complements it), tone of voice and key messages - typically found all sitting together on an intranet / extranet hub or in a guideline.

The messaging is usually in the form of a brand story, or a narrative articulating the corporate strategy, vision or mission that was the driver for the original brand launch or last brand refresh. This messaging may have provided enough fuel for initial communications and engagement. Sooner or later it becomes out of date and often isn't sufficient to satisfy the ongoing pressure for content creation across the business, and after the launch and roll-out, to drive longer term communications and employee engagement efforts.

This is the narrative gap many businesses and communicators then face when they pick up the metaphorical ‘toolkit’. How does everyone keep telling new, fresh, brand-related stories in employee engagement, external communications, content creation, recruitment and employee advocacy?

The power of story telling

People engage with stories because humans have always been social creatures. We use stories to explain and give events meaning. We share values with them. We excite people about plans (and visions) with stories because they can see themselves in the flow of a story.

Good stories are always a blend of logic and magic. This applies just as much in the business environment – a Hollywood producer who became a big sports franchise owner neatly put it:

Stories put all the key facts into an emotional context. The information in a story doesn’t just sit there as it would in a logical proposition.

– Peter Guber

Businesses as story tellers

Business brands can be good story tellers, but they face challenges. The topics may be worthy, but are not always naturally newsworthy, entertaining or engaging as the stories mainstream consumer product and service brands tell. Two excellent examples that have spawned many successful examples.

  • GE - The strapline ’Imagination at work’ doesn’t do justice to the story telling work they do to build their brand and corporate reputation. Their stories are better described as innovation with passion. They consciously target technology and science ‘geeks’ in influencer and general public audiences - and have been doing this since well before 'the geek' was on trend.This gives everyone across the conglomerate the permission to tell stories and create content around innovation with energy and emotion. They not only weave human and personal elements in, but also experiment in social media, for example using Instagram to celebrate their products and technology, building a following of 300,000. In turn this supports their strategic messaging around the mission to ”usher in the next industrial era”.
    For more on this read what GE’s director of global marketing, Linda Boff, said about their approach last year.
  • IBM - The ‘Smarter planet’ concept: although now retired, this drove many IBM campaigns and content for over five years. Not only as a tagline and through ad campaigns, it was developed as a platform to create a red thread through the way IBM talked about (and told stories) in thought leadership, employee engagement and their employee’s social media.

    A simple idea, connecting IBM’s offer with wider social and environmental benefits, that everyone from an employee to a marketing agency could work with. It worked as an excellent precursor to what is now the familiar focus on big data, at the time it gave IBM a distinctive, relevant and positive way about what IBM could do for its customers.

Campaign-ability and story-ability

The acid test for a good brand, and its toolkit, is the extent to which they are sustainable over the long term and give a business a level of self-sufficiency in its internal and external communications. Do they give people across the business the confidence and ability to create campaigns beyond launch, and to keep on telling stories that are true to the brand and are in line with communication priorities?

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