Old tricks —

For many thousands of years our ancestors lived and died in a world where virtually nothing changed. Where knowledge, ideas and new ways of thinking were an almost imperceptible trickle. Compare this to our current world where computer power is doubling every eighteen months and fibre bandwidth, the backbone of the internet, is doubling its capacity in half that time.

Such technological wizardry is rapidly outpacing our ability to absorb the resulting information. For businesses looking to get attention amongst the ever-increasing information clutter, we often suggest that clients take a step back from sophistication towards their hairy forebears. If the aim is to communicate a distinctive back-story and make an emotional connection with your market, which it generally is, then the age-old art of storytelling is well worth considering.

Storytelling is the world’s oldest tool of influence. Rich in myths and metaphor, stories were used as highly effective ways of conveying deeper human truths. For young and old, they were, and in many cultures still are, highly effective in forming attitudes about any number of things. People are generally receptive to good stories and recall is always strong. By engaging hearts as well as minds, stories have the capacity to open up people to a different future; to fresh perspectives on just about anything you care to name.

So what are the basic requirements of a good story? Firstly, you need to capture reader interest with something that is a bit out of the ordinary. But not so different that it lacks relevance. And it must have a ring of truth for the audience. It should be person-oriented; in other words have a central figure that you can empathise with. The problem that communications too often have is that they attempt to convey information with no emotion. A good engaging story contains an emotional hook to draw you in and retain your interest in the story.

Good business stories differ from the sort of stories you might expect in a novel. Rather than being complex and multi-layered, they are distilled and relatively simple. Many organisations can’t resist the temptation to tell the world that “We are great at this” or “We have the best of that.” Stories need to take the audience view, however, not the company’s.

Organisational stories may appear random. They are anything but random. They follow a careful matrix which relates stories to the logical points throughout the company where the brand can be favourably or unfavourably impacted by attitudes and behaviour. The stories also mirror the company’s values. In this way, a consistency of message is achieved in all story-based communication. And you can’t afford to overlook the internal audience. It’s a simple fact that the internal culture of your organisation can make or break your brand. So stories should also recognise the valuable contribution that employees make to the company.

We live in a visual world where images are often the things that first capture our attention. For written stories accompanied by photographs, it’s essential to have engaging, high quality photographs to induce the audience to read the story. So don’t hire the local wedding photographer. Get a good professional photographer and you’ll have great images you can do a lot with. Every organisation has a reservoir of good stories if you look close enough. They’re a bit like truffles; hard to find but worth the effort (and you can dispense with the pig).