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How to Create a Corporate Storytelling Model

At GEM, we have a mantra about our clients: Successful companies use communications to drive operations, and not the other way around.

How to Create a Corporate Storytelling Model

Posted Thursday March 09th, 2017 by in Analysis + Strategy.

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Honest to Greatness: Capitalizing on the Millennial Mindset in Business.

At GEM Advertising, we have a mantra about our clients: Successful companies use communications to drive operations, and not the other way around. Most brands think about the operations of a company as separate and apart from the communications strategy (i.e., let’s make this product or service and then figure out how to sell it). On the contrary, exceptional brands blend communications and operations into a seamless organization. To that effect, the following exercise will help you understand and capitalize on the millennial mindset when it comes to communications and marketing.

Start with a blank whiteboard (or blackboard if you want to be traditional!), and write out all of the operational workflows of your brand. Where do your products and services come from? How do you manage people, processes and products? How and where do customers interact with your brand, from awareness to trial to customer service and advocacy? When you step back and look at all of the areas of your business – from ideation to manufacturing to customer service and sales – what you have is a beautiful web of human stories. Your leaders have stories. Your teams have stories. Your partners and vendors have stories. Your customers certainly have stories. If you begin to think of each of your operational elements as a storytelling opportunity, a robust content marketing plan will emerge, just like the one we discovered from path-to-purchase modeling. Your processes, your people, and your stories comprise all the marketing messaging you need to communicate your brand to the world in a transparent, authentic, and successful way.

Think about what this corporate storytelling strategy does to reach, attract and retain millennials both within and outside of your business. From what we've learned in previous chapters, your new model achieves many objectives at once: First, you’re starting with human interest as the core of your strategy. People respond to and remember stories about other people. So, check. Then, you’re being honest and transparent about the way you do business, while simultaneously educating consumers about what they’re buying. Double-whammy check. Then, you’re communicating about what other people want, not about what you want. Wait, are you? Yes, you are. You might not want to expose your inner-workings, especially if you’re a bit old-school about the way you do business (I’m not here to judge, and we’re going to work on it together!). But, think about your own personal habits – think about a product you love. Would you be interested in going behind-the-scenes and learning more about how that company does business? Who doesn’t love a behind-the-scenes tour? I know I do.

Unearthing all of the stories within your brand is only the first step in making everything you do a communications strategy, because this step only capitalizes on what you already have. To really take advantage of the millennial mindset and achieve success, you must flip the model entirely and go into a much deeper analysis about what your customers really want. What’s really important to them on a communications level? In other words, how do they want to be communicated with;what do they want to hear or learn about; when and where is ideal for them to intersect with your brand throughout their days, weeks and years; and why do they care about what you have to say?

The answers to these questions are not a mystery. If you conduct your investigation correctly, you’ll end up with surprising insights. For instance, you may realize that you’ve been marketing to people in the evenings, when in fact your product is much more aligned with a morning routine. You may realize that you have a wonderful program (like an employee engagement or cause marketing initiative) in some obscure internal department, which would actually be a perfect outbound communications strategy. You may find that you’ve been pursuing the social media strategy of selling products through Facebook, when you should instead be using Twitter as a customer service medium, given how you’re seeing customers behave in each platform. You might find that your customers value fun, frivolity and playfulness, while your messaging has typically been traditional and regimented.

How do you do this kind of research, you might wonder? We do it with digital surveys, focus groups and interviews. We ask a mix of pointed and open-ended questions that get people talking. Remember, your front-line employees know what your customers are saying. If your customers repeat a sentiment enough, you can bet that your employees have internalized it. Unfortunately, there are seldom any mechanisms in place to allow for the kind of feedback you need to make positive changes. If you make your operations into a communications strategy, the feedback loop will become the centerpiece in a responsive business that feels like a start-up. In other words, your brand will feel millennial.

The greatest challenge here is taking off your brand hat and putting on your skeptical consumer hat. This outside view is one of the best perspectives we add to our client organizations, because it is simply impossible to see yourself from the outside if you’re on the inside. When you design a consistent feedback mechanism, you can use the new insights to assemble a remarkably accurate customer persona. Match that persona with an exceptional, corporate storytelling model, and your brand will have everything it needs to succeed in its communications and marketing.

Looking to prepare YOUR organization for the next generation? Download the 5 Essential Steps to Growing Your Business with Millennials!


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