Corporate storytelling – the building blocks for a clear brand story

Storytelling Steve Jobs

How your company can create an exciting story – and why you should want to in the first place.

Do you know the history and values of Apple? Two men working in a garage to revolutionize computing power, producing not a company but a cause. Sound familiar? And what about the history of Samsung? Exactly.

We know some companies like the back of our hand, but many of them are a bit less clear. One of the main reasons for this is successful corporate storytelling.

What is corporate storytelling?

It’s very simple; it’s the same thing that parents do before sending their children to bed. Telling stories. It’s just that these stories aren’t about deer, dwarfs and town musicians, but businesses. Bambi 2.0, if you like.

Why does corporate storytelling work?

Corporate storytelling plays on our long-term memory, which has a semantic and an episodic component. Semantic memory looks after facts and general aspects of the world. Episodic memory stores stories as chains of individual events, which is where corporate storytelling comes in.

How storytelling works

Studies have shown that we find it much easier to remember facts when they are wrapped up in a story. This also offers the opportunity to convey ideas about people, personal values, beliefs and excitement. And don’t forget: nobody likes to read bullet points. We are much more willing to pay attention to a good story, and are far more likely to hang off the narrator’s every word. This is why stories are a powerful weapon in the battle for attention, whether in word, image or sound.

What is a brand story?

A brand story is the core of corporate storytelling. It’s not a question of just any old story, but the development of a company or brand. Where have you come from? What problems can you solve for customers, for the world? Why do you exist? Anyone who can package this information in an appealing way creates the greatest identification among employees, customers, media and other stakeholders.

Apple, with its focus on Steve Jobs, is a prime example. His trademark black turtleneck and his keynote speeches announcing new Apple products were part and parcel of Apple’s image, and so even now, his image is an iconic part of Apple’s history. And a reminder of Apple’s values.

How do I find my brand story?

Of course, not every company is founded by someone of national relevance, but that doesn’t mean that your company doesn’t also have interesting stories. The question is just how to find them. A few simple questions can help:

  • Why does your company exist? And what would happen if it were suddenly not there tomorrow?
  • How did the company develop? What were the biggest milestones?
  • Who are the people behind the brand? What are they passionate about?
  • What has the company failed at? (Missteps make a story that much more interesting.)

What should you consider when you write?

Good storytelling comes in many forms. And yet, the most successful examples all display the same basic principles:

  • Credibility
    Don’t file away at the story until it reads like an Oscar-worthy script but is filled with half-truths. An example: a Highland man in a kilt works perfectly for Scott’s Porage Oats, but wouldn’t fit quite so well with Quaker Oats.
  • Strong symbols and figures
    Offer something that the reader can identify with. Heroes and villains make a story much more interesting. If that hero is you, great; if it’s your customers, even better.
  • Opposition and struggle
    Opposition makes a story interesting and entertaining, and has done so since Biblical times. Good against evil, poor against rich, David against Goliath, you against an unfriendly market.
  • Describe, don’t list
    As we’ve already discussed, nobody likes reading bullet points. Just so you know: a chronological company history laid out in a table is not storytelling.
  • Suspense
    You have to earn the attention of your readers; for example, with a gripping story structured along the lines of Gustav Freytag’s pyramid.
  • The moral of the story
    Your conclusion should contain some fundamental insight, which will encourage people to remember it and will emphasize your values.
  • Build on the well-known
    Your target group will always already have an image of your company. You should use this instead of trying to reinvent yourself. An example: Gian and Giachen are Alpine ibexes, and as the icons of Graubünden Tourism, they reflect almost everything that other Swiss people imagine someone from Graubünden to be like.
  • The elevator pitch or movie trailer
    Although your company history may also be interesting in full, your reader has to be able to reproduce it in a few words. Stick to the essentials.
  • Keep it simple
    It doesn’t matter how eloquent you know you can be – you need simple language.

And what kind of stories do you want to tell?

Cover image via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)



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