Friday, 30 September 2016

Stories with substance

There remains so much discussion of company narratives in the communications world, the whole issue is becoming a story in its own right.

The story arc began with discovery of a pressing need: the cry for a new way of crystallising an organisation’s purpose, vision and differentiating factors. It (still) continues through a journey of seminars, white papers, sample structures and sage advice. It might end with storytelling as a blizzard that blows itself out as another new need is picked out.

There is truth in the identification of a need, of course, but perhaps less in its sudden “discovery”. Organisations have been telling stories about themselves for years and probably didn’t need a new wave of discussions and recommendations to point out the way. But even those latest discussions and the advice that emerges from them expend too much energy on the articulation of a story, and not enough on its use.

A story should be a practical tool. It should cover all the ground that those involved will point you towards, and it must deliver on the core principles of ‘concise and compelling’. But, if you’ll forgive me, the story does not end there. The articulation has to be applied, clearly and consistently: internally and externally, across channels and tools, in different disciplines. It has to form the foundation for all communications so that repetition becomes reinforcement. So that it starts to shape how the organisation is known. Understood. Responded to.

This is hardly new, either but is frequently forgotten. There’s no point pouring all your time and resources into a perfectly-cast narrative with no link to how it will be applied. Or monitored and updated. Because the organisation is always evolving, the story has to keep pace. Else what the organisation says and what it does can quickly become fractured.  

A company’s story can serve it well. But only if it is designed and developed with action in mind.