“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Philip Pullman


When it comes to business creating value through communications there often is a chasm between brand and pragmatic on-the-ground communications (Binet & Fields would call this “The Long and Short of it”; I simply call it the wretched hollow in between long and short). Often, in today’s business world, a business will seek out “an expert”, or specialist in one or the other assuming that if you are an expert in performance marketing you cannot do branding, and vice versa. And you know what? Sometimes this is true. You can get some shoddy thinking if you ask someone to do something out of their wheelhouse (note: there are many ways a specialists can effectively avoid this trap). Anyway. As a consequence of everything I just shared is that performative and branding exist in their own little worlds and the connection between the two is dubious at best. This lack of connectivity leaves a void in value creation of which nothing suffers more than the actual value of the brand let alone the value of the product/service transaction. This is where stories can truly play their most important role in building overall business value and transactional value.

Stories are metaphors, heuristics and parables wrapped up in one.

Since the dawn of time humans have used stories to communicate wants, desires, hopes as well as practical and pragmatic “what’s happening” events so that people can stay within the guardrails of effective life, i.e., making sense of things so they can make good choices and creating a framework for what things should be valued. These stories come in all shapes and sizes and are made up of imagery, words and heuristics. Generally speaking, the rationale for a story is to educate as well as offer a mental shortcut to the learning – and value.  For example. Aesop’s fables were not real, but they communicated real messages. Sherlock Holmes was never real person, but we learned how to think about real ways of thinking. My point is these stories were metaphors for something real and tangible and of value. That’s the true power of stories. They can affect minds and how we think. Which brings me back to long and short. Fables play the long game, timelessness, to communicate the short of it – moral lily pads for everyday life. But I use that as an example to show that’s where many businesses run into trouble. Business isn’t in the fable writing business, they simply do not have the money. Business is on the pragmatism and possibilities writing business – value in the now and next. Writing needs to fill the gap between the brand message and the messages that happen in the day-to-day retail environment. It is within that gap a business should be developing communications, or content if you elect to use that word, to unleash the full value potential. The most valuable company communication isn’t just filled with content that is intended to capture traffic on the back of SEO, it is content that increases value in the mind of a potential customer (of human beings in general). The best content contains opinions, storytelling, data, research, experience of culture, insight, instructions, but all providing connectivity between the ‘long’ (the brand and branding) and the ‘short’ (the menus, table tops, door hangers, store signage, etc).

The stories within the inbetween.

Stop thinking about selling your idea or selling your product/service or even selling your company, think about telling a story. For example. I could work for a nuts & bolts manufacturer and be able to put a picture of two nuts & bolts side by side <one mine and one someone else’s> which look 99.9% exactly the same and be able to say: “Let me tell you a story about this nut & bolt because its story is different than this nut & bolt. They look the same but their story is different.

Now. This story wouldn’t be solely some manufacturing mumbo jumbo, but rather a story about who counted on it and how my nut & bolt was the best friend to someone and, well, you get the point. I make this point because despite talking about being in the storytelling business we don’t really seem to be in the storytelling business in business these days. Instead, we bore down on manufacturing specifications, stress quotients, side by side rankings and a whole bunch of technically important functional aspects.

And you know what?

That kind of detail is important. Really important. To be sure, if it is my nut & bolt holding a wing on some plane carrying 300 passengers you can bet your last dollar the technical aspects of my nuts & bolts matter. I don’t argue that. What I argue is HOW the technical aspects are articulated and delivered. What I argue is that if I can make my nuts & bolts look like a city of ideas through some story; I win.

  • Stories make bland functional aspects take on some color <which equals value>.
  • Stories persuade people think <and thinking equals engagement>.
  • Stories to motivate us to see beyond the simple nut & bolt <which equates to higher price acceptance>.
  • Stories link the brand essence and the product reality and bring value to life.

The “win” is everything a business desires – higher brand value, higher transaction value, higher mental value, higher word of mouth value.

Storytelling has been a mainstay of the marketing world since the dawn of business. I could argue that stories are the essential driver of value, change & persuasion throughout the history of business. And while it tries to sneak into the non-marketing aspects of the business world it often gets stiff armed by functional communicators – “get to the point” people. This ‘get to the point’ point is nonsense.

Storytelling doesn’t sacrifice the functional and pragmatic and practical; it actually elevates it to its highest value. No sane communications expert would ever tell a business to not show the numbers, graphs and facts. It is important. But strategic use of a good story can make those same bland things surprise people, make them become compelling characters in a story and instead of being cold hard facts laying on a page they can become things that make us think and feel.

Story telling is important in that it engages people, communicates relevant meaningful information, builds value on some things that can often be difficult to build value on and, ultimately, it makes you, your product or service and your company distinct. It is within that distinctiveness where salience (top of mind, easy to find) value exists, mental value exists (I think of them), and transactional value exists (the price has some substance). Every brand/product/service has many stories to tell beyond the simple performance marketing tactics and the broad brand executions. Ponder.

The business world is full of stories, and from time to time they permit themselves to be told.*

  • * “The world is full of stories, and from time to time they permit themselves to be told …”

An aboriginal saying

Written by Bruce