Creating a culture that provides such memorable stories is the task of great leaders, and there are significant business benefits in shifting from corporate storytelling to “storydoing”, writes Dave Hanna
Mel, the CEO of a large global firm, heard a rumour that some of his marketing managers had sponsored industrial espionage activities to obtain proprietary secrets from a chief competitor. Mel called the managers into his office and asked them if the rumour was true.
“Yes, it’s is true,” they replied sheepishly.
“That’s not the kind of thing we do at this company,” the CEO stated adamantly. “Bring me immediately all documents and every scrap of information you have gathered.” This was done and the managers then were escorted by Security as they gathered up their personal belongings and were shown to the door. They were fired.
Mel then called the CEO of the offended competitor and informed him of what had happened. “I have all the documents and will turn them over to you. If you wish to pursue legal action against us, we will cooperate fully.”
This story was told and retold to countless people, including outsiders like myself. Such a story says more about Mel’s company’s sense of integrity than any 10 pages on the subject in the company’s policy manual. Indeed, as we are learning, such corporate stories have an enormous impact on shaping and maintaining a corporate culture and the business results it delivers.
“Storydoing” companies (those who actually “walk their talk” as opposed to merely “storytelling” companies) do realise better results”
Research on corporate stories
With the social media explosion that now is affecting marketing strategies everywhere, any “mentions” a company gets can be very impactful–and they cost nothing. But does corporate storytelling pay off?
The co:collective consultancy firm has done research to understand the connection between telling stories – and living up to them – and superior business results. Studying 42 publicly-traded companies in seven business categories, co:collective learned that “storydoing” companies (those who actually “walk their talk” as opposed to merely corporate “storytelling”) do realise better results (with an annualised growth rate of 10.4 per cent for storydoing companies, versus 6.7 per cent for storytelling companies). In this study, storydoing companies included Target, Walt Disney, Starbucks, American Express, Apple, Jet Blue, and IBM.
The co:collective study revealed that storydoing companies outpaced storytelling companies in social media mentions by a considerable margin (149 per cent for storydoing companies, versus 87 per cent for storytelling companies). And these mentions were more positive than others.
As the company’s favourable reputation grows, so do its revenues. Would you want to do business with Mel’s company? How about Walt Disney, Starbucks or Apple? Co:collective found that story doers also outdid storytelling companies in annualised revenue growth.
Why stories are so powerful
Educational psychologists tell us that stories are particularly powerful because they incorporate three elements that are essential to learning retention:
- Know: a learning point you want people to remember
- Feel: to connect the learning point with some strong emotion
- Do: what you want people to do based on what they have learned
Notice how the story about how Mel handled the competitive spying blended all three of these elements in a few words.
Stories can be delivered through a variety of media: verbal, video, email, and social media. Some companies produce short video stories capturing the Know–Feel–Do from actual experiences.
“Creating a culture that provides such memorable stories is the task of great leaders”
One final story: A Ritz-Carlton bellman passed a gentleman coming from the hotel restroom. The man seemed flustered. The bellman asked if everything was all right, only to learn the man had just broken the zipper in his trousers and was due back for a luncheon with four women! The quick-thinking bellman ushered the gentleman back into the restroom, asked him to turn over his pants, and repaired the zipper immediately with some pliers. The relieved gentleman re-joined his luncheon company.
Creating a culture that provides such memorable stories is the task of great leaders. Telling those stories and seeing that the culture lives up to them is the leaders’ reward.
How to leverage a memorable story
1. Identify an experience that illustrates a key corporate value. It might involve customer service, innovation, teamwork, solving a chronic problem, or going beyond the call of duty to help someone else. For example:
An auto manufacturer issued a recall for a defective seat and instructed owners to go to their nearest dealer to for replacement. But for the one customer who was 400 miles away from the nearest dealer, the company sent a representative and seat to her to solve the problem.
2. Document the experience in story form, suitable to share with others. Interview the key individuals in the experience to learn what happened. Write a story-like description (Know–Feel–Do) to bring the event to life.
3. Select ways to tell the story to maximise its impact on different audiences. Match the appropriate media channel with the targeted audience(s).
Word of Mouth
|Potential target audience(s)|
Employees (other departments or geographies)
4. Listen and observe to learn of the story’s real impact. What is the “street” or “water cooler” talk? Do you see more of the desired behaviour occurring?
Image source: iStock