Some will have you believe that stories are a new invention associated with such buzzwords as 'content marketing' or 'Brand Storytelling' but actually that's not true. Stories are as old as we are. Since we first grunted at one another on the African savanna, 3 million years ago, stories are what sets us apart as a species and are central to our very existence. Stories also sell products, fuel charities and can change the world. What has changed is that we now have unprecedented access to stories and to telling stories.
"Stories are what sets us apart as a species and are central to our very existence"
There was a time when storytelling was the standard means of spreading news. Before the printing press, towns and villages would gather for the new person in town to tell them their stories. We have gathered around the communal fire and listened to tales throughout history, and throughout our personal history, since our parents first read to us. Nothing is more innate in us than the power of storytelling.
What has been realised more recently, is that pretty much all communication that an organisation is active in, is a form of storytelling, even a cost report tells a story. So there is no other skill more important to communication than that of telling stories. The challenge people face most often, is that the story they have told themselves, is not necessarily the right story to tell others in their organisation or their audience. This has nothing to do with truth, it is about expression. When we tell stories to ourselves, about why we need to carry out certain tasks, or start certain projects, it is a narrative designed specifically to engage with our own personal drivers. We need to understand what we are doing and we need to motivate ourselves to do it.
When we come to explain this to our colleagues, there has to be an evolution of the story. We are now moving from self-serving stories to narratives that need to persuade and convince, to resonate with the particular needs and requirements of our colleagues. So in order to communicate effectively, we need to re-frame the story for our colleagues.
For example, I may have come up with a project to design a new wine rack, because I was at home getting bottle of wine, when old wine rack, collapsed. I think to myself, I could do better than that, and the project is born. I can imagine my new rack on my kitchen wall, it will look great. The thing is, my colleagues really don't care as much about my wine rack on my kitchen wall, as I do. So my initial story, whereby I imagined having my friends around with a new wine rack on my wall, showing off my collection of interesting wines, has to evolve. It has to hit their drivers. How can the new wine rack appeal to them? The boss may be interested in figures, so we have to tell a story about cost per unit and resale price, with outlets already interested in stocking it. She will also want to know the logic of this new product, so we tell a story about how our wine rack fits perfectly with our range of kitchen and dining ware, or maybe we're a wine importer, and the rack will best show off our wine choices.
Then the next step in evolution is to the audience. The team have bought in, we've completed the design and we have a date for its availability. What do we tell our audience? The story evolves again, and we talk about the huge care and effort we go to in selecting only the best wines from the finest organic vineyards, and how we have used an artisan carpentry workshop in the Dordogne, to craft a limited edition wine rack that can best display your wines, whilst being crafted from recycled wine barrels. The story is written to communicate the values that we have as a company and share with our audience. We care about the environment, buy organic, we recycle and we support small business. The audience don't want to know about my kitchen wall, they don't need to know how we run our business with unit cost, they want to know how it works for them.
Stories are bridges from ourselves and our organisations to whomever we need to communicate with. The best stories understand the needs of the person or audience we are trying to reach and tell them why the message of the story is important, so they can cross back over that bridge, either with purchases for a company, donation or membership for charities and so on.
"A finely crafted story is a sturdy bridge built from you to your audience, so they may cross back over to you".
We tell stories in adverts, we tell stories on our websites, we tell stories in press coverage, we tell stories on twitter, we tell stories to each other. Communication and PR is all about stories. We may be round the campfire less often these days, but it's still the best stories that will catch our attention and make us take notice.