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Telling your organization’s story…

September 29, 2008 ,

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year working with clients on crafting a company or CEO’s story. Great branding and PR comes from the ability to tell compelling stories… whether it be about a customer’s experience, a CEO’s journey or an employee’s perspective. This interview with Chip Heath is a classic McKinsey article that sums up the power of a good narrative.

Here’s a sample:

Take an abstract message, like “Maximize shareholder value.” What should one of your employees do tomorrow to make that happen?

Now contrast that abstraction with the stories told at FedEx. One of them features a driver who couldn’t open one of the pickup boxes on his route—he’d left the key back at the office. His deadline was tight and he knew that by the time he could get his key and return to the box, the packages in it were going to miss the plane. So he got a wrench, quickly unbolted the whole box, and muscled it onto his truck, knowing he’d be able to unlock it back at the office! That’s the kind of behavior you want when your competitive advantage is “absolute, positive reliability.” That’s how you’re going to maximize shareholder value in the long run. But telling FedEx drivers to maximize shareholder value just leaves them hanging. The story tells them how to act.

Why don’t more organizations work in this way? The country’s best hospitals–by virtue of having powerful stories to tell–seem to have mastered this lesson. A great example of marketing storytelling is Cleveland Clinic’s Letters to Tomorrow campaign. I would love to see more examples of simple, concrete storytelling in corporate marketing.


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