• Elana Duffy

Be a Storyteller, Not a Messenger


Branding. Marketing. Content. Messaging. These are common words in every business field these days. So let’s discard them. We have something better.

We want to replace every one of them with one that is much more powerful, has much more meaning, and can flip how you do business around, using the assets and ideas you already have:

Story.

When you first thought of working for a particular company, what did you focus on? Did you think about the salary or the hours or the location?

Chances are, you thought first about the message. What does the company do? From one or two lines, sometimes in only a few words, you wanted to make sure that your values aligned with those of the company so you knew you could be comfortable representing that company. You thought about the other things, but only after you were sure that you were in line with the message. Businesses focus on the message, the tagline, the home webpage, and it’s easy to identify and see what the present has to offer.

But over time, that message changes, doesn’t it? Companies grow and develop. You learn more about the people and the ideas and where things might go in the future. Instead of a message, there is now a story. It has a beginning, it develops over time, and it has chapters that close out ideas for new ones.

We as a business culture are becoming used to the message, and afraid of the story. We fear that it is too long, that it won’t be understood. We embrace the message and forgo developing our story, and we are suffering because of it. With a message, we miss the full picture, and make decisions with less information. We rush to choose when we could know more. We need to get over this fear of the story.

What if, as you were looking to build a company or find a few career or even just outsource a new branding idea, you could hear more of the story? What would that give you?

Just at the most basic level:

- You can see the past and the progress. You would know where the company or the concept originated. By seeing this, you would know the progression of the idea, where it has been and what it meant to accomplish, giving you a notion of the basic, driving values.

- You can see the future. The message is only in the present, in one time period. The story spans an era, giving insight along the way. Knowing the story gives you a good idea of how a concept might progress from here, and whether you might continue to be happy as a part of the team.

- You will remember more. The American Psychological Association points out that teachers using stories communicate more knowledge to students than those presenting only facts, and that applies throughout all learning fields. In knowing more about your company, you will be able to articulate the company and the ideas better, increase your own comprehension, and build a better bond through a story you know.

If a story can do this for you, imagine what it can it do for your customers. It is clear that there is a benefit to becoming a storyteller instead of a message bearer. The implications for your potential to grow is astounding as you embrace this concept. Google is one of the very few companies that went public with a story instead of a message, and the success is undeniable.

Becoming a storyteller means you need to plan out and articulate the whole tale before you can tell it. It’s a formidable task, but an essential one. Once you have your master story written, you can tell portions of it in just a few short lines, or even just a few words, to entice others to learn more about you. You can apply this to everything from a business plan to a brand change to an idea for a new service.

Having your master story also helps you respond swiftly and confidently to market events - expected and unexpected - and put them into context for your customers. The story is something you plan in advance rather than hoping it emerges over time as you experiment with different messages and different forms of content.

The current market works backwards, hoping that messages and taglines will add up to a story. We want to fix that: you should derive each piece of content, each message, purposefully from a complete story. Aspire to become a better storyteller, and you will start getting your ideas across more quickly, more clearly and more memorably.

So don’t be afraid of the story, tell it. If you don’t hear it, ask for it.


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