Storytelling – Learn from the pros: Part 1

Wherever you look: Stories abound. Sad ones, funny ones, romantic tales, those real and made up. Cinema shows us how it goes: paint the picture of an entire world in 90 minutes. A lot of work lies beneath what seems effortless. Essential is the triad comprised of screenwriter, actor and director. We journeyed in search of the secret of what makes good stories and we show you why this is something that companies ought to know as well.

Storytelling is as old as human communication. Stories are told at children’s bedtime, in bars, in books, in the media, on the stage, in films and in companies. Why is that? It is because stories are powerful. They make you sit up and take notice. They are retained, trigger emotions, give the sender a distinctive profile, and create a bond between teller and listener. They can also be seductive and dangerous, think of “fake news”. “Stories shape our culture, our lives, the way we experience the world,” wrote Lukas Bärfuss in his essay published at republik.ch, 19.1.2019.

The script at the heart of things

Storytelling does not mean that the teller is free to make up truths, facts and figures that make no sense. It is a matter of how these ingredients are mixed, how the individual elements are linked. Is there a hero, a conflict, a resolution? No one knows better what material is used to weave good stories than a screenwriter or a playwright. It is no wonder that the screenplay is considered to be the heart of any film and the play the soul of any stage performance. We chatted with someone who ought to know: the Swiss author Laura de Weck.

Why, how, what?

It is worthwhile to seek out good stories within the company; stories that match the internal DNA, the goals, the values and the company’s direction. According to Simon Sinek1 and his “Golden Circle”, every success story begins with the simple question: why? Why are we doing what we are doing? What is our vision, what motivates us? Steve Jobs was a person who always asked why at the beginning of whatever he undertook. In this way, he managed to create a technological revolution, but also inspired his comrades in arms – with stories. He was convinced of the power of storytelling: “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation yet to come.”2 This is something management should take to heart.

Customer journeys as screenplays

Employees and customers also play an active role in brand storytelling. They make it possible to target customer journeys that can be planned on the basis of the current situation and customer needs, like screenplays. What is a must; what are the wow moments? What does the perfect arc of tension look like, as well as the beginning and end? And customers can be invited to also participate in the writing of the company stories in a co-creation process.

What is important is to clearly assign the roles and make sure there is commitment. It takes credible actors to create authentic stories. Motivated employees who keep their eyes on the vision, those who appear as credible testimonials and who embody customer service. The issue of credibility is central to films as well, as actor Anatole Taubman revealed in our interview.

And who takes on the role of director?

Convincing actors are one thing, but without directors to weave all the threads together, to give instructions and to set accents, no film could be produced. In companies too, it takes people to assume the director’s role and to keep an eye on the big picture. To orchestrate all the action, to supervise and evaluate it based on the fundamental strategy, values and goals – the screenplay so to speak. When it comes to customer journey management, this role is assumed by marketing technologists, customer experience managers or CMOs.

In the film world, there are directors who know how to properly set the scene for a story. We met with Tobias Fueter, director and co-founder of the company Stories AG, to find out what distinguishes a good story and which companies are good examples of how it is done.

And the moral of the tale?

Without a screenplay there is no film. Without corporate stories there is no identity. Without an identity, there is no future in the market. Every company has stories to tell. It is worth tracking these down and using them for communications. It is worth listening closely to which stories customers tells. What drives them? What motivates them? When companies tap into that and continue writing customer stories, then the foundation for recognizability and a good customer experience are laid.

1 “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”, Simon Sinek, 2011
2 Thomas Higbey recalling his meeting with Steve Jobs at NeXT, 1994