Why is storytelling important? According to scientists who study the brain, there is a striking change that takes place when we’re listening to a story rather than hearing a recitation of facts. That’s because when we hear a story, not only are the language processing parts of our brain activated, but so are those areas of our brain that would be triggered if we were actually experiencing the events in the story.
Definition vs. Differentiation
This scientific evidence about the working of the brain would seem to make the importance of storytelling a “no-brainer” among communication professionals who help clients build their corporate brand. But when professional communication experts talk about branding, the discussion often turns to differentiation: what makes company A different from companies B, C and D? While communication audits and benchmarking are useful first steps, defining a company in the context of others, and not on its own terms, limits the potential of the brand to resonate with audiences.
Why Authenticity Matters
By contrast, the goal of The Wyant Simboli Group’s Know and Tell™ process is to help companies define who they are, then tell the world why that makes a difference. When senior executives work with us to define their company authentically, the result is a clear-eyed understanding of values held by key stakeholders who seek to fulfill their passions and help their company reach its full potential. While authenticity may sound like a lofty objective, being real can mean success or failure for corporations and for the people they’re working to serve. This is particularly important in industries like biopharma, where patients in need of life-saving medicines count on the company to achieve its goals and deliver its products.
The Wyant Simboli Group has partnered with dozens of senior executives to help tell their company’s story. Each situation is unique, but our process for uncovering the authentic story always begins at the same place. We follow the age-old admonition to “Know Thyself.”
While this need for knowing before telling may seem self-evident, companies are sometimes tempted to skip the vital first step of defining who they are. Instead, there may be an assumption that the core story already exists, freeing communicators to go directly to the tactical exercise of messaging. But when messaging happens too early in the process, companies tend to look at their key audiences and prematurely develop talking points that will satisfy each group, but may not carry the weight of conviction that can come from first knowing what the company is all about.
So how do we help our clients begin at the beginning? The answer is deceptively simple: we listen. We conduct in-depth interviews with key stakeholders including C-suite executives, members of the Board of Directors, senior employees, and external collaborators. Next, we carefully review each interview and look for patterns of thought that define bedrock values. Then we consider the ways these core values relate to each other and how they could form the foundation for the company’s story. Importantly, the resulting story is not a bland mission statement or a recounting of a company’s progress toward achieving specific objectives, but is, instead, a timeless story of who the company is.
As we write the initial draft, we re-emphasize that we’re not creating a story, but are uncovering one. As author Ken Segall wrote in his book Insanely Simple about his work with Steve Jobs and Apple, “This was not an opportunity to invent a new personality for our client. Our task with Apple was to simply shine a light on the spirit that was already there.”
Once the core story is complete, we’re ready to develop corporate messaging. We work with our clients to develop a matrix of audiences and messages and recommend language that will resonate with each audience in a consistent and unified way. Once complete, the messaging matrix can facilitate development of any combination of tactical communications, ensuring that each not only meets audience-specific messaging objectives, but also supports and reinforces the underlying company story with a clear and consistent voice. In this way, the value of any one communication is multiplied by every other, regardless of medium or form.
Know and Tell: Knowledge Is Power
In today’s constantly changing world of technology and big data, isn’t it reassuring to know that humankind has, for thousands of years, found storytelling to be one of our most powerful ways of communicating? As we accompany our clients on this journey to Know and Tell, we’re reminded of the power that can come from getting the story right. In the words of T.S. Eliot “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”