In late September, Burson-Marsteller released its perception study findings on what people think of corporations. The following Slideshare infographic, for example, shows that 40% of US Millennials believe that US corporations are a source of fear, not hope. The American public overall is split on this issue.
This mixed perception illustrates that corporations not only need to evolve how they do business; based on real change and not spin, they also need to adapt their narratives to ones of hope and optimism for the future.
After all, companies don’t really sell products and services – forget features and benefits. They sell the hope that, after using these products and services, lives will be easier, better, and changed somehow.
This is not a new idea; yet, I can’t tell you how many companies I see that don’t get it. I have (almost!) stopped counting. It’s an important point worth repeating.
I have written often about product narratives having to get personal and tell people personally how their lives will be better off. Products are fundamentally about hope and change. We buy products and services in the hope that ‘my life’ will improve as a result. Human needs rule. Always. Even – especially – in business.
Companies need to also address the larger corporate narrative and make sure that it includes hope for the future: in other words, how, in the aggregate, will society be better off because of our company? How can we be harbingers of change and hope so that not just customers, but society is better because of what we do?
Business Storytelling Techniques: A Purpose Narrative Must Sell Hope
The concept of a purpose story for companies is not new; yet, it’s critically important as this data illustrates. Companies cannot afford to operate without one.
However, there are too many companies that grow without one – until they hit that wall.
A few months ago, I was brought into a company to help a company refine its story. “We’re in love with our own fumes,” the executive told me. After meeting with them, it was clear they were rudderless as to a core purpose that the entire company aligned around. Not only did they struggle with understanding why their customers buy, they admitted the company was founded without a mission statement. You read that correctly. The company had no larger purpose that motivated employees. It had no statement about how it would change customers’ lives for the better. It had no statement as to why society would benefit and how the company would be a source of hope and change for its industry.
There was little wonder the company was floundering – it had no anchor narrative to act as a GPS for positive change. Instead, the company was tinkering and toiling at the tactical campaign level. And none of that matters if the company has no strategic direction to guide its tactical activities.
Profits are an Unsatisfying Human Story Ending: Get Personal
This company was hung up on telling stories of clients saving dollars. Clearly, from a client success storytelling strategy, that is important. No question. It’s also not the whole story.
Imagine a corporate (or product) narrative that ends solely with dollars? That’s not very exciting or emotionally satisfying, and it sure doesn’t inspire a sense of hope and optimism for the future.
What humans (actual customers!) want to know is what transformation happened because of that financial outcome. In other words, how are clients’ personal lives transformed because of the company and its services? That’s where the emotional connection is. What’s more emotional to a human being than his or her personal well-being (not just the corporate well-being)? That’s the emotional core of a great story. Simply talking about profits for the company is suck-y story that lacks personal cohesion. Without that, people won’t share your company story. Instead, think about how the buyer/user is better off personally because of the improved financial or time-based outcome. How did he or she become a hero to the organization and how did it increase his/her personal stock? Your products are more than just dollars and cents for your customers. Find that bigger personal a-ha.That’s why hope and change matter.
It works the same way in the aggregate – how is the industry better off because of your company? How is society better off because of your company? In this particular example, one possible narrative is that more than just saving companies money, the company enables CFOs to find both money and time to invest in social projects that help shareholders and leave their employees and communities (actual people) better off – such as funding schools, summer internships, mentoring programs for kids at risk, just as examples. Extending the narrative beyond just money is critical. That’s a core purpose story that is emotionally satisfying and bigger than products.
Your Purpose is Bigger Than Products and Services
A great purpose narrative is always bigger than products and services. You must connect emotionally with your audience. That’s what a human story looks like.
How does your company communicate hope and optimism for the future to customers and to society?
What do you think companies can do better to shift perceptions from fear to hope?
I’d love to hear from you.