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  • More than marketing fluff. Why your business story is a touchstone for the whole organisation.

    A good story well told stays with us. It fires our imagination, gets us emotionally engaged, it makes an impact.

    Stories have the same value in business.

    But if I walk into some offices or boardrooms and talk about ‘storytelling’, I might get some odd looks. There’s a fair bit of cynicism around it.

    The Financial Times’ management columnist Andrew Hill is one commentator who has expressed his concern over storytelling. He wrote,

    “...there is a risk that corporate storytellers start to believe their own stories. To make a business narrative stick, leaders have to repeat it, reinforcing the story for themselves. What starts as a way for chief executives to guide and motivate staff, investors, customers and boards, becomes a plot from which they cannot extricate themselves”.

    I agree it’s a problem if a business’s story gets divorced from reality. If a business leader’s story is bullshit, then it should be treated with the disdain it deserves.

    But when told honestly, a business story becomes so much more than a marketing tool, it’s a cultural touchstone that gets all parts of the organisation aligned.

    So how to steer clear of creating works of fiction? Business storytelling is not about the Disneyfication of a business’s purpose and it’s not about mythmaking. It’s about holding up a mirror. When I work with organisations I often spot a disconnect between what a business says it is, and what it really is. Crafting an authentic story can help bridge that gap. It can help the organisation find its essence: who it is, what it stands for, where it’s come from and where it’s headed.

    Organisations are always changing and growing, but often they don’t update their stories. They tell an outdated story that’s not relevant anymore. Standing back, getting an outside perspective to help capture and craft the real story is a great way to bridge that disconnect. In my experience it’s hard to manufacture a story when you apply an external journalistic rigour to tell it like it is. A business’s story has to be sustainable, it has to be believable. If the story isn’t credible or authentic, then someone will blow the whistle sooner rather than later.

    By telling its true story a business can emphasise its ‘why’, its purpose. A story gives a business the tools to compete in a crowded or abundant market. Brands such as TOMS Shoes, Sugru and Hiut Denim  have achieved commercial success not only because their products are good, but also because they tell a good story: one which aligns with their values and mission. It applies in the same way in B2B, where customers choose companies such as Mailchimp or Basecamp  because they demonstrate their personality via the stories they tell. The stories those businesses tell about themselves - and their customers - helps them stand out. These stories make the customer the hero, shining the light on how their products help small businesses and entrepreneurs grow.

    Getting an honest evaluation from objective outsiders will help craft a story full of fact, not fiction, and will help the business leaders be sensible and honest enough to reframe when they need to.  So let's not dismiss storytelling as just another business fad. A business story told well is a powerful touchstone.

    What’s your business story? If you need help, hire me to tell your business or brand story. Make 2017 the year to tell your story! Get in touch hello@iansanders.com


    Watch my video: Make the customer the hero. How to use storytelling in B2B.

  • Get clarity, re-ignite your passion and shape your story!

    “I came to Ian frustrated and ready to pack it all in because no-one seemed to get my idea. Ian synthesised a clear message from the jumbled thoughts in my head that will instantly resonate with potential stakeholders. More importantly he did not fail to deliver on his lofty promise to reignite the passion in my own project.”

    Niels Bischoff, founder of Flowcus

     

    You’re an early stage entrepreneur. You’ve been living and breathing your startup idea for a while. But before you take your idea to market, you need a fresh perspective on it. Are you communicating your idea most effectively? Is your story fit for purpose? Do you still get fired up about it?

    My 'Fuel Up' package will get you back on track. It’s a rapid, affordable service to reinvigorate you and your business idea, giving you the tools and confidence to sell your idea. Whether your audience is investors, new recruits, partners or journalists, I’ll bring clarity to your business idea, reconnecting you with your purpose and re-crafting a fit-for-purpose story. And I’ll get you fired up about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

    The package costs just £950 (plus VAT; discounts may be available for non-VAT registered entrepreneurs).  Here’s how it works:

    1. we have an initial meeting (in London or via Skype);
    2. you then complete a questionnaire via email;  
    3. I’ll create two deliverables for you based on the meeting and questionnaire: i) a crib sheet - a why, who, what, how one-pager that will both help you communicate your idea and also be a touchstone for you internally; ii) your simple and gettable startup story in less than 300 words.
    4. we’ll have a second meeting (in London or via Skype) where I present my work to you and you can ask questions.


    Why work with me? I bring my twenty five years’ experience to every project I touch: I have run businesses, advised startups & entrepreneurs, and written about startups for the Financial Times and British Airways Business life magazine. I’m good at bringing clarity to business ideas.

    Want to talk? Get in touch: hello@iansanders.com.

  • Why is storytelling an essential tool within organisations?

    I was recently interviewed about storytelling for Turnstone’s ‘Founder Focus’ series (Turnstone is part of the Steelcase Inc. family of brands). You can read the full interview here, in the meantime, here are some highlights:

    1. Why is storytelling important? How is it different than a mission statement? A mission statement can feel detached from reality – like something a management team devise behind closed doors in a boardroom one Friday and then reveal to the organisation on a Monday morning. Storytelling holds a mirror up across the entire organisation, it’s human, it’s real. Stories can bring an organisation to life.
    2. What are the elements of good corporate storytelling? Let’s be clear. This is not about creating works of fiction. It’s not about the Disneyfication of a business’s purpose—it’s about holding up that mirror. When I work with client businesses I often spot a disconnect between what a business says it is and what it really is. I’ve found that crafting an authentic story can help bridge that gap; and also cut through the crap.
    3. Can it be “too late” to craft the corporate story? It’s never too late. Last year I’ve worked with clients from an early-stage entrepreneur just shaping his idea, through to a 200-year old organisation. Often more established businesses recognise they need to update their story, or craft a new one, to make sure it is ‘fit for purpose’.
    4. Why is storytelling an essential tool within organisations? A client of mine headed up a strong team within an established organisation. But he told me he felt like he was standing on the bridge of a ship not sure where he was headed. I worked with him to extract and capture the story so he could tell the team where they were going.
    5. How does it help employee engagement? A corporate story is like a magnet that pulls people together in one direction. It’s also a lifebelt for times of uncertainty—like when you hit stormy waters. A story rallies people around a common purpose so they feel like they are part of something.
    6. How do you tell a story that is changing, i.e. an industry in transition or startup that is pivoting? You update the story. The origin story (why you started) doesn’t change, but your future story (where you’re headed) might. Organisations change, but often they don’t update their stories. They tell the old story that’s not relevant anymore. There’s a disconnect. Standing back to capture and craft the real story is a great way to bridge that disconnect.
    7. What are the ways to capture a company’s story? Make a commitment to storytelling. You need a storyteller, whether that’s an outsider or an in-house resource. Someone whose job is to be curious, to ask questions, to look under the sofa and behind the curtains and share what they see.
    8. As an advisor to businesses on how to tell their story, your focus is on people, not products. Why? Storytelling is about leveraging emotions. It’s human. I’m not interested in products and services, I’m interested in how your business changes the lives of its customers. The same applies to your audience.
    9. What are your 3 top tips for business leaders on storytelling? First, make sure that the story you are telling your organisation fires YOU up. Because if it doesn’t get your fist-pumped, how on earth do you expect it to inspire others? Second, make your story simple. Don’t reach for the dictionary just because you’re telling a story in a business context. Speak in the same way you’d speak to your friends or family. Third, keep it human. Your story should be about people, not products. If you want to change hearts and minds, make sure your audience can relate with the people in your story.

    Thanks to Kelly Hoey for asking me to be part of this interview series.

    If you want to hire me to help tell your story or you need advice around storytelling in organisations, email hello@iansanders.com and we can set up a call to discuss.

  • Don’t sell a product, tell a story.

    You’re a digital agency. Or perhaps you’re a law firm. The services you offer are identical to your competitors across the road. You realise that the long list of services stencilled on the wall behind your reception won’t get you noticed. So how do you stand out?

    It’s a familiar problem for any business that operates in an ‘abundant market’ - surrounded by similar-sounding, similar-positioned businesses. Competing on products and services won’t cut it.

    So how do you get noticed? Switch from selling your services to telling stories.

    My experience as a storyteller has shown me that every organisation has a story, it’s just that sometimes they aren’t easy to spot. You need to dig and scrape to find the good stories. You need to ask the right questions. You need to look in unlikely places.

    What makes a good story? The best stories you can tell are about how you helped transform a customer’s business. How that website you designed gave a customer the confidence to win a new project. Shine the light on people, not products. Make it interesting by focusing on the human aspect.

    Recently I've been working with Buzzacott, a 270-person firm of chartered accountants. Moving away from a traditional brochure, Buzzacott created a magazine ‘Beyond the Numbers’, full of stories about their people and their customers. As part of the project I sat down and interviewed their Head of VAT Services. A story about VAT may not sound a very interesting subject, but as we got talking I found out about eventful road trips across the US to meet clients. It felt like something out of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.’ I’d found a human story!

    So the next time you go to meet a prospective customer, don’t bore them with a long laundry-list of services, tell them a story.

    Stories are unique to you. They’ll get you noticed.

    Working with Ian was wonderfully easy. The Buzzacott brand is a peculiar one and we are very sensitive to tone of voice so it was refreshing to find someone who immediately knew what we were trying to achieve and who told a story that fit in seamlessly with our other communications.”

    Samantha Bisson, Director of Marketing and Communications, Buzzacott


    [email hello@iansanders.com if you’d like me to help your business tell its story]

  • Your story is your lifebelt

    I know an organisation that grew rapidly from having a single entrepreneurial founder with a handful of staff and a single product, to a multiple management team, tens of people and a portfolio of products and services. When it was small, everyone had a clear idea of what the business stood for: telling the story was simply a case of retelling what they’d heard at the job interview and company meetings. Everyone understood the business: staff knew why they were passionate about working there, clients saw the story as a point of difference. The story worked. But then something changed. Staff numbers grew, new managers were hired, new departments started up. But the management team forgot to change the story. Executives would go out and pitch the business but tell the ‘old’ story. It didn’t fit. The organisation lost its magic touch because the story was neglected.

    So shaping and telling your business story is more than just marketing. It’s a touchstone for what the business stands for, it’s a tool to get your team motivated and understand where you’re headed.

    In my business I help clients tell their story - communicating it is often the easier bit; crafting it can be more complicated. But once you nail it, a story can reinvigorate an organisation with focus and clarity, engaging staff and clients alike.

    So don’t dismiss storytelling as a marketing activity; your story can act as your organisation’s lifebelt - when conditions gets rough, grab hold of it to stay afloat...

  • Are You Telling Your Story?

    Increasingly I find myself in the storytelling business. It’s the unifier that ties in my client work, writing my books and writing for the Financial Times. Rewind a few years, executives and entrepreneurs may have scratched their heads about the relevance of storytelling to their business life - now many recognise that marketing is about competing on their story. A great story can make the difference between visibility and invisibility; it can make a business gettable and memorable.

    For example, Ruark Audio is a British business making digital radios and music systems; they started out making hifi loudspeakers founded by a father (a cabinet maker) and his son (an engineer). Sure, they can compete on their award winning design but it’s their simple story of a father and son collaboration that makes Ruark different from competitors. Gettable? Yep. Memorable? Hopefully.

    Of course your story is not just valuable externally; it also helps people inside an organisation understand the vision and culture, so they ‘get’ what the company stands for.

    Yesterday I met with Bobette Buster, a storytelling expert who works with the major film studios in Hollywood and lectures on how to tell great stories well. Bobette’s experience is that many people over-complicate a story and therefore lose any emotional engagement. All this was brought home to me when I read my two young sons last night’s bedtime story. They’re a demanding audience (and I’m a choosy reader) so one author we constantly reach for is Oliver Jeffers, whose simple imaginative books delight both Dad and sons. Last night’s read - ‘The Way Back Home’ - has all the ingredients of a simple gettable story.

    I’m not going to make some clumsy analogy taking businesses lessons from a kid’s book, instead I’ll leave you with some advice from Bobette. When shaping your business story, ask yourself: “Will the audience have an emotional attachment to that story that will move them to take an action?”

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