Every time I am reminded of corporate storytelling, there’s one name that always comes to my mind. I have read his story a hundred times, and re-read it about another hundred. From Milan to Seattle, with love and coffee.
A twenty-nine-year-old American professional, executive director of Retail operation and Marketing travels to Italy on a business tour in the early 1980s. During his stint in the land of latte, he is fascinated by culture of coffee consumption that existed in the country. The special attention paid to the preparation, the selection of the blends, the use of accessories, raise furore in his hearts and he travels back to the United States to convince his bosses about the implementation of the same in their firm.
Like every other successful story, no one believes in the vision of this executive – his ideas are deemed as unrealistic and the CEOs cite financial exiguity and indifferent consumer tastes as reasons for turning his ideas down.
On failing to convince his bosses, he quits his job and plans to start his own store. Out of the 242 investors he approached with his vision, 217 rejected him, but however, he got just enough investment to start things of. This man, he travelled across length and breadth of Milan, and visited over 500 espresso bars to gain a fair understanding of the espresso culture and the risks associated with the business. His business which started with $500,000, and gained enough muscles in two years to take over the business of his former employers, for 3.8 million dollars.
The rest, as they say, is history. This man, Howard Scultz’s vision is none other than the present version of Starbucks that we see today. And this Milan to Seattle story has been sculpted as a folklore in the minds of coffee lovers in the States.
It has been told time and again and Scultz has gone on to convince the American consumers of “the symphony of flavour, the romance and showmanship that coffee could create.”
The founder’s signature story is a simple and powerful way to deliver the authentic experience consumers crave. Howard Schultz’s Milan story hits on the three dimensions of authentic brands:
- Commitment to quality.
Customers aspire to know where a product comes from or what inspired it. They deserve to know who the people are behind the company, and how committed those people are to delivering a quality product. What corporate stories do is that it addresses these concerns of the customers. These stories help the customer bond with the brand and the connect to emotions that laid its pillars of foundation.
Customers don’t buy a logo or a brand as much as they buy into a set of values: And there is no better way to reveal a company’s values than through the stories that fuelled the people who lead it. “Every company must stand for something,” Howard Schultz says. “A company can grow big without losing the passion and personality that built it, but only if it’s driven by values and by people. The key is heart. Inspiring leaders touch the heart—and storytelling is the vehicle they use to get there. Stories that touch the heart never get old.”
Today, storytelling is everywhere. A well-crafted story can have a positive impact on human minds and convince them in taking action. This is what brands aim at. Brands want their customers to get absorbed in the story being narrated and empathise with the brand or its products in the grand scheme of things.
Learning a number of facts as part of a gripping story gets our brain more engaged than merely listening to facts piled up one after the other. Since we’ve been socially conditioned to believe that, getting lost in a story is a survival mechanism through difficult times, our brain is always more receptive and responsive to stories.
Over and above that, here are a few pertinent reasons why storytelling is so important in marketing and communications:
Stories are extremely powerful – Humans have been connecting to stories and learning values from them since the dawn of time. Storytelling has the power to strike the right chord with the customers, by placing the consumer in the protagonist’s seat (and not the brand or its product!), and the product is served as the intended solution to a crisis or a problem they are confronting. A good story will only reflect how a product would come to the customer’s aid, but a better narrated story would also reflect the brand’s values through it.
Stories get attached to our memories – We all read fables in our childhood. Every fable exuded a message – which intended to teach us values and morals about life. These learnings could have been served to us without stories as well – dry facts – but, no. Stories help us remember the facts and values that are associated with the same. And hence, marketeers always try to build stories around a brand to express its values.
Stories can be narrated across all mediums – Effective storytelling can be done anywhere, from television to print to billboards and even on the digital mediums. According to the budget of the brand and its target group, it can choose the medium of story-telling.
Storytelling makes customers empathise with the brand – In the era of aggressive advertising, a subtle story captures the imagination of the customers, way more than advertisements which are forced down the throat of customers. Marketers prefer to communicate in the form of stories with their potential customers because, stories enable the customers to empathise with the brand.
The fundamental responsibility of marketers is to ensure that a product or service reaches its potential customers and with time story-telling has grown as one of the most powerful tools that marketers use to draw the customers into the funnel. Effective storytelling acts as a catalyst to enliven the journey of a potential consumer, from a prospective lead to a loyal customer.