Mastering the Art of Storytelling

Written by Paige Dawson

What’s your story? Why do you exist? Why are you here?

Why are you better than AND different from every other option that exists?

And, can AND DO your employees, partners, and clients tell the same story?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Last week I had the privilege to do one of my favorite things: Talk about how to create compelling messages for organizations. The good folks at Sagiss, a managed service provider, invited me to speak at their Sunrise Business Growth Series last week.

Storytelling and creating key messages are at the heart of what we do every day at MPD — whether it’s to support a website revamp, publicity campaign, sales nurture effort, or internal teambuilding.

At our multi-company, 45-minute seminar, we provided attendees with the high-level concepts and a game plan that each began right there with facilitated questions, group exercises, and handouts. For those of you who missed the event, I’ll share key takeaways and a download worksheet to use in your organization.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

How do you create your story? And, how do you ensure it is meat, not sizzle?

Almost every marketing and communications person, agency, writer, or academic will have their version for creating value messages…and as you’d expect, the results can vary widely.

At MPD, we rely on an 8-step process to build out a story and a robust set of talking points for our clients that are truthful, supported, authentic, and consistent (and, anti-fluff). We’ve honed this approach and our toolkit for 17 years, and it’s become our secret sauce as a result.

As you work to create a story for your organization, I’d advocate looking both inside and outside your organization at several points along the way. The strongest stories are built from input internally across departments and levels as well as with candid feedback from clients, partners, and even former clients. A few key considerations:

  1. Involve Your Team: As you work to define what values you hold dear, what sets you apart, and where your weak spots lie, gather your team for brainstorming sessions on each topic. Sure, it could be run just with marketing or the leadership team – and some items should be, but in this case involving a larger team across departments and levels is smart. The approach provides a better representation of your entire organization and also serves as a fabulous team building and change management technique. We’ve seen clients use these ideas as one topic in a weekly meeting as a starter idea, a lunch-n-learn brainstorming session, or a few hours in a strategic planning session. Then, once you have your messages, we’ve seen great examples of clients who regularly showcase team members living the values and being the difference.
  2. Ask Your Clients & Former Clients: I’ve lost count of the number of key messages and “ah-ha” points of difference that have been uncovered by calling actual customers for our clients. What you think is just normal or not that special may well be the exact reason that client loves you. The words they use may differ, the examples they provide may be new fodder, and the goodwill you generate by just asking are all powerful. We find it best to secure these insights in a short 10-minute phone call as everyone is more articulate verbally, and we can better assess tone and energy as well as clarify answers as needed.
  3. Assess Your Competition: Most of us have encountered many “me too” brands and messages out there. Every insurance firm will protect you and save you money and be there when you need, right? As you hone your messages, take a good look at the market to determine what messages they use, how they support them, what images and style do they portray, what clients they profile, and how they share their team and personality. Use this as background in how to set your company apart with a more authentic, on point story and visual.

When you think about it, most of your competitors do “about” the same thing you do or offer a product “fairly” similar. For most of us, the storytelling revolves around our purpose, our difference, or our why. The attendee handout I shared at the event provides 20 quick questions to get you started on your journey; certainly, it’s just a small sample but will get your ideas flowing as you think about your own story.

Just remember that your story must be: Truthful. Supported. Authentic. Consistent.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What do Steve Jobs, Tesla, Emirates, and an octopus have in common?

Imagine with me that Steve Jobs is driving a Tesla with an octopus to embark on an Emirates flight. While it may seem an odd combination, it’s a visual representation of how we hone in on your story and brand.

In this case, the group is heading to Sagiss’ headquarters in Irving, Texas. Confused?

The attendees indulged me, and we used our breakfast host in a forced relationship exercise. You may well have done these in the past: “If you were a tree or animal, what would you be and why?” It’s age-old, proven, and still one of the most effective ways we help companies think outside the mainstream in explaining their values and difference.

So if Sagiss was a/an…

  • Animal, they would be an octopus as they are flexible, smart, and have many capabilities (i.e. tentacles)
  • Person, they would be Steve Jobs as they are growth-oriented, technically sharp, and open to new concepts
  • Car, they would be a Tesla as they are focused on efficiency, well styled, and also, not for everyone
  • Airline, they would be Emirates as they are top-of-the-line, modern, trendy, boutique, and offer personal service.

We look at about a dozen of these categories and conduct small group brainstorms within a company. It’s a great teambuilding exercise and gets people thinking about their business differently and inserts a unique personality to the storytelling in terms of written tone and visual images. Try it with your team at an upcoming meeting and see what you learn that’s new.

Does your story have legs?

Yes, legs. As in, can the story be told in multiple marketing and communication channels AND by many people in your organization AND resonate with your key audiences?

Now, it’s time to replicate your story, key messages, and examples throughout your business. Weave the personality and words into your website, email marketing, social media, brochures, speeches, videos, internal newsletters, you name it.

Have fun!

And, as always, if you’d like help on your journey, our MPD team would be honored to craft your story. We’d love to chat any time.

About Paige Dawson

With expertise in marketing, business strategy and public relations, as well as ‘in the trenches’ experience as a business owner, Paige Dawson brings a unique blend of talent to clients. As president and founder of MPD Ventures Company, Paige works with executives and entrepreneurs throughout the country to develop key messages, marketing strategies and measurable campaigns, driven by client business goals. She has extensive experience providing counsel for professional service firms, technology companies, associations and nonprofits.