The business of story-telling

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I recently received an email that included a link to an item titled ‘Become the Chief Story Teller’. In a nutshell the writer was explaining why story telling was so important for business and how it could be used to get messages to stakeholders more clearly and effectively. I found this article particularly interesting because in 2000 I bought a book titled ‘The Dream Society’ written by Danish Futurist, Rolf Jensen and first published in 1999. It is a book that I found fascinating and very insightful. It has scrawl on every page as I underlined and noted bits of special interest! What Jensen wrote at that time was leading edge thinking that barely registered on the radar screen. But the story he told has now been manifested in numerous ways and become mainstream.

What was Jensen’s view?

He was looking beyond the Information Age and visualising what sort of things might characterise the next age. He suggested that the future of businesses, after the information age, would depend upon their ability to develop a story about their products and services as a way of maintaining a competitive edge. ‘The company with the best story wins; consumers will pay for the story that sparks the imagination; that reflects how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. What are the most important materials of the twenty first century? Stories that will translate information from consumers into accessible emotional terms’. Jensen wrote this book many years before social media was invented and became such a dominant part of our lives. What he envisaged has now become a double-edged sword. Not only are businesses story-telling but also consumers and, in fact, almost anyone and everyone else!

Consumer story-telling 1

We have seen many examples of online peer-to-peer story telling in recent years that either enhances or jeopardises businesses. In one case we looked at, seriously bad reviews on TripAdvisor  relating to a hotel in Trinidad and Tobago (it rated about 1.5 stars) contributed to its eventual closure. Today, only four reviews remain online but a few years back there were hundreds of negative reviews. Obviously the owners were either (a) unaware of what was being said by their guests online or (b) didn’t care what they said. Whatever the case, it ended up killing their business.

Consumer story-telling 2

In the small village where I live there are about half a dozen restaurants. All but one have a 4 star plus rating on TripAdvisor. But one, which describes itself as being ‘world famous’, only has a 3 star rating based upon 410 reviews. A significant number of reviewers over a number of years have commented about unfriendly and grumpy service and the poor value for money proposition that this place offers. The issues are not new and yet the owners have not responded in any way. Perhaps they have not checked out what customers are saying about their business? All this is great news for a similar restaurant in town as it is recommended by many as a better alternative and offering greater value. As a result it has a rating of 4.5 stars.

Everyone is story-telling!

LinkedIn Pulse is a great example. Every day there are many articles posted in Pulse that are written by LinkedIn networkers. The authors range from some of the world’s most prominent people through to those who play a much more modest role in the business world. But everyone can post and anyone can read their stories and comment and share them as they wish. The variety of posts is wonderful and generally offers some great ideas and insights. All these stories are self-motivated as no-one gets paid to write them. And many are about businesses that have done great things – and not so great things. LinkedIn is a huge network of business and professional people and has grown from 37 million members in 2009 to 414 million at the end of 2015. It has become a powerful and influential force in the virtual world.

So what for businesses?

Businesses are not only having to become good at story-telling to maintain and/or improve their competitive position but also need to be acutely aware of the stories being told about them in online social networks. If they are not aware of what is being said about them, and some of the things being said are less than flattering, then it will in all likelihood enhance the competitive position of others in the market place. Rolf Jensen’s vision of ‘The Dream Society’ (an age of story-telling) has evolved very quickly and is already well-established as the Age beyond the Information Age. The only difference now is that everyone is in the business of story-telling – not just businesses!