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I’ve long believed that great storytelling is the cornerstone of great communications. Spot a great communicator and you spot a great storyteller. It’s pretty much non-negotiable. Bill Breen – who consistently churns out great stuff for FastCompany has a good read on Marcus Buckingham in the March 05 edition. Marcus, who authored the brilliant – First Break All The Rules, now has a new book – The One Thing you Need to Know… About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success. Well, that pretty much covers all bases! I’m looking forward to reading it… In identifying three approached to finding the clarity – as a leader – that your followers will require he points to:

  1. Take a Time Out
  2. Practice Your Storytelling
  3. Show Us Your Hero

He says of storytelling:

“As a leader, you must practice over and over what to say to describe where you’re taking people. After you’ve found the right words, stick with them – in emails, in meetings, in speeches. Doug, Degn, head of WalMart’s general merchandise, uses seven words to describe his customers: “the people who live paycheck to paycheck…”

Forbes is also on to storytelling. Daniel Pink in A Story Goes With It, says “Once upon a time businesses could ignore story. Doing that today, though, could spell the end.” While that’s a little dramatic (actually, it’s way too dramatic) he makes some great points about the importance of storytelling. Unfortunately, most of his examples are the unauthentic kinds of storytelling – copy for direct mail catalogues – as opposed to what Marcus is advocating. One of the key ingredients to great storytelling is authenticity and in this respect Blogs lend themselves perfectly to the art. The message is the medium in this respect. Storytelling is ads makes for more effective ads, but not more potent stories. In other words – don’t confuse great copywriting with great storytelling. Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox is quoted on the back page of FastCompany:

“Stories exist at all levels of a corporation…. It’s much more powerful than the precision or elegance of the strategy.”

The same issue of FastCompany has an interesting piece on Andy & Kate Spade. On Branding, Andy says:

THE BIGGER YOU GET THE SMALLER YOU SHOULD ACT. Never, never start thinking like a big company. Otherwise you become a corporate, and there’s no interest in that.

(to which I say AMEN!)

NEVER BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU’VE DONE IS SUCCESSFUL. Challenge it every second, every day.

(not so sure on this one. challenge everything, yes! but also celebrate successes)

BRAND CONSISTENCY IS OVERRATED. The brand doesn’t have to look the same, but it has to feel the same. An element of newness and surprise if important for every brand.

(damn right. this is the core challenge facing rules obsessed brand marketers)

BRANDS SHOULD HAVE SOME MYSTERY. Customers should never understand the whole picture of a brand


YOUR PEOPLE ARE YOUR PRODUCT. They are the vehicle through which everything happens, and they define what you put out.

(um, kind of. the product is the product. the people are the people. but OK, the people matter more. they bring the brand to life. they make it happen. but it’s simplistic to isolate customer experience like this. for instance, I love Jack Spade bags – I love the stores – I’ve always found the people courteous and pleasant – but man, your inventory sucks. you’re nearly always out of everything I ever ask for. sigh!). And I’m very envious of the brand you’ve been able to build.

2 Responses

  1. By John Winsor on February 20th, 2005 at 8:12 pm

    Good stuff, Andy. We can all do a better job of storytelling.

  2. By Jory Des Jardins on March 2nd, 2005 at 9:29 am

    I just finished the issue and also noticed–lots of storytelling. I think storytelling is critical to getting a team or customers on board. A list of bullet-pointed reasons why your product/service is better isn’t going to cut it anymore. The means to differentiation is a great storyteller.

    On a selfish note: This is how the English Lit Majors are going to have relevance in the corporate world. Finally I don’t have to hide the writing background on my resume.

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