Storytelling over coffee


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You’ve no doubt noticed that we’re slowly drowning beneath an ocean of content. Before long, our little world of words and pictures will be so flood bound, it’ll make Tuvalu look like Mt Everest.

That creates a huge challenge for communicators. How do you produce the stories that will float to the surface… that will engage and inspire people to belief, action and results?

Thankfully, there’s something working in your favour. You see, almost every business, brand, project or team is loaded with stories that could help and inspire others.

You’ve just got to know how to tell them…

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Storytelling over coffee

  1. 1. storytellingover coffeethe coffee serieschanging the way we coffee break at a time.
  2. 2. 2“When I see a story, I ask: is this somethingId like to be in? Is this something Id like tosee? And if Id like to see it, would I like totell it?”Clint Eastwood“Behind everysmall business,theres a storyworth knowing.All the cornershops in ourtowns and cities,the restaurants,cleaners, gyms,hair salons,hardware stores -these didnt comeout of nowhere.”Paul Ryan“So oftencorporateAmerica, businessAmerica, are theworstcommunicators,because all theyunderstand arefacts, and theycannot tell astory.”Frank Luntz“Better the rudestwork that tells astory or records afact, than therichest withoutmeaning.”John Ruskin“A special effectwithout a story isa pretty boringthing.”George Lucas“In all myresearch, thegreatest leaderslooked inwardand were able totell a good storywith authenticityand passion.”Deepak Chopra“We often get blinded by the forms in whichcontent is produced, rather than the jobthat the content does.”Tim OReilly“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp.The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”Ursula K. Le Guin
  3. 3. introductionThe Coffee SeriesStorytelling Over Coffee is the first in an ongoing series of ‘Coffee’ guides.The Coffee series is a bit of a personal challenge. Can I change the way youthink about communications in 15 minutes: the length of a coffee break?Well... here goes.Storytelling Over CoffeeI had such big plans for this first in the ‘Coffee’ series. It was going to be allabout ‘content’. It would touch on a major marketing hot spot AND it wouldhave a catchy title (‘Content Over Coffee’). What more could you want?But I realised pretty quickly there’s already plenty of (dare I say) content aboutcontent out there. And these legions of guides and eBooks do a great job ofdescribing today’s many communications content forms.At the same time, though, I did notice an important question that seems to getmissed... what the hell are we all talking about?If you think about it, all content – every speech, post, article, release, briefing,presentation, video, infographic... whatever – has three layers:• Insights (the human or statistical insights that underpin your story)• Stories (the insights moulded into a form that will resonate with yourstakeholders)• Content (the story’s physical form – words, pictures and channels).While the third layer – the types of content – comes in for all sorts of attention,the first two are often ignored.But they’re key considerations for all communicators: from company leaders toSales to Corporate Communications to Marketers and Content Marketers.After all, a good story will work in any form with any (relevant) audience. But ifyou don’t have much to say, snappy words or pictures won’t save you.So, perhaps there’s more to be served by focusing on stories than by churningout yet another content guide.Even it if does mean a daggy title.3© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  4. 4. the challengeYou’ve no doubt noticed that we’re slowly drowning beneath an ocean ofcontent. Before long, our little world of words and pictures will be so floodbound, it’ll make Tuvalu look like Mt Everest.That creates a huge challenge for communicators. How do you produce thestories that will float to the surface... that will engage and inspire people tobelief, action and results?Thankfully, there’s something working in your favour. You see, almost everybusiness, brand, project or team is loaded with stories that could help andinspire others. They’re hiding away in the:• Case studies about your customers’ or your own experience• Valuable lessons from the knowledge and experience of your people• Expert advice based on your data and research• Information about how to get the most out of your products and services• Reflections on the world today or the world that’s coming• Your proud heritage – the world that’s been• Priorities and progress of your business• Passions of your leaders – what gets them out of bed in the morning.The stories are there. You’ve just got to find them.Of course, this isn’t always easy. Being a storyteller requires an almostschizophrenic set of skills. You need to be...A strategist: you can see what you need to achieve (business, not justcommunications goals). And you can see how to achieve them.An explorer: you’re prepared to reach into every corner of the business (andbeyond) to find the insights and stories that will engage and inspire.A geek: you’re happy to spend hours plodding through statistical and financialdata in search of the big insights.A linguist: you’re able to speak to, understand and draw knowledge fromeveryone – from the CEO to the slightly oddball subject matter expert.An artist: you’re able to see – and paint – an inspiring picture from the insightsyou’ve uncovered.4© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  5. 5. considerationsSo, how do you go about creating the stories that are core to your contentstrategy? In essence, there’s five things to work through:1. Know yourself (getting to know your identity)2. Know why (nailing the strategy)3. Know where (finding the insights that matter)4. Be sharing (getting the most from your stories)5. Be caring (storytelling for your audience)But before we get to practicalities, there’s two things worth keeping in the backof your mind.Content Isn’t KingStories aren’t king either. Value is king. Stories and content are just the product– the medium – communicators use to deliver value.If you’re driven by a need to create content, you’ll risk churning out rivers ofrot. You could achieve nothing for anyone and still nail the KPIs.But if you’re driven to create ‘value’, you’ll be focused on stakeholder needs.You’ll be harder on yourself (not much fun) and you’ll produce stories andcontent that will achieve far more for all, including your business (lots of fun).One StoryCorporate and brand storytellers don’t tell stories. They tell one story in manydifferent chapters. That story is the evolution of your business and itsrelationship with those around it.Bit by bit, with everything they do, the storyteller brings this ever-evolving storyto life.This has profound implications for any content strategy. Every story youproduce must hang together: it must be consistent and contextual.5© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  6. 6. know yourselfWhich begs two questions. Consistent with what? Contextual to what?The answer is your identity.Your business, brand, project or team identity is actually a story in the making.Like all good stories it has:• Characters – who (purpose), what (values) and why (differentiation)• A destination – where and when (vision)• A journey – how (strategy) combined with everything you say and do.A properly constructed identity has the power to drive your entire business,brand, project or team. It can guide not just everything you say, but everythingyou do – every decision you make.Jack Welch encapsulated this idea well when he said“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionatelyown the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”So, what makes a strong identity? There’s four tell-tale signs:• It’s aligned: Everything hangs together. For example, you can clearly seehow your strategy achieves your vision.• It’s stakeholder focused: It’s about them, not you.• It’s simple and memorable: But it’s supported by deep, strategic detail.Every plan in the business maps up to it.• It’s respected: People pay attention to the company’s identity whencommunicating and making decisions.Get to know your identity really well. Become an advocate for it. And, if its non-existent or broken (like a fancy but unachievable vision), fix it.Done well, that identity will tell you everything you need to know:• The stakeholders you need to inspire and what they need• The interest areas you need to focus on and the stories you need to tell• What you need to achieve for the business• How you can marry business and stakeholder needs.6© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  7. 7. know whyDavid Ogilvy once noted:“It is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless youcan also sell what you create.”There’s a common belief that good content and the stories that define itshouldn’t sell. At the risk of being controversial, that’s rubbish. Yes, value isking. But you’re delivering value to ultimately achieve a business need. Don’tconfuse a subtle sell with no sell at all.For any storyteller to be successful, they must be able to sell four things:• They must be able to sell to the business:• That this story (or program) should be supported• That the results have delivered genuine business value.• Their stories must be able to sell to the reader:• That they are worth reading• That the belief or action advocated should be adopted.One way to achieve these aims is to start at the end. Imagine your program hasbeen completed and you’re presenting the results to your leadership team.What will you say? How will you demonstrate the results?Ask yourself these four questions:1. What business needs am I capable of meeting and how would I measuresuccess? Try to focus on business – not just communication – needs andon things you can (and can claim to) have a material impact on. If itsmaterial but there’s no ready way to measure it, put something in place.2. What stakeholder needs can I meet and how do I measure success? Also,how do my stakeholders consume information and media?3. What stories can I produce to address the needs I’ve identified? Howshould I deliver them?4. Where can I find these stories and how do I go about getting them?This process should give you everything you need to map your program.7© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  8. 8. know whereHere’s a test for you. Pick a fact that everyone knows. Think of the mostinteresting way of sharing that fact and then share it with some colleagues. Asyou do, count the blank stares.You can’t engage and inspire people by telling them things they already know.You need insights that are new, unique and compelling. To achieve this,storytellers must also be explorers.Now, I should make a distinction here. These days, people often think about‘insights’ as data. But this isn’t just about data. Human insights are equally asimportant. Even an original joke is an insight.There’s three sources of insights and it pays to draw on all three. Doing so helpsto optimise both the quality and quantity of your content.• Cultivated: The insights drawn from your internal networks (see below):the internal, primary and secondary information held by your business.• Created: Insights that are drawn from research and interviews conductedspecifically for communication.• Curated: Third party insights, articles and other content drawn fromspecialists, the media and commentators.Whether you’re working with one or all of these sources, building a strong baseof insights requires a deep understanding of your business or project:• Its model, strategy, operational metrics, culture and history• Stakeholder needs and the changing world around them• Market and operational trends and metrics• Who knows what – both within and outside the business.You need to build a network of subject matter experts, analysts, thoughtleaders and internal and external researchers. And you need to watch these likea hawk, because the most mind-blowing insights often come from the leastobvious places.You also need to network with the leaders of the business. They (should) havethe most refined view of the world and the company’s internal machinations.By building and working these networks, you’ll start to create a strong flow ofinsights that will feed your storytelling. Oh, and there’s another benefit too.You may well become a subject matter expert yourself.8© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  9. 9. be sharingNo, this isn’t about sharing your content across social networks. As importantas it is, online content sharing again fits into the ‘done to death’ category.There’s advice and tools everywhere.Rather, this is about the importance of sharing and integrating the stories youproduce across the business.When most people think about content today, they think digital. But, if doneright, the teams producing these insights, stories and content can contribute toALL communications and be a major source of thought leadership as well.So confining the content function to digital can create a huge opportunity cost.Your output needs to be shared – and used – everywhere.Structurally, there’s a number of ways of doing that. A recent report by TheAltimeter Group*, discusses six possible structures and it’s well worth a read.But there are others. Should content be an extension of Strategy? Or of theInsights team? Should it sit in Communications or Marketing or stand alone?Ultimately, the best model will depend on your situation. But, whicheverstructural model you choose, there’s three things worth considering:• Knock down the silos: There’s a tendency in many businesses to producecontent in silos. Marketing, communication and sales often have theirown people telling their own stories. This is inefficient. It also complicatesand muddies the story you’re trying to tell. Think about integrating thesefunctions or aligning them through careful planning and close ties.• Maintain a calendar of stories: Maintaining a calendar will help you tellothers what you are working on so they can contribute, align and plantheir own activities. As an aside, it will also will help enormously infinding insights and planning your ongoing storyline.• Develop the skills: Can your content people talk turkey with Finance,Strategy and HR? Can they write speeches or reports or prepare strategicpresentations? At the risk of stating the obvious, if you’re aim is toprovide content to the whole business, you’ll need the skills to do it.The bottom line is this. Content marketing is an important function. But thevalue of a content team to the business can (and should) be far more than that.*The Altimeter Group report can be foundat© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  10. 10. be caringYou’re not just a storyteller, you know. You’re a leader too. And, like any goodleader, you’re practising what Dwight D. Eisenhower described as:“the art of getting someone else to do something because he[or she, of course] wants to do it.”You won’t achieve this by telling people how good you are. You need to stepinto their shoes, understand what they want, need or value and deliver it.You’ve got the insights, you’ve got the story. To close, here’s a few things tothink about as you commit it all to paper (or pixels).BENOne acronym I like to use in my own work is BEN. It stands for what I believeare three critical elements of any good corporate or brand story:Benefits: Everyone who views your work does so with one question in mind –“What’s in it for me.” Beyond all else, aim to answer that question.Education: Your unique expertise and knowledge creates a powerful way toengage. Share it, because education beats spruiking any day.Natural language: Corporate speak and internal language are the enemies ofeffective storytelling. Talk like a human being… after all, you are one.PersonalisationRemember to personalise for your audience. This works on three levels:• Personalising the message so that it’s relevant to each stakeholder• Personalising to the media consumption preferences of each stakeholder• And, in digital, making sure your stories work on any device.EmotionFinally, what’s the difference between an analyst and a storyteller? Emotion.Do people park their emotions at the office door each morning? No. We areemotional beings and we make emotional decisions. So don’t be afraid ofemotions. Don’t be afraid to wow, inspire, challenge, prod, urge or tickle aperson’s funny-bone. And don’t be afraid to be human with your audience.That, above all else, is precisely what they want.10© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.
  11. 11. Wayne AsplandThe Content© Wayne Aspland. The Content Factory. 2013.