Having recently been on the receiving end of the questions – “what exactly do you believe?” and ‘what do you do all day?” I thought that I should set out my Thin Air Factory stall a little more clearly.
A Storyteller’s Manifesto
AKA what I get to do and love to do when someone asks:
I believe that one of the greatest factors in securing the exceptional resilience of a company lies in identifying and creating the most resilient nature and model of its storytelling.
I call this Resilient Storytelling©
Resilient Storytelling© is storytelling that can inspire every stakeholder to more resilient actions that are beneficial to the nature and performance of the company without danger of that storytelling being set aside, dismissed as an excuse for inaction or evasion or seen as excluding: storytelling that cannot be called ‘thin’, inappropriate, inauthentic, irrelevant; dismissed as gloss or icing, or simply seen as faddy, fluffy, short-term and short-sighted.
By its very nature Resilient Storytelling© must:
- be resilient in itself – able to take the knocks, whether they come from an investigative or riled NGO on the one hand or a disgruntled consumer activist agitating in the social networks on the other.
- inspire greater resilience in others: every audience being moving by even the slightest degree towards greater advocacy and engagement with every telling
To do that it must be fit for purpose, forged from a whole picture of the company – not just its individual functions and layers. To create storytelling that can absorb the turbulence and flux of the ever-changing, ever-evolving world a company seeks to thrive in, that storytelling must embrace the 4 corners of the company; from the top of its brand to the bottom of its business supply chain, and from one end of its value chain and stakeholder group to the other.
Resilient Storytelling© creates a clear sense of unified purpose beyond profit, a clear central tenet of adaptive governance to shape, manage and distribute the mutual endeavour that purpose demands, and the shared benefits it offers: it engenders greater and more cogent social collectivism and engagement across every stakeholder group.
Resilient Storytelling© is inclusive, inspiring and as adaptive as the company. It frames the integrity of every relationship the company generates and engages in, and shapes every piece of communication the company produces in undertaking and maintaining those relationships. Resilient Storytelling is storytelling that can relentlessly inspire and drive advocacy in every stakeholder.
Resilient Storytelling© is one that reconciles and reframes the most compelling, differentiated and most valuable points of systemic, operational and material resilience (the sustainability and CSR aspects and traits in the company) to the greatest number of shareholders with meaning and effect – allowing these truths of shared resilience to be drawn up into the storytelling in a way that is accessible to all (not just the brilliant scientists, engineers and strategists who define, design and deploy the drivers of those sustainability truths).
Resilient Storytelling© must be founded on exploring, understanding and respecting the relationship between the different shades of desire enshrined in every stakeholder across its Value Chain, including which points of resilience are most compelling and authentic to every one of them.
(There is little point focusing on points of resilience, and then storytelling around them in isolation – they are and must be seen as just one evidential part of a wider and more coherent value system at work and have been reconciled inside it.)
Resilient Storytelling© is both the VOICE of MUTUAL DESIRE in the company: and the reflection of the strongest and most compelling points of SHARED RESILIENCE, and a primary source of increasing resilience in itself.
A slightly weird diagram to prove a point:
Most storytelling operates in very distinct vertical or horizontal blocks – for example, broadcast and bought media delivering desire generating materials with little reference to points of systemic material or social resilience of the company – a bit too much y and not enough x.
Equally, most resilience-focused storytelling focuses too much on its detail and integrity with little sense of how that might fit into the desire model of the audience it’s aimed at or resonate across the broader stakeholder group. A lot of x but y bother?
To truly engineer Top Of The Brand to Bottom of the Supply Chain storytelling that resonates across the whole Value Chain stakeholder group, you need to have generated the most mutual desire around the most compelling points of shared resilience across the greatest percentage of your communications touch-points. (Get to the top right corner and you will feel the love!)
To do this, Resilient Storytelling© must not only be completely representative and respectful of every dimension of the company but also be authenticated by being true to the everyday language and vernaculars of the everyday people who drive the company, its partners and suppliers. Too much Consultant and Business School speak becomes impenetrable and impossible for everyday people to act upon; too much slang and brand puffery lacks the substance to sustain engagement or fend off every detractor that might turn up.
The simplest and most human storytelling is what will take the smartest, most enduring and most innovative ideas from thinking to doing.
The human nature and openness of the storytelling is in itself a large part of what creates a state of shared resilience. The focus, scale and application of actions a Value Chain needs to both embrace and inspire to maintain its integrity and endure demands storytelling that can communicate the financial, commercial, operational and social benefits of doing so to best effect.
A resistor to Resilience?
Clients at the moment are enjoying the queue of agencies, consultants and advisors clamouring at their door. Myriad thinking and IP is being poured in one side and zero hours and zero waste relationships pouring out the other. It is simply not in any one agency or consultant’s interests, business model (or skills & capabilities to be fair) to create a singular and cohesive narrative that truly delivers Resilient Storytelling©. Their differentiated interests usually direct a client towards the most lucrative end point and outcome which they can reasonably protect.
Clients in their rush to seem smart, shrewd and masters of integrated thinking court these clashing and conflicting agendas to best results for themselves. This is only partly to be true to their own commercial needs and ambitions and the budgetary and structural limitations that come with them.
There is also a top note of presenting oneself as ‘nobody’s fool’ – especially when every other C Suite heavy hitter sees the (quote unquote Cost Plus Cowboy) Marcomms ‘professionals’ as worthy of a strategy of ‘Approach With Extreme Caution’. The legendary mickey-taking profiteering Ad Agencies of old, the overblown promises and myopia of the Marketing Emperor’s New Clothes – from Sales Promotion, to Direct Marketing and now the new nirvana of Digital – and their accompanying (and often spurious) fees and mark ups has left a very bad taste in mouths old and new.
So my plea is this – view Resilient Storytelling© not as a Communications Upgrade but as an Act of Adaptive Governance.
Its value stretches far beyond the remit of Sales & Marketing. It is as likely to optimise more enduring HR strategies and more focused innovation and R&D funnels as it is to create greater social advocacy across the stakeholder group, engage peripheral partners and suppliers and generate the ground work for qualitative growth.
But there needs to be an owner: and perhaps Brand should or could be that Stakeholder.
WHY? because it will undoubtedly take collaboration between agencies, consultants and advisors to deliver this kind of Storytelling. Only the Brand owner can enable this – only you can set the terms of Play Nice.
If you do, your advisors and touchstones will then see the commercial benefit of not rug pulling, dissing and discarding each other or treading on each other’s commercial toes and perhaps seek a better model of engagement and collaboration to a more efficient and economical effect. And please don’t say that the likes of the existing Loop Meeting models are an example of this in practice.They are fundamentally an exercise in leadership and agenda grab taking up torturous hours of politicking and pre prepping and post controlling.
Create and compel a truly collaborative, holistic and complimentary structure that uses opposing dynamics and forces to their best effect and you have the beginnings of a value centre in the company: one of greater use across the C Suite need set – and not just a continuation of a cost centre.
But that means that Brand needs to be fit for purpose: with an innate understanding of the previously impenetrable concepts of supply chain and value chain modelling and management, CSR strategies and impacts, R&D dynamics and the complexities of decent HR frameworks, communities, behaviours and rewards. To upgrade these traits and reflexes in the Brand function of a company is to make the first move towards a more resilient company and set the stage for a more inclusive innately collaborative and open leadership model. Then the landscape becomes rich with possibility.
Imagine if you put Resilient Storytelling© at the centre of your stakeholder constellations informed by every function and then mapped every communications touchpoint against it, with a weather eye on managing the overlap and the duplication: that would be exhilarating.
As Jack Nicholson’s Joker quips as he enters the art museum “Gentlemen!..let’s broaden our minds”