Storytelling - Session Notes

Submitted by Sarah Pullman on Wed, 2007-10-03 16:17.

Led by Jacqueline Voci, Chief story officer for Voci Communications

notes by Donna Barker

Voci works to help companies and organizations create, hopefully, wildly fabulous brand stories that engage with audiences on their terms and with their language to spark them to take action.

Group was interested in knowing how to deal with:
➢ Brand consolidation: different stories, same brand
➢ Many different audiences
➢ Identity crisis: who are we and are we who we think we are
➢ Evolving stories
➢ Process and making sure it resonates
➢ How membership can help tell the story
➢ Simplification of complex messaging
➢ How to tell stories that engage employees, from bottom to top
➢ Building the capacity for consistent storytelling within organizations – from press releases to fundraising

When you unlock the secret to one of the above it starts to unlock the others.

The different departments or areas of an organization must talk with each other to create stories that meet all their needs.

What is a brand story? What makes a good brand story?
Popcorn answer: Not necessarily tied to who the company is but is tied to who the audience is and brings them to the company.

Popcorn answer: Allows an audience to connect with a cause on an emotional level in a short time

Popcorn answer: Hero or character – identify the brand as the embodiment of a person.

JV: Must resonate with an individual on a personal level: map what you do to a much broader world/industry perspective. A common mistake is to talk about the specifics of your organization/your products off the bat. When you narrow in on your world, you exclude the world of the audience and the role they can play or what it means to their lives. You have multiple target audiences so you have various trigger/entry points, but can still have on e brand.

A brand story is something that maps your orgs story to what’s going on in the world and tells that story in a way that anyone can understand. The end result is that it triggers a response. If it doesn’t create a response, it’s not a good brand story.

Difference between a brand story and any story
Case study: ask a technical person what is an iPod? They’ll give you a tech answer which will not be helpful to someone who doesn’t know what it is. The “true” story of an iPod is that it totally revolutionized how people listen to music.

The story of you sitting in your office, a song pops into your head and you think you want to hear that song. You download it and are listening to it in seconds. Instantaneous music. We carry it with us wherever we go. A societal change. That’s what makes it compelling and interesting.

Financial planning company client: they work with “everyone”. But when she drilled down it was retirees they specialize with. They have specialized services developed based on the needs of boomers who have not saved but want to continue the same lifestyle they’re used to and want the financial planner to take care of everything. Their story is much deeper than being just a financial planning company, or even one that just works with retirees. It’s important. It’s distinct. The result is that they changed their product offering to serve that key audience. They identified their niche while working through trying to develop their brand story.

Where does one’s brand story live?
Popcorn: start by listening to the customers to find out what’s meaningful to them.
Popcorn: we start with what we think the funder might want to hear. There’s drift within orgs that do this.
Popcorn: our facts: our victories, what we’ve worked on, what people connect us to

JV: every company has conflicting audiences: Coke has consumers and investors… but the brand is consistent: telling the financial success for one while maintaining brand consistency.

JV: It’s important that people can retell your story. The way you tell your story is one way you’re branded. The way others tell it is also part of your brand story.

1) Start internally.

Be very clear on who you are and what you believe in. Look at you org structure and the individual who manage external relationships… CEO… media department… program officers… etc.

Interview these people in one-on-one meetings. Very important to get a cohesive view from each person on their own. All views are valid and may be quite different. It’s a glimpse into external worked. Ask:
➢ What is the mission of our organization?
➢ How are we uniquely suited to fulfill that mission?
➢ Why is this moment in time the right one to pursue this mission?
➢ How is our org different from other orgs that are pursuing similar things?

You may find language that is distinct, points that are unique from one person to another.

2) Look at the external world.

Make a list of all your audiences and stakeholders. It may not be practical to talk to all the individuals so pick people who represent each group to talk to. Hopefully it’s at least 10 groups. Media is excluded, they need a different conversation.

Funder interview example:
➢ Why did you chose to support, align yourself with us?
➢ How would you describe what we do?
➢ Why do you believe in what we do?
➢ How are we different from other orgs you fund?
➢ What do you like best about working with us?
➢ In your view, is the world a better place because of our org? Why?
➢ Who else are you turning to for this cause?
If you could change one thing about this org, what would it be?
➢ How have you’ve experienced our service/organization with your own story?

Most crucial to go in with a blank state, open mind. You’ll likely hear new things.

In response to questions: Surveys can be useful, however, people will write differently than they speak. There’s huge value to hear what people say verbally. To the extent that you can, engage someone who is not tied emotionally/strategically to the process, that would be best. It makes for better dialogue if the interviewees aren’t afraid to be fully free to say what they think.

Pull out common threads from all the interviews. If you find threads of thinking, themes, trends, work with those. Do not aggregate people’s ideas.

3) look outside your organization that trends that are effecting your organization

Develop a list of things going on in the world that are effecting your marketplace, your community Combine the info from the interview and what’s going on in the marketplace.

➢ What are the trends that are driving the way people see us?

When you observe these things, put it on paper as a couple of paragraphs that articulate your story in a way that fits in a societal, big picture context. You need to see emerging trends to be current. Revisit at market trends regularly, the context in which the media addresses your issue… constantly evolve your story around that. Your core value won’t change, but the context in which you tell the story does. That’s the answer to how you have story that evolves over time. Once you know how you’re different from other orgs, the way you describe yourself can change with the changes in the marketplace.

Q: What if you want to save orchids but people don’t care about them?

JV: Broaden your story to what the loss of the orchid represents on an environmental scale that matters to people. Map the story to something broader. Your specific message will come through more clearly once you set context and understanding that isn’t too narrow.

Q: how do you find a story to get people to act?

JV: this is why you talk to people who have already taken action to your cause during the research stage. Ask what the driving things were to get them to act. This will help you find the right message and action for future. Start with the broad, go to specific. The specific will be different for different audiences.

4) write

Once you’ve drafted something, test it broadly. Go back to your audiences, communities, even media. Say, “here’s where we are.” Try out the message which includes societal trend, your issue and how you want people to take action. You’ll find out quickly if people get it and respond to it or not.

Try a couple different versions. You can use a wiki. A blog. Any forum that will allow meaningful, specific feedback to evolve your brand message.

5) refine

Case study: a client that does small biz management consulting. There are tons of companies that do this. Their challenge is competition and nobody knows how they’re different. Interviewing their clients, it came out that they likes the personal time, they can now take extended holidays after working with the consulting firm. When puzzling that with the company, they first ask what the personal goals of the people they interview are. What kind of lifestyle do you see yourself having? They build biz models to help people live the way they want to: the 21st century entrepreneur. Many start a biz to achieve a lifestyle they couldn’t achieve in a corporate environment which is new to the kind of entrepreneurs of 20 years ago. This company creates a biz structure that isn’t tied to the CEO so when he leaves town for a 6 month break, the company continues to run. A new type of entrepreneur drives this management consulting company’s vision and brand identity.

Q: how do you get people to take action to donate to something that they won’t personally benefit from?

A from audience: Create an empty little place in someone’s soul with a need that they didn’t realize they had. So when they take the action you want them to take and feel satisfied. Being a responsible marketer is finding a need and filling it. That will spark the action.

A from audience: people also need to hear that they’re making a difference. The story should also have a concrete change that has been accomplished with the donation. We haven’t stopped global warming but we’ve made this step and accomplished this result.

Comment from audience: I think those holes in people’s souls already exist. We have to actually fill them.


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