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Storytelling—A Crucial Element to the Success of a Brand

Brands can use the emotional response of their audiences to storytelling to achieve their vision and goals.story-telling-collage

Long gone are the days when brands could just rely on broadcasting their messages to reach and motivate their key audiences. We have entered a consumer-centric age in which a new media environment is on 24/7 and digitally accessible from anywhere. This empowers audiences with more control over the information they receive and the brands they decide to endorse.

In this new paradigm, companies must learn the art of storytelling in order to effectively reach, engage and convert their audiences into brand evangelists. Storytelling is what captures an audience’s attention, as it prompts individuals to connect to their emotional and spiritual energies to establish whether they agree or dissent with the story being told.

The use of storytelling to promote the sale of products, services or brands is not a new concept. It is instead the ongoing evolution of technology that has empowered companies with new and highly effective ways in which to engage and interact with their audiences. On a broader level, storytelling can also help a company define organizational values, establish a company culture and, ultimately, educate others giving them the opportunity to better understand its mission, philosophy and core values.

The need for brands to shift from message broadcast to storytelling has become a crucial element for success. A brand is not an abstract philosophical concept that resides outside of a company. It is rather an enduring account of multiple emotional experiences that audiences experience when they think or come in contact with a product or images that evoke that brand. When a company tells an inspiring, motivating and engaging story, social media platforms become the most powerful conduits to share the story virally around the world and drive attention to the brand.

Growing the client base, promoting sales and conquering increasing market share continue to be some of the key goals of the traditional brand building process. However, today that process has undergone significant change. While in the past brand building focused chiefly on feeding customers facts about a product/service, today audiences report that storytelling is what captures their attention and gets them also to fancy a particular product or service over another.

But what is this fascination with storytelling? Some argue that it could be a consequence of the exponential growth of social media, as an optimal conduit to promote and disseminate stories. Others simply state that stories help us to understand who we really are, establishing an emotional connection to the main character or topic of the story–ultimately, connections lead to loyalty. However, a post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network by Paul J. Zak –a professor at Claremont Graduate University and President of Ofactor, Inc.—reveals how recent scientific work is putting a much stronger emphasis on how stories change individuals’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

In his post Prof. Zak explains, “As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness. A decade ago, my lab discovered that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key “it’s safe to approach others” signal in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions. Empathy is important for social creatures because it allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including those with whom we work.”

Further studies conducted by Prof. Zak and his team revealed that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. In addition, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain was identified as a strong predictor of the degree of willingness of people to help others; i.e., donating money to a charity associated with the story being told. Subsequent studies also revealed that to motivate a story attention must be generated by developing tension during the narrative. Stories that can trigger that tension will most likely prompt an audience to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, be prone to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of such characters.

A compelling example of the discoveries made by Prof. Zak and his team are provided by the Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches video, which registered within a couple of months nearly 150 million total views. In this short video an FBI-trained sketch artist draws women first based on their own self-perception and then on that of a stranger. The stranger’s descriptions resulted consistently closer to what the subjects actually looked like. This helped Dove underscore the point that women have a propensity to be exceedingly critical of their appearances and failing to recognize their true beauty. The emotional feelings stirred by this video sparked incredible brand awareness, without a single mention of Dove and its products throughout the video.

Undoubtedly, good stories inspire and motivate us all. They ignite an emotional connection to the plot and/or character(s) that sparks passion. Storytelling is crucial to the success of a brand due to its powerful connection-loyalty and trust-building attributes. Ultimately, we are beasts of emotion more than logic. We love to tell and hear stories. Consequently, for a brand the journey to effectively engage and motivate its audience must begin with “Once upon a time.”

Joltin’ Joe & The Power of Teamwork and Collaboration

A recent family experience reinforced to me how a group of people, working together, can efficiently come up with solutions that are far superior to what any one individual can accomplish.

It was a typical weekday evening, and my daughter was working on a school project. Her assignment was to develop an informative and entertaining multi-media presentation. She chose to use Prezi as her presentation software, because it’s a fresh and interesting storytelling tool. She wanted to add music to her presentation. From the other room she shouted, “Dad, I’m doing a presentation, and I need a good baseball song; can you give me a few?” I ran through the classic Take me out to the Ballgame, Centerfield, by John Fogerty, and Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen options, but she wasn’t moved. When I asked her for more specifics about the presentation, she shared that the topic was the life of Joe DiMaggio. I immediately shared, “What about Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel.” As an indication of our generation gap, she replied, “Who are they, they sound like lawyers? And what does Mrs. Robinson have to do with baseball?” Once she listened to the song and realized that Joe DiMaggio’s name is mentioned, she ran with the idea.

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A short while later, she came into the other room frustrated that she couldn’t properly sync the song with the content she had developed. She shared that the timing of the song wasn’t right, and she didn’t know what to do. Her younger brother quickly chimed in, “why don’t you just drop it into Garage Band and crop it so that it works for you?” “That’s a great idea,” she replied. She was back in business.

Her final challenge was a strong finish. She showed us the presentation, and she wasn’t thrilled with the ending. My wife suggested that she sync the lyrics, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio … Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away,” to the final portion of the presentation about Joe’s death. She went back to work, made the adjustments, and she loved the final product.

So what does a Tuesday night family experience have to do with your Wealth Advisory team? Potentially, quite a bit. My daughter never would have achieved her end result without the benefit of Teamwork & Collaboration. Effective collaboration helps teams make better decisions. It helps them come up with better solutions. It makes them more creative. It challenges assumptions, and expands possibilities. In fact, Collaboration is one of the keys to the Holy Grail of teams – synergy. Why then, do teams often fall short of realizing the potentially business-transforming benefits of Collaboration?

The answer is that Collaboration doesn’t occur automatically; it needs the right environment and culture. First, the team needs to have a high level of Trust. According to Patrick Lencioni, the best-selling author of the Five Dysfunctions of Teams, “there is no more powerful attribute than the ability to be genuinely honest about one’s weaknesses, mistakes and needs for help. Nothing inspires trust in another human being like vulnerability – there is just something immensely attractive and inspiring about humility and graciousness.” In this case, my daughter was comfortable asking for help, and this led to a far superior outcome. The relationship between Trust and vulnerability goes both ways – a high Trust level allows team members to be comfortable with vulnerability, and the willingness to be vulnerable, particularly in a Team Leader, enhances Trust on a team.

There are two other important team elements that allowed Collaboration to flourish in this situation. First, no one on this “team” cared who got the credit for the ideas. In this case, my daughter got all of the credit – in this case a good grade – and my wife, son and I were happy to help. Similarly, no team members had an agenda. If my son were worried about his sister looking better than him academically, he may not have been as forthcoming with his assistance.

Is your team realizing the potential benefits of Collaboration? Here’s a checklist you can us to assess your team:

  1. Everyone participates in our team meetings, and shares their perspectives and ideas
  2. If a team member has a strategy to develop or a problem to solve, they seek input from others to develop optimal outcomes
  3. Team members put the team ahead of their personal agendas
  4. It’s ok on our team to admit that we need help and to acknowledge that we don’t always have all the right answers
  5. Our Team Leader sets the strategic direction for the team, but we all have input on the best ways to accomplish our goals

Remember, one of the great things about being on a team is that you’re not alone. You all get to benefit from each other’s skills, insights, perspectives and creativity. Good luck on your ongoing journey to realize all of the potential benefits of an optimized team.

ALLIANCES: Together We Are Stronger

A prospective client recently sent me an email that closed with the following:

“Thanks to you for reaching out to us. We seem to strongly agree with you that the key to success in the future is collaboration. As I look at the team you have put together, I have to congratulate you. This is an impressive team of experienced professionals. I have to tell you that every time I see groups like yours formed, I am reinvigorated that eventually someone will develop a service model that truly serves the client. With thanks and gratitude to you for what you all are doing.” IMG_0175 This email was another confirmation for us as to the value of strategic alliances. Alliances provide for a “together we are stronger” atmosphere for the following reasons:

A strategic alliance creates a network that is attractive to clients as a one-stop-shop by creating value beyond what an individual company can deliver. It provides the opportunity to offer a wider range of services to clients that otherwise would not be available. It is vital to a business’ success to focus on its core competencies because when a business becomes a jack-of-all-trades, it becomes a master of none. An alliance allows a company to offer its clients a whole new realm of services without losing focus on its own capabilities and its specialized services.

A strategic alliance increases brand awareness to prospective clients that the business may not have reached beforehand. Each business offers a different set of services that are directed toward similar target audiences allowing the business to increase its market size with little impact on the business. If your brand awareness isn’t growing, your business isn’t growing.

A strategic alliance builds additional opportunities to market for minimal additional spend. In addition to each individual or company marketing on their own, an alliance can collectively utilize websites, marketing materials, social media, and industry conferences to share the value of the alliance and create additional marketing opportunities for members of the alliance.

A strategic alliance can compete more effectively by combining various strengths and expertise. Synergy and competitive advantage are elements that lead businesses to greater success.

A strategic alliance ignites a spirit of innovation, provides for collective thinking and problem solving, promotes networking, increases advocacy, and expands the industry knowledge of the members.

What strategic alliances have you developed to grow your business?

Check out our alliance at www.theorchidalliance.com. The Orchid Alliance is an alliance of experienced corporate executives thriving in the entrepreneurial environment by coming together to utilize their deep experience, to follow their passions and to focus their talents on delivering sophisticated training, coaching, marketing, product and platform solutions. The Orchid Alliance taps into the vast network already established by Orchid Network LLC, an executive search and consulting firm, and solves for some of the most challenging business development issues facing the financial services industry today.