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Corporate storytelling – populate the trademark with reality

The method of storytelling has been an excellent way to spread information, knowledge and experiences for centuries.

For ages mankind has gathered around the camp fire to tell each other stories and share life experiences. Perhaps we do not gather around the camp fire as often anymore. Instead we share stories at conferences, around the dinner table, at meetings and in social networks, and during the pandemic perhaps via Zoom, Skype of Microsoft Teams. And storytelling is still an excellent way to spread information, knowledge and experiences, says Matts Heijbel. He is a social anthropologist, author and journalist who has been working with the concept since 1999.

“Within every company and organization there are stories about the people working there and the activities. By making use of this story capital you can strengthen your company’s brand, its leadership and very importantly, attract the right employees and job candidates,” he says.

Corporate storytelling is emotional communication with the purpose of affecting people and giving them clear visual images. Not surprisingly, a very important complement to fact sheets with diagrams, tables and numbers.

“I think human resource departments, as well as management as a whole has a lot to gain by supplementing traditional power point slides with storytelling,” says Heijbel.

Truth and accuracy are essential

The stories clarify both internally and externally, for clients, collaboration partners, the media and potential new co-workers, the company why it exists, what it does, which values the company stands for etc.

“Working with human resources and being responsible for the human capital one should realize the value of taking advantage of the stories that each employee carries,” says Matts Heijbel.

He emphasizes that within corporate storytelling the stories must be true and should be about real episodes and incidents the personnel or company has experienced. They should not be fictitious. The stories could be about customers, products, visions, mistakes, sadness, joy etc.

“The point is that when these stories are harvested they can be used as a powerful tool in the company to develop its organization and activities, its staff and its business.”

“The point is that when these stories are harvested they can be used as a powerful tool in the company to develop its organization and activities, its staff and its business. Corporate storytelling should populate the trademark with reality.”

How does one find these stories?

“All companies possess these stories, it is just a question of noticing them,” says Heijbel, and he often helps companies find stories and inspiration about where to look. Of course, then you have to examine the stories and decide whether they favor your purpose. “Some stories are so good they give you the shivers, others are more suitable as funny anecdotes internally and some do not work at all.”

Heijbel says that you should not be afraid to restrict yourself. “Do you want to recruit emotional people with high social skills for example? Then you should have stories that apply to them. If you are instead seeking someone who likes to work undisturbed with complex data, you should have another story.”

“Direct the communication and be story-aware. All stories cannot attract everybody and everybody will not even like them. The most important thing is that your stories appeal to and attract the people you want to attract; co-workers, job candidates, clients etc.,” explains Heijbel.

Spread the word

When you have looked for, found, harvested and chosen your stories you should start gathering and spreading them. “Collect the stories in documents, have them written in newsletters, post a film where the CEO tells them on the webpage, frame them and hang them in the elevators or the coffee rooms, make sure the CEO tells them at the next meeting or when a new employee is hired, announce it to the press etc,” says Heijbel.

Remember that the story must be no longer than an A4 page and cannot take longer than two minutes to tell.

“Dress yourself in your most important stories to become visible to potential new co-workers.”

Matts Heijbel sees no significant differences between the campfire and social networks, like Facebook and Twitter. People are still gathering to discuss and talk about things they find interesting.

“Dress yourself in your most important stories to become visible to potential new co-workers. Spread the word,” says Matts Heijbel.

Famous stories

* How the company 3M failed in producing a super strong glue and how instead a singing engineer got the idea to use the notes with the weak glue (the post it) to mark the pages in his song book.
* How the Coca-Cola beverage was invented when the pharmacist John Pemberton experimented to find a cure against headache.
* How Elisabeth Arden asked her chemists to develop a wound ointment for her horse; which resulted in the blockbuster “Eight Hour Cream”.
* The story of how the Danish couple August and Marie Krogh went to America, got permission to start producing insulin in Denmark and founded what is today one of the world’s leading companies within diabetes care, Novo Nordisk.

Matts Heijbel was originally interviewed for Modern Personalutveckling and Nordic Life Science a few years ago and the article has been slightly updated.

Photo: iStock