Elements of a Good Corporate Story

My Family tree has it’s roots somewhere back in Scotland, or so we’ve come to believe. The Scottish clans, way back in the day, were not only identified by their tartans, those color full patterns seen on their kilts, but also by there clan motto.

The Fletcher clan, at least the branch to which I belong , has as it’s motto: Alta Pete which is translated as “Aim at High Things.”

Good words for folks who made arrows for a living. But a little lean in terms of a story.

Corporate mission statements and marketing tag lines are similar to clan mottoes. They look good on a letterhead but they can fall a little short in terms of really identifying, and differentiating, a company.

In my last post I looked at some reasons why it is important for any corporate entity, and by corporate I mean any group, too understand and articulate its story. Today I want to suggest three of elements that make up a good corporate story.

Southwest Airlines is a model company having maintained profitability and growth consistently for more than 30 years. Their mission statement, boiled down to it’s simplest form is “We’re the low cost carrier.” But, go a step further and look at how they expand that statement into a kind of story:

“If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline”

Not THAT starts to have meat on the bones.

Michael Hyatt, who is the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers…and all round good guy, was kind enough to send me a link to a piece of the Thomas Nelson story.  If you read the article you’ll find mention a kind of vision statement originally articulated by their founder:

“honor God and serve people.”

Go a little further back though and you’ll find a sentence that, in a very short story, puts meat on those bones as well:

Unlike other publishers who catered to the wealthy, Thomas Nelson had a vision to make the world’s greatest books affordable to “common folk.”

These two example, and there are hundreds more, provide some insight into the make up of a solid corporate story.

1. It needs to tap into why you exist. 
This sounds simple enough really but too often the story starts off muddy. For example a company that claims they are the “leading provider of enterprise software” isn’t really telling a story so much a providing a descriptor. Words like “leading” and “enterprise” and fine but they lack personality.

Thomas Nelson’s version of the same type of statement might have been something like: “We’re the people who make the classics available to the common folks”. There already seems to be a story in the making there.

2. It needs to have a customer focused element.
Both the Nelson example and the Southwest example are clearly pointed in the direction of their customers. It is this customer element that makes the corporate story start to tick as a differentiator.  This is where you are able to begin setting customer expectations.

What would you have expected from Thomas Nelson? Affordable classic literature. What would you expect from Southwest Airlines? Affordable FUN travel.

(Point to note here, your story doesn’t ALWAYS have to include “affordable” Apple has a great story but “affordable” isn’t a part of it!)

3. It must be something that influences decisions
Southwest can always bump new ideas against the question: How does this make us the low cost carrier? Thomas Nelson can run new ideas up against: How does this honor God or serve people?

Your corporate story, the story of your committee, company, church, or clan helps set you apart. It helps defines you. It helps people understand what to expect from you. It helps guide decisions and influences direction.

Stories help us interpret the world around us and your corporate story helps you create the space in which you fit rather than allowing others to fit you into the place they want you to be.

Think about your team at work. Your running group. Your family. What is the story that defines your purpose, focuses externally, and helps guide decisions?

3 responses to “Elements of a Good Corporate Story

  1. I haven’t really thought about this for my family but I’m going to talk it other with my wife and see what she thinks. Then we can get down to business.

    • When we were kids, rather than saying he wanted his boys to be “well rounded” or “accomplished at a variety of things” my dad always said he expected us to be renaissance men. That minor move in the direction of story, illustrated BY stories of the DaVinci’s and the Michelangelos was enough to inspire us. We all play musical instruments, we all played college football, we all write. One of us is, truthfully, a rocket scientist, another a math teacher and all of us paint or draw as well. I think, largely, because of the story of being renaissance men.

      I wish I would have thought this through when my kids were younger. I think we still can do something with it, they’re 18, 16, and 12, but it would have been good earlier.

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