Corporate Storytelling: Figuring Out What You Stand For
BY John Miller
September 26, 2023

You work in marketing, so odds are you have at least some focus on “storytelling” for your company. But it’s easy to get very conceptual when it comes to telling your company’s story, and fail to connect that story to what matters: operating and growing the business. 

When you do it right, embracing storytelling is smart business. 

The rationale for corporate storytelling is scientific—stories have been proven to fire our brains and drive purchase decisions. Importantly, you can’t just spit out the same old sales messages and call it storytelling. Building your company’s brand requires that you step back, empathize with the audience and understand what Seth Godin calls the audience’s worldview—the way they act, what they believe and how they make decisions.

Can you tell a story that your future customers can believe in? That they want to hear?

And that’s all well and good. But, can you connect that very customer-focused story to your business in a meaningful way?

Can you connect it to what you stand for?

Figuring out why your organizations exists

What is the essence of your business? The question is not what do you sell? or why are you better than your competition?

It’s, why do you exist? 

What is the driving purpose of your business (beyond making money)? What ideal are you so committed to that it enables you to help your customers and employees and everyone that comes in contact with your business be energized and engaged and ready to commit to your way of doing things?

Here are some examples that’ll help this make sense.

Nike stands for “athletic excellence”—not “making sneakers.” They want to empower everyone—you, me and Lebron James—to achieve extraordinary athletic performance. 

Disney stands for “family happiness”—not simply “movies” or “theme parks.”

At Scribewise, we stand for “trust through storytelling.” Not just digital marketing or content marketing or social media; our goal is to help our clients grow by creating a deeper, more profound, trust-based relationship with their customers. Content marketing, demand generation and thought leadership are just the ways we do it.

These are not taglines, or mission statements. They don’t need to ever be externally facing declarations. I don’t know that Nike has ever said that it stands for “athletic excellence”—but if you dig through the layers, look at their history and everything they say, it very obviously all boils down to that one thing.

The hard work of simplifying your business’ purpose

We recommend that your What You Stand For be concise. Ideally, it’s 2-3 words that make intuitive sense to everyone. That everyone can remember. That is so obviously at the core of your business that everyone feels it.

Boiling down your company’s purpose into a couple of words is not easy. You will not get this accomplished over lunch. It takes deep thinking, patience and plenty of conversations.

Here are some questions to ask your team. Better yet, have an outside consultant take you through a session or three built around these questions as an agenda; the outside perspective can help—after all, it’s difficult to read the label from inside the jar.

  • What is the change we believe our industry needs to make?
  • What is our unique POV on our industry?
  • Is there something everyone else in our industry is doing wrong?
  • What gets us excited to go to work every day?
  • What are we (or our products) good at?
  • What do our customers value most about our product/service?
  • What’s important to us as individuals?
  • What do we believe in so deeply that we’d forego (some) revenue to make it happen?

If you have smart, inquisitive people leading this session, the answers to these questions will spark dozens of follow-up questions. That’s good. This is a time to really dig deep for answers to the Big Questions. Don’t accept surface-level answers. 

What You Stand For is the bedrock your brand is built on

What You Stand For is the very heart of your company’s story, and your story is your brand. And understanding and activating your story and your brand is the difference between runaway success and just doing okay. 

So many businesses understand their goal of making money, but they don’t look to a higher reason for existing. 

In Good to Great, author Jim Collins wrote that great companies generally have one thing in common—a higher purpose that goes beyond financial goals, a purpose that is well understood both internally and externally, and guides the company through virtually every decision it makes. This consistency of theme stands the test of time and elevates companies to greatness.

Today, it matters more than ever before. We’re all operating in a hyper-competitive business climate. The younger generations want to work for and do business with companies that know why they exist and seek to have a positive impact on the world around them. Breaking through and connecting with the audience is more difficult than ever before because customers and prospects have global options. If you don’t understand why you’re in business, then how will your prospective customers ever figure it out? How will they choose you over everyone else? And why will they remain a client if there isn’t anything special about your company?

Figuring out What You Stand For comes with truly understanding your story, your brand. Your brand must be a clear view of what your organization really is. Research shows that B2B buyers are far more likely to buy from a brand they trust. 

Despite what many people believe and what some graphic designers and branding agencies would have you believe, your brand is not a logo and a color palette. Those items should be the graphic representations of What You Stand For—your brand consists of words, not images. The branding process should always begin with a deep dive exercise to figure out that story.

The key to getting it right begins with understanding what your organization believes in—What You Stand For.

Determining your brand requires an honest look at who you are. This isn’t easy to do; most people inside of an organization have a difficult time seeing the forest for the trees. 

However, a journalistic investigation into the core of the company can help you uncover underlying themes and bring your story to life. And that means branding is about finding the right words to express the essence of the company. It isn’t about the color of your logo and the look and feel. Those are important and become key elements in the customer’s brand experience, but they come after the words that define you. 

Figure out What You Stand For and make it your North Star, the concept that drives every decision you make. When an organization truly believes in what it stands for, decisions become easier and success comes faster. And who doesn’t want that?

Let’s talk about growing your company.

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