What’s the story with Strategic Storytelling?

What do you mean by Strategic Storytelling?

Co-Founder and Director
31 Aug

I was in an interview the other day when a very smart potential future employee said “What do you mean by Strategic Storytelling?” Excellent question and full marks for asking it. She put me on the spot and could have skewered me like a floundering politician guessing the current price of a pint of milk, but I do, as it happens, have an answer.

I’m going to start with the storytelling part because that phrase has its own cheerleaders and doubters. Some of us need little convincing that storytelling is fundamental to the human condition, to human survival and progress. Long before the printing press, let alone the bizarre creativity of my predictive text or the looming domination of AI, we told stories in person to each other and we loved it. Wrapped in drama and intrigue, they contained the information of our history, verbally conjured into life the wonders of our world and the dangers that should be avoided. Stories told to us in childhood artfully shaped our moral codes, embedded religions, family folklore, traditions and aspirations. The characters in stories taught us a framework for success and failure and the storytellers became our favourite people because of the way they made us feel. A good storyteller makes us the centre of the story. As we follow along, neurologically there is no difference between what happens in reality and imagination. We experience every high and low, every joy and heartbreak. It’s thrilling, intoxicating and it makes us feel at our most alive. 

Neurologically, as any memory artist will tell you, facts and figures can be retained by building characters and emotional connections around them. Make the scenario shocking or funny and you’ll probably remember them forever. Stick with the neurology here, because the science now backs this up and is my ‘go to’ research info’ if I encounter a Chief Exec who thinks that stories are for kids and the thought of seeing the word ‘storyteller’ in a comm’s budget makes them physically shudder.The world is moving at pace, the demand on eyes and ears is everywhere and they are very, very scattered. Audiences are niche. Brands need loyalty and that requires investment – emotional investment.

Who wants a customer when you can have an avid supporter? A champion? A self-appointed expert ambassador for your company, brand or cause?

And why does that alchemy happen? Because they have become enthralled in the story you have told them and they want to pass it on. So, onto the strategic part. We’re all strategic, aren’t we? If you’ve ever approached the lines of overflowing queues at the supermarket and considered the variables of shopping trolley content, the speed and dexterity of the checkout person and the hovering unpredictability of supervisor intervention with the power to enforce staff breaks or opening a new till, you’re probably running a queue optimisation strategy and you’re testing it in real time.

Google tells me that being strategic is the ability to lead ourselves, our teams and our organisations, in a way that advances the organisation's missions and goals and creates advantage for the long term. I love that so much I might put it on my LinkedIn profile, because the value of being strategic has everything to do with putting in the time at the beginning to ask the right questions, interrogate the problem, research until you have clarity on the desired outcome and then with this earned insight create the plan that will lead you and your team to that game changing advantageous outcome for the long term. The development of a strategy is in itself a creative act, but the process by its nature must be based on research and data insights. Information can be dry and data can be baffling without context. It’s been said before, but there’s a good reason why Martin Luther King’s immortal words were not “I have a plan”, but "I have a dream" because in the dream there is a powerful new story. We might not all be planners, but everyone dreams.

Strategic storytelling is the combination of strategy and emotional connection which in turn creates belief. It’s the reason why some film scripts have a weight of truth and purpose that turns them into a classic. It’s the well-chosen metaphor, the perfect image or slogan that captures the moment and it transmits a potent message so succinctly that everyone instantly understands and remembers because behind the artfully crafted or chosen story is a depth of strategic thinking.

Great change happens when people’s imagination is set alight and they are inspired to act. The strategist is the architect of the thinking that creates the structure for revolution. The storyteller defines the characters, the arc of the narrative and weaves the thread through to a satisfying outcome. If you’re in the business of persuading people, of igniting interest and inspiring and installing belief, the only kind of storytelling is strategic because everything else lacks clarity, and, in a world of chaos and a billion stories circulating across all media, every second of every day, the skill is in creating instantaneous connection. 

As the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland says so astutely to Alice, ‘If you don’t know where you want to go then it doesn’t matter which path you take.’ Alice, rightly confused and in a highly reactive pattern of working, is very much stuck in the ‘problem space’. If she’s going to take control of her destiny, she needs to find herself a Story Strategist who can lead her into a land of solutions, help achieve her goals and create advantage for the long term.

If you’re looking for support to create the right narrative for your business, whatever your ambition, our strategic storytelling can help you bring it to life. You don’t need a brief to start the conversation. Get in touch today for more information.

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