The Rise of the Citizen Storyteller: Part 2

June 9, 2015

For a company to make the transition from telling stories to creating brand experiences, they have to focus on the power of their employees to amplify the purpose and essence of the brand story. Confining storytelling just to marketing or PR limits the value and impact that storytelling can make.  It’s what David Packard, one of the founders of Hewlett-Pack, understood when he said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

Creating citizen storytellers is different from tapping the ranks for ideas to develop into content. That’s still important, but back up one step further. If you want to make all of your content operations and storytelling activities more efficient, start with infusing your brand story into every aspect of how your company walks, talks, thinks and acts.

Citizen storytellers

The term “citizen journalism” emerged in the late 1980s when professional journalists began to change the way that they did their work. They wanted to counter the erosion of trust in the media, and shifted their coverage to be “for the people,” rather than reporting what was fed to them, particularly in the political arena. They drew on a cross-section of people to share their point of view.

In an earlier post, I talked about why brands need to make sure that the entire marketing organization is marching in step when it comes to telling the brand story. That should be table stakes.

But for brands to realize their ability to create content-driven experiences, they need to recognize the need for citizen storytellers and nurture their ideas, creativity and ability to activate a message. They need to make sure that they understand the story, believe it in and feel passionate enough to tell it.

Equipping the entire story corp

When it comes to properly telling the brand story, it starts with it in different ways, shapes and forms within the marketing organization. Storytelling to a traditional marketing audience is very different from telling the story through demand gen or to an employee audience. It’s not the same audience and content shouldn’t be treated the same. It all has a different purpose and needs to be created, managed and measured differently.

Let’s go beyond marketing’s efforts and into storytelling through the entire employee population. How does that overflow into the customer world. Let’s look at it from three layers.

1. WHY does this matter to me?

People don’t care about you until they know you care about them.

For employees: No employee will pay attention unless you make it relevant to them. Just like you create personas for customers, think about personas for employees and how to make the purpose of your company resonate with them. If it doesn’t resonate, then you don’t have a true brand purpose or story. You have a bunch of marketing fluff that, at best, employees will give lip service when they have to.

For customers: A story matters to customers when it solves a problem for them. The consistency of the brand story and how you bring it to life in solving problems is what gives context for customers.

2. WHAT difference does this make in my world?

Employees: Employees want to know how this will affect them when they sit down to work every day. Tell them that. But don’t use a generic, broad-brush wash of what’s going to happen. Make it specific to groups within your company, and level of authority and responsibility. How a C-suite executive tells the brand story will be different from the field engineer. If it makes a difference to the engineer and how she manages her team – or what that team looks like – help her understand that. Be relevant, specific and personal.

Customers: The net outcome of your brand story had better be that it makes life simpler for your customers. Never underestimate the power of simplification. Have you ever wished that your day was simpler? It’s harder than you think. How valuable are the brands that make that happen for you?

3. HOW does this happen?

Employees: Some employees may need more process and framework than others. Yes, accounting and finance, you have a role as a citizen of our storytelling world. Marketers, don’t let employees tell you “that’s not my job” because they don’t work directly with customers. If they’re an employee, they work for your customers in some way, shape or form and they need to own that with all their heart. On the other end of the spectrum, there will be people who will bend your ear before you can finish your sentence, letting loose a wealth of pent up ideas. Not everyone will have the same degree of involvement, but make no mistake, everyone must be involved with the minimum requirement of shifting their mindset.

Customers: If customers believe that you’re sincere, you’ll have tapped into another wellspring of ideas. Companies are looking for ways to make it easier to bring in fresh ideas from and for customers that lead to leaps and bounds in innovation. You can only do this if you’re to let your employees run with the story. In fact, GE crowdsourced the design of a jet engine. And in a matter of a few months, instead of many years, they were able to develop a superior outcome at less than half the investment price tag.

When you get to this point, this is when the world becomes beautiful. You’ve set the foundational context of the brand story (why) and established the “what’s-in-it-for-me” aspect of what difference this makes to both employees and customers. With this in place, you allow creativity and innovation to naturally express itself through the “how.”

Power to the people

The beauty of reading a great story is that there’s more than one character that make the plot come alive. The truth is, we want – and undeniably need – employees to think of themselves as citizen storytellers. We need them to take ownership of the narrative and bring it to life in ways that content marketers, on their own, could never imagine. One form that may be is anyone’s guess.

But for brands to realize their full potential, however, they need to turn into meaningful experiences for customers.

And that, my friends, is no tall tale.

Read part 1

Are you interested in helping your employees better understand your brand story and then live it? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. Or follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author