The Anatomy of a Compelling Company Story

Every company has a story. Some are exciting like Virgin’s, some tug at your heart like Tom’s shoes, and others are more utilitarian (important note: confusing “utilitarian” for “boring” is usually a mistake). The most successful companies spend time finding their niche in our world – following market trends while looking beneath the surface of their product or service to uncover the true value of what they offer and why consumers should care.

If you’ve been in business for more than a year then people already care about you for some reason. But what is that reason – how do you discover your company’s story? Where should you start looking? Let’s look at some useful tools.

I recently had the privilege of working with Alyn Edwards of Peak Communicators to lead a Fortune 500 company through a half-day session devoted to discovering its story. This company, which makes hardware and software, is relatively unknown because it has always been content to be “the guy behind the guy.” But now it is considering changing its approach. Why? One reason is their realization that many people want to work for companies that are exciting, or accomplishing something important.

Take glassware company Corning, for example. When you think of glass do you see windshields, windows and drinking tumblers? If so, watch Corning’s video “A day made of glass.” It will change your perspective. Before this video I’d never given Corning a second thought, and I was probably not alone in this. But now that I’ve been exposed to Corning’s story I’m excited to watch them step into their role as leaders in the evolution of technology. If I worked for Corning I’d be showing off this video to everyone I know.

What’s your story?

From a branding viewpoint there are several questions that lead to a company’s core story:

Why did you start the company? You must have seen a need in the market: a cheaper version of something (Ikea), a better version of something (Virgin), a brand new idea (Google).
What drives you? Building a company is difficult. We’ve all heard the “80% of businesses fail in the first year” mantra. Why take the risk?
Where are you going? Do you see something others don’t? Are you interested in creating a good work environment or community?

Watching Alyn help companies discover and articulate their stories has been enlightening. During his 25-plus years in broadcasting and 10 years in PR, he has developed an ability to bring people and companies to life in a way that is timely, relevant, interesting, and authentic. Where my branding-oriented approach focuses on a company’s single, key story (see the three points above), Alyn’s PR-centric method delves into any and all stories that provide further insight into a person, company, innovation, and so on.

Sharing your story through advertising

The complement to branding and PR storytelling is advertising, which has a distinct purpose: noise and conversion. Grab your audience’s attention, then ask them to do something, make a purchase, sign up, share, etc. Advertising messages can differ greatly from those of branding and PR. The story might be told in a few seconds or over the course of multiple ads, and the truth isn’t even necessarily required. The 2013 campaign for Magnum Gold was built on a story about two art thieves finding love by stealing a gold crown, which they value as much as Magnum Gold ice cream. Realistic? Of course not. But Magnum Gold seems to be doing just fine.

So where do you begin with your company? I recommend following the order of this article. Branding is the foundation and establishes the core values that you want people to associate with your company. PR adds life, depth, and authenticity. Then advertising starts making noise and fighting for attention in crowded marketplaces.