Getting Your Story Straight: How (and Why) to Craft a Company Narrative

It's become a cliché at this point: People don't buy products — they buy stories.

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It's become a cliché at this point: People don't buy products — they buy stories. Think of Ben & Jerry's, Tom's, Fenty, or Apple — we all know the founders. We know what the brands stand for. The brand and the founder are, deliberately, inseparable in the public eye. When you don't know the founders, per se, but the brand is prominent enough, you might be treated to some dramatically lit docu-drama featuring the newest spokespeople. Think of Tiffany's recent ad with Bey and Jay, or just about any Nike campaign ever.

In my previous columns, I have talked about the importance of brand identity on a personal level, no matter what your field may be. As I've spent 20 years running a PR practice devoted to CEOs, I would like to think I know a thing or two about why an executive's personality matters as an entity entirely apart from a brand. However, as this world of ours is rife with paradoxes, just as much as it is important — in this social media age — for the person running the company to be a three-dimensional being who the consumer can latch onto online, it is equally important for the biographies of a company's staff to reflect the company's values and evince its collective skill set and expertise.

Although you may not retain a PR firm and you might not even have a company, here are a few tips for CEOs that apply no matter whether you're running a global company, a small business or a freelance practice.

• Be yourself. You and your business are not the same thing — and that's a good thing. To create a well-rounded brand, let the personalities of your staff shine. Nothing trumpets ESG and diverse hiring practices quite like a group of employees being themselves. The more they can tell their own stories online and be themselves on the job, the more your customers will see and understand the breadth of expertise they are receiving and understand the ethos behind your organization. Letting people speak for themselves always speaks volumes for management. As an added bonus, it helps recruitment when you will find it far easier to attract employees who fit into your culture — if only because that culture is plainly visible.

• Put yourself in the customers' shoes. When assessing any media plan or social media presence, ask yourself what would make you choose your own company if you weren't the one running it. What kind of people would you want to see behind it? What narrative would appeal most to your ideal client? Do they want to see that you are up-from-nothing, or do they want assurance about every employee's educational credentials and certifications? If you are in a field in which reviews matter most, get those reviews and feature them prominently on your company site and on social media. Always play to your ideal audience — even if they haven't found you yet.

• Set yourself apart. While I'm not encouraging corporate espionage, you'll only know how you stand out when you look at your competition. See what else is out there; only when you know that can you understand how to stand out from the crowd. As you decide how best to highlight what makes your company unique, make sure you keep your ideal client's perspective in mind. Make sure to put values and personality forward in such a way that attracts the business you want — and the employees you need.

• Be positive. Yes, you will need to research your competition, but that's never any reason to denigrate them. Stand out with excellence, not with disparagement. If anything, look to be friendly with your competition and see what you can learn from them and what trade groups or forums you can join. Also extend this positivity into the community — maybe by sponsoring a local sports team or charity. Use your social media to promote causes that matter to your company's culture.

• Leave the past behind. Tell your story and tell the story of your team. But, make sure to keep it to relevant parts and recent history. Read the room and figure out what pieces of the story will matter to your customer base. Maybe they will want to know what you dressed up as for Halloween in second grade or what you scored on your SAT. However, chances are, they don't. You want to make sure what you decide to tell about yourself and your team serves the company narrative and helps round you out — but don't let it bog you down with too many details.

• Look to the future. Have you just made an exciting hire to help execute a new plan you've had in the works for years? Are you about to expand? Are you in the process of launching a new wing of your business? Let the internet know. Make sure the narrative you project online tells your client base how you plan on getting there and what steps you have taken to do so. Keep them apprised of your progress because you'll never know what someone might see in those plans and what offers might come your way as a result. This is another tip that will always help you with recruitment, too.

• Opposites attract. Diversity is a strength. We all know why a business benefits from hiring practices that seek out a variety of backgrounds and experiences in this world. However, once hired, your team doesn't need to be a monolith. I often find it helps to play up the various complementary strengths of a company's staff. For example, a president of a company might have a background with all the standard credentials while the CEO has a wackier founder bio. One lends solidity and the other lends character and a great story. Play up both sides of the coin to show how you have your bases covered.

Crafting a narrative around your company is one of the best ways to set your story straight.

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