Article published in Business in Vancouver:
HOW TO: Use Corporate Biographies in Marketing
The stories explain what a company is about and where it's going.
By David Liebe
The world of business is a treasure of amazing
stories. From the drama of closing an enormous deal, to the day-to-day
activities that occur within a corporate culture, it's the stories
that really explain what a company is about and where it's going.
Many company presidents and CEOs are anxious
to talk about their company's history and can see numerous applications
for a finished book, but they also acknowledge a deeper sense
that somehow it would be a crime to simply let the stories disappear.
That's a very human response. Stories are
the fundamental basis of communication and we are all hard-wired
to respond to them.
A good story is exactly why we go to movies,
read books and talk to one another. A movie with great special
effects but no plot goes straight to video. If you have any trouble
relating to a novel's main character, the spine barely gets cracked.
And when we complain that somebody has nothing to say, we really
mean they have nothing interesting to say.
There is no shortage of great stories in any
business because all of the necessary elements for a good plot
are in place: the good guys (management and staff) striving towards
an objective (better product) while thwarting an enemy (competition,
sluggish economy) to attain a tangible goal (market dominance!)
and a less tangible benefit (feeling good at the end of the day.)
A corporate biography is a collection of stories
that captures the real heart of a business, making certain their
lessons aren't lost forever. Not to be confused with an annual
report or a marketing brochure, a corporate biography is a book
that reads as well as any novel and answers key questions. What
inspired the company's founders? How exactly were the pivotal
decisions reached? Was there a time when the company was seriously
floundering? What steps were taken to keep it alive? To what extend
did different personalities contribute to the business culture?
And what examples are there to show the culture is alive and well?
There's simply no better way to inspire imagination,
motivate a team and express a corporate culture than by creating
a story that reads well. And if you can compile all those stories
into an inspired epic, well, enjoy the ride.
There are many reasons why corporate biographies
are so popular. Marketing departments give them to new and potential
clients. Human Resources make them required reading for employee
orientation. Public Relations like the corporate myth to reach
beyond head office.
A well written and beautifully designed corporate
biography makes an appreciated retirement gift and an effective
tool in cross-cultural introductions. These rich stories honour
people who have put their heart into the business and inspire
others to do the same.
This is, however, an era of sound bites and
bullet points. Is there room for a thorough, well-told story at
a time when the world supposedly moves 'at the speed of business'?
Absolutely there is, and here's a story to illustrate why:
Once upon a time, Onk the caveman poked at
the fire and announced that he had a story to tell. The men and
women seated around him murmured in approval and edged a little
closer. They regarded Onk as their leader, for he was able to
create magical experiences simply by weaving together words. He
had discovered how to temporarily transport his followers from
their primitive existence and instill a grand vision for a wonderful
future. After one of Onk's stories, the people in his tribe believed
anything was possible.
And this night was going to be particularly
special, for earlier that day Onk had dreamed of a faraway future
where leaders spoke in media-friendly sound bites. A glorious
time when every story could be broken down into three sentences,
tarted up in PowerPoint and delivered fast enough that the meeting
didn't stretch past the lunch hour.
If that was the future, Onk reasoned, then
that's how he would share tonight's story. He managed to strip
out all the drama, reduced the good and bad guys to basic stereotypes
and concluded with a meaningless sentiment that caused everyone's
eyes to glaze over. His delivery was measured, the points clear
and well ordered, and the whole matter was done within five minutes.
Onk's followers stared at him, mouths agape.
And then they killed him.
Onk made what is now a common mistake. He
overvalued brevity and style, and completely lost sight of the
fact that people respond, first and foremost, to a story.
He relied on visions to predict the future.
We use remote controls, web surfing and newspapers, and they all
predict the same thing: Something big is coming! The future is
mysterious and a complete unknown. It's impossible to predict
what organizations will thrive and which will go the way of the
Dodo bird. And when will all this change kick into gear?
January 1, 2000. More or less. The millennium
is the start of a new era - one that will be faster, harder to
comprehend and full of more unknowns than at any time in history.
It's natural at a time like this to look ahead and wonder what's
coming down the pipe.Instinctively,
to prepare a plan for where we are going, we want to know where
That's why companies, anxious to keep their
hard-earned corporate culture alive, have begun to record their
stories and share them with everybody who is interested. We're
not so removed from Onk's world that we can't appreciate this
simple truth: If the stories survive, so do the story tellers.
David Liebe is a principal at Speak Memories
Publishing, a Vancouver-based company specializing in privately
commissioned corporate and family biographies.