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Stories work because we can narrate our way through and listen to complex information in easy to digest form. Stories are sticky, especially when they present us with information we can identify with. Our stories from catching up in New York city this ... [Read More]


I think stories are more like qualititative research, not quantitative. I recently helped a non-profit in New York re-brand itself by going through a STORIES THAT WORK BRAND STORY process. I interviewed or did focus groups with administrators, the board, clinicians, patients, donors, anyone with a stake in the success of the place. The result was universal agreement: the current brand name and tagline had nothing to do with the real stories all of the stakeholders were telling about the place. I can't take you into all the details due to confidentiality issues, but the point is all stakeholders agreed that the NFP was a second home, a place they felt safe, allowed to grow, cared for etc. Worse, they all agreed its current name gave the wrong impression. No numbers were necessary. The board agreed to the name change.

The proper use of qualitative research is to develop hypotheses for further testing. So in a large org., if there is a budget, you could survey these impressions and get a quantitative answers. So to date over several clients, I have not had to do this.

Now in the commercial world, it's a little tougher. Don't sell stories but solutions to problems. Of course you know this already. Stories are just a means to get you to solutions to larger org. dev. issues. If the vehicle of stories reveal consistent themes, values, successes, obstacles, then there is probably something there to examine further. But don't get hung up on counting, because some of the best ideas come from a single mention of a concept that catches fire. That's how new ideas happen.

Sometimes senior management can be convinced (we used to do this in advertising) by playing videos or audio tapes of actual comments so clients could hear perceptions directly from consumers (or employees). Seeing and hearing is more persausive than telling or selling.

Thanks for the comment, Joe. I will read the book on IBM; it's already on my list to buy.

Sara J. Mouton Reger is the IBM consultant that wrote, "Can Two Rights Make a Wrong?: Insights from IBM's Tangible Culture Approach."

I have used a similar approach and love her modeling and 'real world' stories of how IBM used this to success.

What about starting with stories to figure out how best to talk about transformations, leadership changes, etc.? I learned that getting the stories is the easy part (though not easy). The hard part is somehow quantifiying them back to senior mgt to support change efforts. Thoughts?

Wow! Dove got a conversation going. I love the exchange. Three responses.

First about spend levels: I have no idea what the numbers were so I bow to the person who is intimate with the dollars spent and that the talk show placements were paid for. Smart spend if you ask me. Didn't mean to imply it was purely PR. Whatever the dollars, the print and outdoor were very brave for a CPG campaign intro. The media strategy is less important to me, however, than the way Dove has aimed to change the conversation about beauty in the marketplace.

Second response: The Unilver executives obviously worked very hard to discover women's dissastisfaction with the conversation about beauty in the category. Dove did research globally in a multiple waves to ground their idea. Sure, Dove is telling a story. All brands do. All ads do. Some stories are fiction; some stories are non-fiction. My opinion: Dove is telling a fairly strong non-fiction story. Just an observer's opinion. Dove touched a nerve that is behind all great stories, fiction or non-fiction, (paraphrasing the words of Robert McKee in his seminar) great stories cause people to say "yes, life is like that." Dove has done that for women by debunking beauty myths and supporting self-esteem. By the way, unbeknownst to me, one of the Dove women, currently in a Dove print ad for "50 woment over 50", showed up to my speech in DC a few weeks ago. She praised the Dove people for picking her, not based on any essay about the product, but for her views about beauty.

I grant Matthew's point that it takes a lot of work to craft a story and to keep it going. Especially in advertising, where wear-out is common. Dove, I believe, has done two things smartly. Dove has made the conversaation around their campaign truly interactive and two way on the web (they have been spoofed mightily on YouTube also). And the brand has stuck to what I believe is its core essence: authentic results authentically delivered. Yes, Dove does face a challenge not to let the Dove story "unravel" by keeping Dove's story and the conversation fresh, engaging, and relevant. They can do it by staying close to the customer and authentically reflecting them. It will be a real creative challenge. That's their job and I hope the continue to do it well.

Third and final response then I'll be quiet and listen: I would welcome a discussion of "outcome narratives". The power of story in organizational life os enormous. Success stories have gotten a powerful boost with the discipline of Appreciative Inquiry; something I am learning more about.

STORIES THAT WORK(R) offers several narrative tools that create and promote collaboration and commitment in planning, leadership, and culture. I'd love to have a conversation on these new avenues in organizational development with some supporting stories of course.

Thanks Valeria for the terrific opportunity.

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