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Don’t Tell Your Story, Do Your Story

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I read an interesting book by Ty Montague called True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business.

The book explicitly states things that the most creative leaders tend to feel implicitly — the value of brand authenticity, the importance of having a guiding light or unifying principle, and the necessity of always “walking your talk,” as the idiom goes.

One business-builder quoted in the book puts it well: “A company without a story is a company without a strategy.”

If you’re interested in sharpening your company’s story (and strategy), and communicating it in everything you do, here are 10 key thoughts from (or inspired by) the book:

  1. This book’s goal: laying out a clear, repeatable process for crafting an authentic story for your business, and then building a plan of actions that tells your story to the public in a consistent way.
  2. 80 percent of company heads believe their products are clearly differentiated. But only eight percent of their customers agree.
  3. The old way to market your business was story-telling. Today’s most successful businesses are story-doers.
  4. The most important part of telling your story is not advertising. It is action. Your meta story is the observed truth of you that emerges from the sum total of all your actions.
  5. Keep your corporate quest and meta-story focused and realistic. Doing good? Too broad. Saving the world? Not realistic.
  6. One perfect example of combining action with a meaningful story was De Beers’ Journey diamond initiative, a case in which the story was even built into the design of the product. According to Montague, the product’s story said: “Every relationship is a journey. We’ve been through our share of ups and downs and twists and turns, and what I have discovered is that over time, our love has deepened.”
  7. Here’s the Nike metastory Montague sees from the company’s actions: “Nike inspires and enables athletes to explore and then crush personal barrier and limitations. We create physical and digital tools, equipment, and motivation for athletes to achieve their absolute best. To do this we will: [list of actions]”.
  8. And here’s Montague’s suggestions for creating a new story for the Hummer brand, the line of behemothic petro-guzzlers that died in 2010. Capitalizing on the brand’s heroic cachet, create a new model called “The Patriot” to be built at factories staffed (whenever possible) by war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Send 20% of profits to a fund to support veterans facing mental and health issues. Design of the new model could be similar to previous models except for one thing — the engine, which would be available in only three options, all-electric, gas/electric hybrid, and American-produced natural gas. All of a sudden, the brand has a different story to tell — one filled with a much more positive meaning.
  9. For a jewelry store, our idea for a metastory might be: Every woman is beautiful. But that beauty doesn’t live on the outside, it comes from within — from confidence. Acme Jewelers provides women with tools and ideas to live a more confident life, with the kind of beauty that doesn’t just fade.
  10. Story-doing actions for Acme Jewelers might be creating (or sponsoring) an annual award for a top businesswoman, hosting seminars on public speaking and executive-level fashion shows, building a mentoring program for young women, etc. And much, much more, including having lots of bold, confidence-inspiring jewelry.

This story originally appeared in September 2013.

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