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Do Stories Have Strategic Value?

The purpose of strategy is to win. To achieve a certain stated goal. To realize business ambition. To get to the top of one's game. In a serious context as this, is there any room for something mushy like stories? Yes.

A good story is the very heart of strategy. It is the medium through which the best of boardroom plans step out with a chance to succeed. A business plan may cluster and segment people as “target audience,” “stakeholders,” “associates,” “prospects” and so on. But, fundamentally, they are people. And people love stories.

Storytelling is as old as history. A mechanism that helped transfer knowledge and experience from one generation to another. And got us this far as a species.

Stories are at the core of what makes us human. They define who we are and what we stand for. They are an expression of our values, beliefs, cultures, fears, hopes and aspirations. In many ways stories bring meaning to our lives and help us reconcile with reality and often help to live it.

And stories do make brands. But with increased levels of fragmentation and parity in a business context, decision-making becomes a daunting task for people. It is no longer simply linear, logical or rational. In such complex tapestry, brands with meaningful stories find their way to people. They help provide meaning and context beyond what is made in a factory, coded in a lab, or aggregated in a marketplace. And thus make business sense.

Stories connect the world of people with the world of a brand, acting as a catalyst propelling action and delivering commerce. This process illustrates that stories are not mere window dressings for brands but are the key drivers of delivering business value and securing future earnings. It is the fulcrum around which shareholder and stakeholder value is built. Check with your investors who would agree no less.

A good place to begin is by identifying the story around which an organization and/or brand came into being. Go back to your mission, vision, heritage or any core corporate document if there is history. Or answer the question if you want to make history. The answer is not in the product or its features. Not in the pricing or promotion. Not in the platform or placement. They are only small parts of the story. The real answer is in the Purpose. The why of the brand and the human problem. That's where the story begins. And that's when people start to care.

Think about this. Growing choices and blurring lines of differentiations are making a mockery of traditional marketing approaches. The power has shifted to where it should be: the people. Putting something on the shelf, blocking media space and sending out an invitation to buy is not helping win over people like it once did.

Without meaning, a product, service or experience is fast becoming a replaceable item in the conveyor belt called consumption.

It is easy to argue that people choose your brand for reasons like convenience, price advantage, quality, range and so on. They do, but why? There is always context around which these reasons operate in. Seen through a lens, the context often provides fascinating insights into cultural, relational, social and emotional spaces that can help make compelling connections between commerce and human behavior. Therein lies opportunity for meaningful engagement with people to influence behavior and drive a definite action.

A good story is thus core strategy to succeed in the meaning marketplace.

*Antony Rajkumar is executive vice president, integrated strategy planning at Leo Burnett India. *


This article was originally published on Business Standard.