Guest Post by Chris Smith of kCross
“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” – a Native American proverb
Why is storytelling so powerful in the human experience? Stories provide us with our understanding of the world, and create emotional connections between the listeners and the characters and elements of the story. It’s no coincidence that families, cultures, governments, and world religions have been using stories for thousands of years to communicate and relate.
Brands use stories as well. Think about the famous Nordstrom customer service story that the company still tells today:
“A man brought his old tire to a Nordstrom location in Alaska to return it. Nordstrom does not sell tires. Rather, this building was sitting in the same spot that an old tire store used to operate. Since Nordstrom values customer service so much, they decided to give this man some cash back for his old tire.”
Nordstrom could just say “We have great customer service,” but by telling this powerful story, this company value becomes real and memorable. Your company has a powerful story, too, even if you don’t realize it. Every company can create and tell a unique and real story to attract the most competitive job seekers.
Getting Started with Your Brand Story
The first thing that my company, kCross Brand Alignment, does when we consult with a company to develop their brand story, is ask them about their roots. It’s helpful to gather the people in your company who know the most about its history to talk about the early days.
Try answering these questions to reveal the foundational values, events, and leaders that have shaped the company’s story:
- How did your company come to be?
- Why was your company started? What problem was is started to address?
- Who was your company founded by? What was special about this person or team?
- What were the first challenges that your company had to overcome? How?
- Were there points in your history when the company nearly failed, had to change course, or experienced significant trouble?
- Are there any legends or stories that leaders or employees always talk about when they get together after work? How can you weave those tales into your company story?
- How has your company overcome obstacles in the past? What has kept you going?
- Who are the heroes in your company’s past? Who has embodied the character and passion of the company, and how?
The Anatomy of a Story
Let’s review the basic anatomy of a great story by reflecting on The Three Little Pigs. Within each section, you’ll see a group of questions that that part of the story should answer, as well as how the Nordstrom story above follows this path.
There once were three Little Pigs, and the time came for them to seek their fortunes and build their houses. The first Little Pig built a straw house and the second Little Pig built a stick house because they were very lazy. But the third Little Pig built a brick house because he didn’t mind hard work. He knew there was a Big Bad Wolf that lived in the woods.
- Who are the main characters in your story?
- What is the situation and setting?
- What are the characters doing and why?
Nordstrom example: Nordstrom’s outstanding customer service team always goes above and beyond to make their customers happy. There is nothing that falls outside of Nordstrom’s return policy.
Along came the Big Bad Wolf to the house of straw. He huffed and puffed and blew it down. The first Little Pig ran out of the collapsed straw house to his brother’s house of sticks.
- What happened to disrupt the characters in the story?
- How did the characters respond?
- Who or what is to blame?
Nordstrom example: One day, a man brought a tire into Nordstrom demanding that it be returned, claiming that he purchased the tire at this location years ago.
The Big Bad Wolf approached the house of sticks. He huffed and puffed and blew it down. The first and second Little Pigs ran out of the collapsed stick house to their brother’s house of brick.
- How are things worsening?
- How is the tension building?
Nordstrom example: Upon hearing the man’s demands, the Nordstrom customer service representative called her manager to convey the man’s story about the tire. Obviously Nordstrom was not to blame for the defective tire since it was not the seller, but the company believes in going above and beyond to please customers.
Now the Big Bad Wolf approached the brick house where all three Little Pigs were huddled inside. The Wolf huffed and puffed, but the brick house stood strong. He decided to climb and get in through the chimney.
- Oh no! Is this the end of our story?
- How could this ever be resolved?
Nordstrom example: The manager worried about the money that Nordstrom would lose by accepting a return from a different store. He also worried that if he denied the return, he would not be living up the the company’s values.
The three Little Pigs could hear the Wolf climb up the walls and across the roof. The Wolf jumped into the chimney and to eat the Pigs! Little did he know that the Little Pigs had a boiling pot waiting for him on the hearth. As soon as he hit the water, he jumped back up the chimney and into the woods, never to be seen again.
- What was the most exciting or frightening point in the story?
- What was the turning point?
Nordstrom example: The store manager finally decided to give the man a full refund and took the tire from him. The man was shocked and delighted to receive the money he’d asked for!
The two lazy Little Pigs thanked their brother for his wisdom in building a brick house. They learned that hard work pays off. The three Little Pigs enjoyed dinner together and lived happily ever after.
- What was the conclusion?
- What was the lesson learned?
- How is the world a better place now?
Nordstrom example: If Nordstrom cared this much about one man in Alaska with a tire, don’t you expect that they’ll show the same level of service to all their customers? Nordstrom is truly a company that goes above and beyond to make people happy.
The most important thing to keep in mind when crafting your story to tell job seekers is it needs to be an example of your company’s authentic self. Your story should reflect your company’s true character and embody your real values. Don’t worry about what you think a prospective employee wants to hear – be authentically you. If you turn some job seekers off, good! If you’re expressing your true values in an authentic way, you wouldn’t want to hire anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable or aligned with who you are.
In Nordstrom’s case, the company seeks individuals who value customer service above all else. If they were to get a negative reaction from a potential hire after sharing the tire story, it would be a clear indication that that person would be a terrible fit for the role.
Go back to your roots, learn where you came from and who you are today, and craft a meaningful story that follows the arch of a classic story like the Three Little Pigs. After all, hard work pays off, right?
About kCross Brand Alignment Consultancy
At kCross we care about how things are done. We help organizations create the “Campfire Effect” through the process of alignment. We believe brands and stories should be created to truly serve the needs and interests of your team and your customers. We believe that brand, storytelling, and people go hand-in-hand. We call the process for connecting all three, alignment. Our mission is to help create intentional, purpose-driven brands that focus on sustainability by aligning who they are with the customers they best serve.