The power of a good story

Lucy Proudfoot

Lucy Proudfoot on Nov 20, 2017

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If you’re a company wanting to make a serious impact, just doing good isn’t enough (although it’s a great start); you have to be good at demonstrating it too. Making story telling a crucial part of your communication strategy is a great way of helping you to stand out in a crowded market.

For example, last week I was at the Meaning Conference in Brighton and heard a number of fantastic speakers. However, one that really stood out was a man talking about Tony’s Chocolonely.

I’ve been trying to work out what it was about his talk that I liked so much. Was it the amazing work that Tony’s is doing in disrupting the chocolate industry? Yes, in part. But if I’m 100% honest it was the way he told their story that impressed me more.

Here’s how the speaker did it so well:

He got our attention

Everyone was handed a free bar of chocolate as they entered the auditorium. Nice touch.

He set the context

He took time to transport us to two contrasting scenarios:

  • One was the end of a shoddy week (he used screaming kids, a grumpy wife, and stressful work to illustrate),
  • Another was the end of a fantastic week (this time his kids are quietly writing poetry, he’s having a lovely time with his wife and work was amazing)

In both scenarios, whether for commiseration or celebration, it resulted in us eating chocolate.

Next he asked for a show of hands. How many of us actually put chocolate on our weekly shopping list yet ended up sneaking some in the trolley anyway? More laughs and knowing looks from the crowd.

Finally he transported us to our cars, driving back from the supermarket, and at each set of traffic lights we’re fighting the urge to break into the chocolate that somehow made it on to the front seat. When we do finally crack and take a bite of that delicious chocolate we console ourselves by saying ‘**** it, it wasn’t on the list anyway.’

I like this guy, he’s funny and he’s showing humanity. I also get his point, chocolate is ubiquitous and we all eat it all the time, whatever the weather, we don’t need a good reason.

I want to hear more.

He hits us with the problem

Eventually, around 15 minutes in, just as we’re daydreaming about chocolate, he introduces the notion that the chocolate industry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. All those sweet purple cows and drum-banging gorillas are linked to a horribly corrupt and unethical industry that results in poverty, child labour and modern slavery.

In short there’s a huge disconnect between those making the chocolate and those enjoying it and the problem lies with the manufacturers. Changing that is the focus of Tony Chocolonely’s work, that and making delicious, high quality chocolate. Check it out for yourself.

He could have just said this at the start and hit us with the staggering stats but had he done that I fear he would have lost half the room to their chocolate bars and phones because it would have been yet another preachy tale.

He gave us stuff we could understand

The term bite-sized chunks couldn’t be more appropriate here. He went on to explain their work using a mere handful of slides, which showed only the crucial information in a visually interesting way. No bullet points, no long form text, mostly infographics like these:

(BTW anyone can download these materials for talks)

Taking it seriously

It turns out the man representing Tony’s is in fact their ‘Chief Evangelist’– (what a role!) which immediately tells me they take story telling seriously, rather than seeing it as a nice to have bolt-on which PR too often is.

He continued to find a story in everything, their name, the shape of their chocolate bars and their location and it was all interesting.

They don’t do paid media, instead they rely on social and talks. And it pays. It’s no wonder they’re such a big deal in Holland and now making serious inroads in the US.

So what can you do?

If you’re a company and proud of what you do chances are you’ve got a great story.

If you heard your story would you rush to tell it to your friends in the pub with pride or would you expect to be met with rolling eyes and suppressed yawns?

I urge you to think about how well you’re telling your story and be really honest with yourself, could you do better?

Stories have been shown time and time again to be able to change individuals’ outlooks and beliefs, motivate pro-social behaviours, and even alter behaviours so isn’t it time to take them seriously?