I love a client who loves their brand. I was meeting with such a client recently, talking with her about deepening their company’s brand story and creating greater employee engagement and alignment around it. This particular client has a passion for her brand that is remarkable and infectious; combined with her strategic smarts, sense of humour (and not to be overlooked, style), she is a true joy to work with.
We were talking about better ways to tell the company’s brand story to employees, including building a more compelling keynote presentation that she and other leaders could deliver: a common storytelling tool we help clients develop. However, I explained that as good as that presentation and other storytelling tools would be, they alone will not fully entrench the company’s brand story in the hearts and minds of employees. For the real magic of internal storytelling lies not as much in the company’s leaders telling the brand story to employees, but in getting the employees to tell the brand story back to them.
With this sentiment in mind, outlined below are four ways that companies can do a better job of getting their employees to not only hear their brand story, but also embrace it and make it their own.
Avoid corporate jargon and instead speak like real human beings
A lot of brand planning language ends up sounding like it’s a plaque or an annual report talking to employees instead of a fellow human being. This is often because that language is crated through collective composition, where lots of smart people lock themselves in a room and try to agree on lowest common denominator words they can feel good about in writing, even if they aren’t the type of words that any of us would ever use in natural, day-to-day conversation. Instead, use that time together to explore and uncover the conceptual threads of your brand story and then leave the articulation of those threads up to a seasoned writer: someone on your team or from the outside who can strategically and poetically do justice to those concepts with language that is provocative, memorable and human.
Provide the deeper meaning beyond the bumper sticker sayings
Too much brand planning work is driven by a relentless desire to boil everything down to one line that could fit on a bumper sticker or t-shirt. I can appreciate the focus and sacrifice that comes from this sort of effort, as a galvanizing concept emerges to take center stage. The problem, however, occurs when companies think that that line alone is going to tell everyone everything they need to know and leave the individual interpretation of that line to chance. Don’t make that mistake. Take the time to dig deep, uncover and articulate the richer meaning behind the line or lines that are central to your brand story. Every great story has a title; but the real heart of it resides in what lies beneath.
Invite employees to share their own exemplary stories of your brand story coming to life
No matter how beautifully articulated your brand story can be, it will not truly take hold with employees until they can identify and share stories from their own work experiences of your brand story coming to life. When they can connect their own story and workplace activity to your company’s brand story, it becomes more than a collection of words on paper; it becomes real. So create forums, channels and practices for employees to regularly share their personal examples of your brand story made manifest. Make this communal storytelling the way you engage internally (e.g. someone tells at a three-minute exemplary story at the start of every meeting), and it will quickly become integral to the culture and operations of your organization. (NOTE: I will write more on this practice in a future blog post.)
Show that you mean it by measuring it
A client once said to me, “If we measure something, employees know we’re serious about it.” Despite the best of intentions that internal storytelling efforts such as these can have, they are often regarded with a degree of skepticism and cynicism as employees wonder if this is just another “flavor of the month” initiative. Show them you mean business by measuring the impact of your brand story, linking it to performance goals of the company and its leaders and recognizing and rewarding those who best live and breathe it. If you take it seriously by doing this, your employees will as well.