Business is firstly about effective story telling

by Samuel Sanya
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MTN Uganda, Stanbic bank, Airtel Uganda, Amazon, PepsiCo, Google, Coca Cola, are all some of the largest firms in Uganda and in the world and they all have a common characteristic; these are the largest spenders on public relations, communications and advertising.

Information, which is often transmitted through a song, a poem, comedy, an article, drama or skits, a cartoon feature, a movie, community activations or perhaps through a conversation amongst friends, in person, in a newspaper, on the radio, on television or online determines how the customer perceives life in general, and your company and product in particular.   

Everything you do and not do is a chapter in the customer’s mental book of your product. In economics, the story of scarcity drives up demand and price. On the stock market, the story of profit and growth potential drives up share price; conversely, a story of uncertainty lowers morale. 

You might be the best at what you do; but if the public thinks you are the worst or if there is inconsistency in your story, then your world class product and outstandingly talented staff will not matter much in the short or long term. 

Many companies have collapsed after their narrative failed to pass muster. On the contrary, some companies should have shut shop by now are still open, because stakeholders are heavily invested in their story or narrative. 

Certain firms are simply too big to fail because several people are connected to their compelling story.  Think about those firms or individuals that have come close to bankruptcy but received extra-ordinary assistance from government or the banking sector; they most definitely had a compelling story. 

What constitutes a good story? 

Creating a good story consists of mainly two ingredients; the first one is the hero. This can be your company, product, or the idea that you intend to impress others with.

The hero is only as good and as easy to decipher as the second ingredient of the story; the antagonist or put more blatantly, the status quo that hero is trying to overcome. The antagonist has to be relatable, one that creates an emotional connection (usually through anger) with the audience so as to make it easier for them to embrace the hero.  

In life, everyone has an antagonist or two; a foe, a situation to improve. 

A certain villain that James Bond is licensed to kill, or certain Joker that Batman is trying to eliminate so as to provide justice to Gotham city. The bigger the antagonist, the bigger the hero. Who doesn’t want Justice? That’s a relatable concept that provokes an emotional reaction.  

Now, even though James Bond and Batman are both white men, and are in the business of delivering Justice, they go about it in different ways. That’s what is often referred to as “Brand Identity.” 

Brand identity are the visible elements of each hero, such as the tone of voice, color, choice of clothing, and shared experience that the viewer bases on to identify and distinguish the brand in their minds.

A brand without an experience is generally not authentic. 

There are four stages in life that human beings go through. It’s the job of the company to articulate these stages in its story to make it relatable and thereby authentic. 

Stage one is the formation; where does this hero/company/brand come from and what is their purpose?  Stage two is about movement and growth; the hero/company/brand has to experience “an Abraham” or “a Moses” or a “Jesus” moment; each left their homeland, their parents and friends and ventured out alone. 

The company must show an evolution. Moving from a garage, or a dormitory campus (such as in the story of Facebook). There must be a coming of age with the company indicating perseverance and growth and now able to deliver and take responsibility independently. 

Stage three is about conflict; there has got to be a clash between the hero/company/brand and the antagonist. Like you often see in the Rambo movies, he was often thoroughly whooped. Initially, is there a moment that you failed or faced great adversity? All human beings have one. 

Stage four is about conquest; the hero/company/brand must conquer the antagonist and this is where the ultimately, the utility of the company or product is clearly shown and appreciated. 

It then follows that the hero goes through the circle again with another antagonist or the same, but improved antagonist until the hero eventually succeeds, again and again and again. Customers love that rollercoaster. 

It’s vital that the customers envision victory with the particular hero such that they are willing to go on the journey or put simply, to purchase the product. 

People that get married stake their lives on that decision because they believe in the story that the spouse projects. They believe that the spouse is the solution to overcoming poverty, loneliness, and whatever else they view as an antagonist. 

The ultimate win is when the customer is able to recite the hero’s story and values to others; this is called “word of mouth.” 

All departments of the company, accounts and finance, sales, IT, legal, stores, procurements, marketing, public relations and audit exist to ensure that the company delivers on its story and narrative consistently. 

Why storytelling and narratives matter? 

Human beings are wired for stories and narratives; why else are musicians, and movie actors some of the best paid and wealthiest in the world? It’s simple, they tell stories. Often, they use their talents to articulate stories that resonate with their audiences – companies are built for the same purpose, using a different skill set.  

Decisions, whether small or big are made on the basis of how well a story resonates with those that hear it. It’s for that reason that armies invest in intelligence gathering, basically to gather stories on whatever it is that the army intends to invest its resources in. 

In 2020, PepsiCo invested $1.74b (about sh6.2 trillion) in advertising in the United States alone according to information from In 2018, the top 200 advertisers in the US collectively spent a record $163b (about shs 582.4 trillion), four times Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), on advertising. 

This was up 3.6% year on year, according to data from Ad Age’s annual Leading National Advertisers report. This increase was due to higher spending on internet ads, radio, print, and TV.

However, this traditional advertising only makes up about half of advert spending. There are other, more engaging ways in the tool box to engage audiences. The report showed that the largest increases in advertising came from Facebook (236%), Amazon (32%), Netflix (70%), and Alphabet, Google’s parent company (23%).

Stories grow empathy and bypass the inner “critic” within people. Stories offer common ground for the hero and the customer. Stories communicate the common human emotions of loss, love, passion, failure and this resonates with all human beings. 

People will always remember the experience they had with your product and how your product made them feel. That’s the summation of all the expertise and skills the company may boast about. 

What’s your story?

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