Yesterday we got the news that Starbucks is to back a social storytelling start up. Of course. Today storytelling is colonising every aspect of business, taking precedence in the order of things.
It’s not hard to see why stories are so powerful. Borkowski was built on the premise of stories and we have been telling them for thirty years. Advocacy messages, whether for a cause or a brand, automatically invite scrutiny (think politics) They prompt us to put our defenses up. Stories are different. Not only do stories encourage people to identify with the brand or individual they represent, but by inducing the willing suspension of disbelief they leave the audience predisposed to accept their premise, at least temporarily. Stories should alter our perception and experience.
Authenticity is equally crucial. If the story world does not reflect the genuine values of the company, it will become very obvious. When the Virgin Group—an oddness of businesses that include health clubs, banking, air travel, bridal, mobile and space tourism—tried to sort out its corporate identity a few years ago, its leaders realised that there was a paradox at the heart of the company. This paradox is personified by Virgin’s maverick founder, Sir Richard Branson: he is a hippie at heart yet a highly driven and successful businessman. A campaigner for social good yet at the same time a profit-driven capitalist. This gave thought to the “Virgin Way,” and that essential insight became the story the company tells itself to make sure it’s on the right path. You have to hand it to them!
These days we also face the conspiratorial social whisper. The time when brand marketers, PR’s and entertainment moguls could dictate what people see, hear, and think is long past, if it ever existed at all. Now they invite people into their world and hope enough will stay to make the effort worthwhile. Trouble is when the spell is broken, the audience snaps back to reality. The job of the 21st-century PR is to make sure that does not happen.
Starbucks make coffee and something resembling pudding in a cup and do it well, but really their story here is about High Street ubiquity and falling sales post the various tax avoidance headlines. Their storytelling venture is more cliched driven spin or a jump onto a fashionable bandwagon.