Learn how to discipline your story to serve your digital transformation

A digitally transformed organization is a content organization. You now manage a continuum of experiences across an expanding range of digital customer touchpoints. And all those experiences need content constantly. The good news (besides the data that comes from such a continuum) is that you have a lot of opportunities to bolster your story.

However, with the increase in velocity of both content and consumption, it gets cacophonous out there. And the best shot to get your message heard and understood in all the racket is to keep your story focused, clear and consistent. To arrive at that kind of story, you need to define, create and protect your story.

1. Define what a story is

This is an easy stumble out of the gates, and it’s mainly a marketing and business problem. We are surrounded by stories today. Inundated by them. Movies, television, books. We know what a story is because we experience them multiple times every day.

But, when it comes to business and marketing stories, we tend to forget all the ideas we know about character and plot, conflict and resolution. Marketing stories are subjected to far less scrutiny inside the marketing department than the latest Netflix series is in the organization’s cafeteria. We also seem to weaken the idea of a story to elevator pitches and messaging houses.

That means you need a detailed definition of what a story is in your organization. Defining story has been a cultural exercise for millennia, and definitions range and disagreement abounds. But there is plenty of material out there from story experts that can be adapted and refined into that detailed definition.

2. Develop a process for arriving at a story

Defining a story doesn’t guarantee that you can create a good one. That takes a process (and practice). Great stories are crafted. They’re researched. They’re plotted in a way that each piece relies on the piece before it. They go through multiple drafts. They’re put out for feedback. They’re tested. Every novel in your Amazon cart represents a rigorous process that an author and publisher went through to arrive at that book. And that should be true of your marketing story.

For instance, without a process, your message to the market could have plot holes. It might be based on the wrong assumptions. In might be incoherent. Lack empathy. It could focus too much on your organization and not enough on your audience. The most likely pitfall for a story in an organization, however, is that it might be boring and have nothing new to share with the audience it is trying to engage. The way to catch and correct those story issues is to submit it to a formalized process, one that should start with research and end with validation, but whatever points are in between should be documented and rigorously followed.

3. Deliver that story in a protected format

The process for your story should yield a hard output a document. One that should be protected under glass that you break only when it’s time to change the story. This document is an internal one that nobody outside the company will see. It’s the story bible in the writer’s room of your favorite long-running television show, crafted so that multiple people in the organization have the freedom to own the story without deviating from it. Made so that any new hires that come aboard can quickly get up to speed and tell the story themselves.

And, while nobody outside the organization will see that document, everybody will see a version of it. Every piece of collateral, from a tweet to a one-sheet should reflect this narrative.  In many ways, the story document acts as a brand guideline as it keeps everyone consistent, on point, and gives a unified, recognizable look to the organization. It’s also what the organization rallies around because it represents what it believes for the market and how we can help our customers.

4. Designate someone in charge of that story

The previous three points in this article are moot if nobody’s in charge of the story. And I mean an individual, not a department. Managing and protecting the story is a full-time job in a digitally transformed company. Not only does it entail writing actual collateral, but it also involves reviewing and editing everyone else’s collateral to ensure the story is being appropriately told in all formats across all channels. It also involves tracking the success of the story and adjusting it when needed.

The person who assumes that role needs to be passionate for the story and needs to believe it. They may or may not have been involved in its creation, but they do need to buy in. If the story is not safeguarded in this way, it will get ignored, misinterpreted or misused until it doesn’t exist anymore, at which point your organization is just introducing more noise into that cacophonous market. In the end, the story needs to be a priority for a digitally transformed company.

Sure, disciplined storytelling has always been important in commerce. Products and solutions are complex; markets are complex; organizations are complex. But digital transformation has raised that complexity to the point that your story needs to be as quality-controlled and customer-relevant as the products and services that you sell.

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