let me tell you a story... story based innovation

Quick, think of a good story you’ve heard in the last few months – any story (short story, child's bedtime story, a joke, a story in a presentation, etc). Now think of a couple of good statistics you’ve heard in the last few weeks. Which one came to you easier? If your like the majority of people, you remembered the story far easier than statistics.


There is something magical about certain brands that simply rivets us, drags us into an emotional roller coaster, pulling at our heat strings or leaving us in ore. These brands, and/or the people behind them has such compelling stories, we can't but be glued to their appeal. I've always known this, but it has never been more clear to me until I serendipitously watched a BBC Knowledge program called, The Million Dollar Intern. Six business whizz kids from around the world go undercover for a week working at the bottom rung of a range of flagging businesses in an effort to re-energise them. After revealing their true identity, will they succeed in getting the owners to implement the radical changes needed to get their struggling businesses booming again?

The episode I caught focused on a struggling chain of ten bakeries in Gloucestershire, England, by the name of Jane’s Pantry. A business that was owned and run by a career baker, but over time the pressures of market changes lured him into uneducated business decisions that were crippling the business and risking over a hundred jobs. The 'Million Dollar Inter' AKA, Fraser Doherty, 24, is the face of SuperJam, an innovative jam brand he set up when he was a teenager. He now sells a million jars of jam every year. Fraser takes his impressive youthful business experience to Jane’s Pantry in an attempt to rescue it. And would Jane's Pantry founder, who is twenty plus years senior to Fraser, listen and take on his advice?

Fraser's charisma was obvious as he worked under cover as a intern in various parts of the business. But it was the magic he weaved after revealing his true identity that showed his true business acumen. Something that I have always pursued with great passion, the power of an authentic story. Fraser, and myself, were shocked to realise that the customer facing staff didn't know the story of their product. No idea where the ingredients comes from, no idea that its all hand made, and they certainly didn't share these stories with customers. Those that spoke to customers daily, were disconnected from the heart of the business. Fraser's idea was simple, tell the world your amazing story, which went as follows:

  1. Jane's Pantry makes everything by hand, daily
  2. Jane's Pantry has amazing people behind the scenes making the products, each with their own unique story
  3. Jane's Pantry partner with local business' like the butcher and green grocer to deliver truly local products.
  4. Baking is an art, one to be appreciated
  5. Bring all these stories to life in the stores. The way they are fitted, through the staff and the ways they engage their communities.

Seems fairly simple. But there is a compelling ingredient in there that many business forget, one that can mean the difference between mediocre and fantastic performance. We live in a world that thrives on information. We encounter stories everyday, through social media, the news, human interaction. There is a key to compelling stories, authenticity. I've said it before, transparency is the new green. So everything businesses currently do behind closed doors will be dragged into the light over coming years. For some, this is a nightmare, as they run from a less than ethical manners in which they deliver their product of service. But for some, this will be truly enlightening.

For those with a compelling authentic story, people will on mass be delighted, drawn into the aura of the story,.

My chance moment in catching the show became truly serendipitous when I arrived into my office the next morning. My first meeting was with a referred contact (name removed to protect privacy) that thought we could bond over a common interests. What happened during that coffee meeting purely and simply blew me away. I found myself speaking to a cheerful, authentic leader of a family owned business with over a century of history. Few family businesses in live to share heritage across more than two or three generations, but I was meeting with a fifth generation in this family business.  Which is why the new heirs to the family throne are determined to ensure that their company’s one hundred plus years old legacy remains strong. 100+ years? You can't buy that kind of history.

100+ years.. you can't buy that kind of history

Faced with the realities of changing world, this individual sort guidance on how to guide the business into a new era, making special note of a struggling division known for a unique craft in gold plating. A skill that catapulted the business onto the world stage after perfecting the process in the 1970's. Since then, it has crafted collections of jewellery, sculptures and lifestyle products that  bring to life the different values, traditions and icons of a global business rooted in Asia. But in a world that is loosing connection with the world's craft, the business faces some tough decisions in the years to come.

As my chat continued, it become clearer to me. The company's legacy carried immense brand equity, but not necessarily in the product. The story behind the craft and the family legacy bring the story to a dizzying heights. It's future lay in its story. Bringing that to life could reinvigorate the brand as a desirable brand.  Just like records have become a sentimental integrated part in the heritage of music brought to life by record culture, film cameras have become a luxurious craft, and Rolls Royce has developed a aura well above its automative product, this family business could embrace its heritage to create a compelling, authentic story. One with deep emotional engagement, one that new digital or transactional focused businesses could not replace.

Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, says science backs up the long-held belief that story is the most powerful means of communicating a message. In business, storytelling is all the rage. Without a compelling story, we are told, our product, idea, or personal brand, is dead on arrival. That is evidently true for established brands, as consumers are empowered by choice. Choice means that differentiating between two products can often be tough. Specifications, features or design can all be the same in a hyper competitive market. Leaving only the speculative or emotion connection we may have for either alternative.

There’s a lot of attention around corporate content now. Relevant content. Compelling content. Engaging content … and tons of writing on techniques - how to spin the content, how to write powerful headlines and so on. But less attention is given to storytelling. That’s weird since social media is the perfect opportunity to bring stories to life. Why are more brands not telling authentic emotional stories?

I encourage you to ask a few questions in your place of employment, work or business. Where does your product come from? How is is made? Where do the supplies come from? Who makes it? What are the stores behind the people that make the product? You might just surprise yourself and find the basis for story.