Chess grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze made the headlines this week when he was accused of cheating during the 6th round of the Dubai Open. The reigning Georgian champion aroused suspicion when he disappeared at regular intervals to visit the lavatory – it turned out he was using a concealed smartphone to help him plan his strategy!
Clearly such attempts at gaining an unfair advantage are considered underhand and a blatant form of cheating. But I believe there’s a way of marketing your business that’s so effective it almost feels like cheating. The good news is it’s entirely legal, quite noble in fact – and it’s called storytelling.
Storytelling is considered a ‘cutting edge’ topic these days in marketing and leadership, which is ironic given that it’s been around for a few thousand years! It’s been endorsed by the likes of Richard Branson, so I guess if he believes in it we ought to listen.
Many a blog-inch has been devoted to storytelling in recent times, but I wanted to add something by relating some real case studies where clients have successfully used storytelling to further their cause.
The automotive consultancy
I did some work a while back for a company called ASE, consultants in the automotive industry. Before we began our project the CEO revealed that he’d recently pitched (unsuccessfully) for a piece of business in Germany. He was one of 3 companies bidding for the work and when asked why they’d chosen another firm, the client replied, “Your presentation was very good but the other one just felt better.”
Being an accountant, this confused him no end. Surely, you base business decisions on rational logic? But of course such decisions are made by human beings, and as such the emotive buy-in is just as important as the intellectual.
We started to work together and incorporate some juicy stories into his business pitch – and the company has gone from strength to strength!
The quantity surveyor
I’ve been working with Poole Dick Associates for almost a year and it all started with the creation of a new vision for the firm. Central to this vision was what we describe as the Inside-Out approach, a belief that you can’t deliver great service on the outside unless you’re really solid on the inside.
So we set about developing the team’s leadership skills and sharing knowledge within the firm (through stories). Over time it’s influenced their culture and beliefs, fostering greater creativity and generating an exciting overall story for the company. It’s that story which is helping them win more tenders and recently gained them a Gold accreditation from Investors in People.
I gave a talk to some students at Manchester Business School a while back and a couple of young women came up to me afterwards and asked for some advice on a pitch they were due to give. Aimee (from Macau) and Rita (Portuguese) had become friends and, whilst visiting Rita’s family, they were introduced to a closely-guarded recipe for that Portuguese delicacy – the custard tart. They learned how to bake them, set up a small student business and were given an opportunity to pitch for investment.
We met a couple of times afterwards and worked on a presentation which incorporated their wonderful back-story. They rang me some while later, very excited and several thousand pounds better off after coming second in the pitching contest!
The marriage proposal
This one still makes me smile just thinking about it. Mark Jones is a financial advisor and a long-standing client. I’ve helped him with his business pitch and he’s gained a lot of confidence as a public speaker and a storyteller. A few weeks ago I received a rather cryptic email from Mark, along the lines of, “I’m glad we met and you’ve helped me a lot over the years. In fact without the work we’ve done together I don’t think I’d have had the courage to do this…”
In short, on Valentine’s Day he’d proposed to his girlfriend in Manchester’s Trafford Centre in front of hundreds of onlookers, not just any old way but using a flashmob dance routine he’d been secretly working on for weeks.
She said “yes”!
It’s no surprise that bigger organisations like the John Lewis Partnership, Budweiser, Apple and Specsavers are all using stories in their TV commercials. Supported by branding agencies, they tend to lead the way when it comes to marketing – but they’re only using similar principles to the ones highlighted above.
I recommend you follow suit – seek to storify, humanise and personalise your message so it connects with your audience on an emotional level.
Unlike Mr Nigalidze, it might just be the smartest move you’ll ever make!