With diversity comes great story responsibility

25th March 2018 |   Tim Riesterer

Diversity brings the risk of fragmentation, but the best companies are able to project a single voice by telling a consistently engaging story.

Today, an employee base with diverse experiences, skills and perspectives is one of your biggest organizational strengths. But like many good things, a diverse talent pool, for all the brainpower and energy and dynamism it adds to the mix, doesn’t come without its risks. One of those risks is fragmentation – particularly as it pertains to creating a unified, overarching story that resonates with your customers, and that those same customers see as a coherent, consistent and powerful experience.

So how do you harness the range of inputs and experiences in your company so that you project “one voice” to the prospects and customers you need to attract and retain?

You will be rewarded for creating a customer story that your employees lock into, and that your prospects and customers associate almost reflexively with the value and customer experience only you can provide.

All about the story

It’s about the story. That’s what keeps the risk factors of fragmentation, rogue messaging, and inconsistent customer experiences at bay. Your story has to be something your employees can buy into, project with enthusiasm, and yet still make their own.

There is absolute proven value in having a consistent, high-quality value story that demonstrates how you impact the customer – clearly, coherently, and creatively. You will be rewarded for creating a customer story that your employees lock into, and that your prospects and customers associate almost reflexively with the value and customer experience only you can provide.

But actually assembling and fine-tuning that story, then promoting it internally and getting your team to master it and own the message, and finally executing that message deftly in hyper-competitive markets… well, that’s obviously the hard part. But the effort is worth it. Because a great customer-focused voice told through a great customer-centric story can stave off fragmentation and become the most important driver of consistency and organization in your approach to the market. And, it will ensure that the diverse range of talent, experience and perspectives you’ve assembled will be moving in a common direction and maximized as a force for your success.

Story expert

One of the brightest lights I know when it comes to the power of storytelling is Jennifer Aaker, a professor at the Stanford Graduate Business School who has authored multiple books that explore what’s essential to developing, delivering and amplifying great, unifying stories. According to her, there are three major impediments to creating customer stories that generate momentum and drive the outcomes you need. With each of these obstacles, fragmentation of process and message lurks as a threat. Aaker says companies fail to grow and innovate through their story due to:

  1. non-alignment between the stakeholders involved with creating and then executing against that story;
  2. the problem your story seeks to solve not being identified; and
  3. the story not being defined.

Overcoming the hurdles

Here are three ways to overcome these obstacles and rally your people behind the banner of a great story:

  • Non-alignment? Keep it cross-functional. Marketers may be the stewards of the story within most organizations. But to really gain the kind of buy-in you need to create a shared vision people can rally around; you need to harvest input from a host of other departments—including sales, products and upper management. By committing to cross-functional message development, you ensure your team is moving with a common momentum towards the development of your story. The best part is that you won’t be pulling teeth to get cross-company buy-in. That will develop organically, as a function of being involved in standing up the story.
  • Haven’t identified the problem? Get customer-centric. If your story falls flat and doesn’t get enthusiastically adopted, it’s time to ask some hard questions. Is it possible that what you thought was a customer-centric approach was actually more of a vendor-centric one? Is it possible your six-step sales process or “buyer’s journey” is more a reflection of how you want prospects and customers to purchase from you, rather than how they actually make buying decisions as they encounter critical business challenges. If so, you might need to think about re-centering your company story so that it hinges less on some prescribed buying pathway and more on what challenges your customers need you to solve.
  • Your story isn’t defined? Make it situationally fluent. Traditionally, companies have relied on isolated product launches and messaging roll-outs to define an organization’s story. But, this programme-centric approach to rolling out a story doesn’t reduce message fragmentation – it can potentially make it worse: the one-size-fits-all approach could leave you telling the wrong story for the wrong situation. A better way, once you’ve asked and addressed some of the thorny questions above, is to take a problem-centric approach, defining your story according to the decision-making situations your customers face – ie the business opportunities, initiatives and problems you are uniquely qualified to help them respond to.

If you’re bullish about the diverse perspectives and experiences you have at your disposal, but feeling fragmented in the way you’re going to market, then it’s time to get serious about fine-tuning your story. Doing so is the first step to standing up a customer story that’s infectious, gets the internal buy-in you need, and projects a unified voice to the market.

Chief Strategy and Research Officer, Corporate Visions | + posts

Tim Riesterer is Chief Strategy and Research Officer, Corporate Visions.