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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Power of Stories

"Story time" originally uploaded by shooz
Imagine a world with no stories. Just facts and figures and no context... That would be a world of commoditized offerings and experiences.

Stories provide context. Stories are how things have meaning, and why they matter. Stories provide value.

Stories come in different types: the explicitly stated story of a brand or store which communicates directly to the customer; also, the romantic aura that has built up around a brand or product because of its history in the marketplace. Some stories capture both elements.

As I approach a Starbucks to order my venti non-fat latte, I experience a sense of calm and anticipation. When I see the Starbucks' green mermaid, I know what to expect. Starbucks tells a story of quality and consistency, in a soothing environment, with baristas who exude competence and enthusiasm.

When I reach a Target parking lot or see the red Target bullseye, I also know what to expect: a consistent, clean and fun experience that will inevitably lead to an unexpected design related discovery. The Target aura is such that every product in the store has a reason for being. It reinforces the Target story.

Each is like opening a favorite book and reading a familiar story: Starbucks and Target are distinct from one another, but each is memorable and each's aura helps me immediately make sense of the offerings within. Each one represents a powerful story that captures the imagination and becomes the basis for numerous word-of-mouth referrals! These are stories that have evolved as store and product have evolved.

Some of you may be familiar with Anthropologie. It's a retail chain, offers a catalog as well as a website. No two retail stores are laid out the same. From the website, you get a feel for its whimsical and compelling story. This is a more explicitly stated story that reflects a desire to communicate the nature of its environment directly to the consumer. Notice the language used to describe the Anthropologie retail experience:

"You relish the tales your belongings tell and delight in the unique aura they cast around you. If someone toured your home, they would encounter not just beautiful things but works of art. Not just function but ingenuity. And not just objects but stories.

You’ll find that magical spark in the clothing and objects in Anthropologie’s stores and catalogs. And in our staff, you’ll find friends who share your passion for exploring worlds other than our own.

We carefully select and design our products with an eye for craftsmanship, the small details, and that certain something special that makes each item you find more than a novelty but a personal discovery. "

Doesn't that tell an interesting story? By the way, did you know that Anthropologie has never advertised, relying instead on word-of-mouth referrals? And, it disavows direct selling, preferring instead to create the most engaging, magical and consistently memorable story possible within its stores, on its website and through its catalogs.

Futurelab's Alain Thys recently wrote a fascinating post titled "The Ten Truths of Branded Storytelling". I'll list them here: Seek the Story to Rule them All; Great Stories Come to You, If You Listen; Amplify Those Stories That Others Can Tell; Connect Your Branding Efforts to Your Unique Story Proposition; Connect your Story Efforts to Your Bottom Line; Know Your Classics [yet don't get hung up on them]; Storytelling is Not Just About Words; You Don't Need to Tell it All; Let Go of the Illusion of Control; You Cannot Fake Authenticity.

Pay particular attention to Truth #7: storytelling is not just about words! Be sure to reflect your story in everything you do.

Do you have a story? I hope so.

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