Big Trouble in Little Story: 5 Signs Your Story Needs Some Soy Sauce

It doesn’t take a chinese kung-fu master to see most organizations need a bigger story.

You can easily hide behind the excuse, “its been a bad economy.” But in reality, the way we all consume information, manage relationships and make decisions has fundamentally shifted in the past few years. Your audience is more discerning and their expectations are higher than ever before. There’s a new age of communications that has significantly changed how customers, members, donors, and even employees perceive you.

If your story doesn’t measure up, you’re going to scary issues than Chinatown bandits or Lo Pan the Sorcerer.

Look for the Signs

(Beyond Kim Cattrall as a china doll)

Here’s a few tell-tale signs your organization’s story needs some work:

1. Your numbers aren’t up to snuff. Especially sales, membership, donations, web traffic, or other metrics…It’s one thing to miss growth targets, but if the numbers are sliding, your story is loosing relevance. Sorry, the numbers don’t lie. People aren’t buying your story.

2. External context has changed. We all face this challenge. The world around us shifted significantly, yet how you describe your work has not. Complacency and inertia has us sticking to a familiar storyline that no longer translates.

3. The new vision needs buy-in. Odds are your strategy shifted in recent years. Yet the aspirational vision hasn’t translated down the line and across the organization quite yet. Everybody knows leadership is pimping a new story, but the story doesn’t really mean anything. What stands between vision and reality is people embracing the story as their own. 

4. Too many internal competing stories. Go ask senior execs or front-line staff – “What is our story?” Pay close attention to the response. Do they share common themes, or do you hear too many different versions of the story? Even with the most forward-thinking organizations, there are aspects of the story that need revision or tweaking. It’s only natural, especially if you’re an innovative group.

5. Brand confusion. People don’t see you for who you really are. This starts within. If you can’t articulate who you are, how can you possibly expect others to do it for you? Your brand promise, its symbols, core values, emotional connection, and touch-points directly influence how you are perceived by others.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to revisit your organization’s story. Your goal should focus on creating coherence and alignment. You need to look at why people aren’t believing in the story anymore and what you could do to shift that perception.

2 thoughts on “Big Trouble in Little Story: 5 Signs Your Story Needs Some Soy Sauce”

  1. Michael —

    I might add that stories are about heroes and villains.

    If you can figure out ways to make yourself, your product, your brand, or your position the “good guy” — and the other side (or perception or idea or product) the “bad guy” — you win.

    We're wired as people to want to root for something (you) and against something (them). This also helps create conflict, which promotes drama, which keeps audiences engaged.

    The key, and you touch on it above, is to have one overriding “us vs. them” narrative, the A Story, supported by a secondary, more emotional message, the B Story. Do that, and everything else will fall into place.

    Doug Williams

  2. Hi Doug –

    Thanks for your comments.

    While the heroes and villain frame is quite familiar to us all, I think we're evolving into a new paradigm of storytelling that isn't about the good guys vs the bad guys. That old approach is exactly why so much storytelling fails these days – because it gets lost in moralizing and self-righteousness.

    You might appreciate this previous blog post I wrote – You Can't Change Anything You Hate

    Also, if you download my story manifesto – you will see the issues related to adversity and conflict further addressed and explored.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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