Marc Andreessen famously said, "A company without a story is a company without a strategy." I couldn't agree more. Having a clear and distinctive story is critical in building a brand today. However, there's a distinction to be made between broadcasting your story--storytelling--and living your story, or storydoing. Understanding the difference between the two and making that shift toward the latter is fundamental to building a business.

We are living in a world turned upside down. Resources once relatively scarce have become abundant. In the last decade, the number of brands (and stories) has quadrupled. Thanks in large part to the Internet, the number of channels in which brands can share and tell those stories has also exploded. Ten years ago, YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr didn't exist; even Facebook was just a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye.

This abundance and fragmentation has put a real strain on probably the two most important resources of all: time and money. Broadcasting your brand's story in today's networked world is complicated, challenging, expensive, and increasingly inefficient. Finding and aggregating a sizable audience is hard. Numerous agencies and partners are needed to create the myriad of right content for the right medium. Not surprisingly, breaking through the ensuing noise and clutter with a coherent story is even harder.

None of this has proven good for brands. According to Brand Asset Valuator, overall scores of brand quality, brand loyalty, and brand trust are in decline, down 24 percent, 31 percent, and 50 percent, respectively. Perceived value is dropping as well--and with it, I suspect, the margins that brand value have historically generated.

The statistics are alarming, but perhaps more alarming is this: In this world of pervasive and systematic commoditization, most CEOs are unaware of the reality. Ask CEOs whether their company's products are differentiated and 80 percent will say yes; in stark contrast, just 10 percent of customers agree.

From Storytelling to Storydoing

So, if broadcasting your story is not enough, how do you effectively get the story of your brand and product into the world? Light up the medium of people. The good news is that the very forces that have caused the explosion and fragmentation of media have made people more influential and more powerful than ever.

What lights up the medium of people? Recommendations: 90 percent of people trust a friend's recommendation, 75 percent anonymous reviews on the Internet, 50 percent advertising. Those recommendations are based on great experiences. (And 70% make a recommendation because of a product experience compared to just 2% based on an ad).

Companies have to shift from storytelling, which has historically been the purview of the marketing department, to storydoing, which is a to-do for the entire organization. The common goal is less about creating communications and more about creating experiences that people can participate in and share with others. The adage continues to ring true: Actions speak louder than words.

What Makes a Great Storydoing Company

Storydoers are structured differently. They all put their story at the center of their business and build it into their products and services. They know what they are for and what they are against.

Target's story is about democratizing style, elevating the everyday. The retailer was the first to partner with high-end designers and make their creations accessible to all.

Great storydoing companies are on a quest. They define an ambition, beyond commercial aspiration, that comes through in everything they do. Being the biggest or the most financially successful is not a quest. There has to be a fundamental generosity for a quest to inspire. It has to be something that inspires people to join and evangelize.

Zappos is on a quest to create an amazing customer experience regardless of cost. It makes that real in its culture, even offering money to customer service employees to leave after a couple of months if they don't love their jobs.

The enemy is bad service … which brings me to the third storydoing attribute: Great storydoing companies have a defined enemy.

JetBlue was created to fight against the bland and brutalist experience on the major national air carriers. Its stated quest was to "bring humanity back to airlines." It didn't do that through slogans asking you to "fly the friendly skies," but rather expressed it through experience: one class of service. Leather seats for everyone. Satellite TV for everyone. Unlimited (and free) snacks for everyone.

In the networked world, shifting from storytelling to storydoing will make your company not only more efficient and effective, but also fundamentally more rewarding--for your customers and your staff and maybe even the world.

Published on: Aug 27, 2014