Avoiding identity crisis in business communications

Paper dolls with speaking bubbles - two dolls are redI had an “a-ha” moment this past weekend – my 2.5 year old daughter has her own story!

It’s not the story I tell about her (even though it’s cute), or the story that I would like to write about her life (as controlling as I can be). It is her own perspective, and it’s developing, changing and growing every day. This was a revelation for me. In my mind, I hear her story told in my voice, in relation to the world I’ve built up around her (safe, secure, provided for). But that’s not really her story.

Her story is the one playing out in her mind as she exercises her independence, interacts with her environment and communicates more clearly about why she sometimes (quite often) chooses not to follow our rules. Her story is about how she put on her own boots today before going outside at daycare, about how she stirred the bowl of play dough for her class…and something about her friend J that was really exciting, but I couldn’t quite make out from her excited toddler-speak. But, that told me more about her day, her story, than any words I could have used on her behalf.

Toddler girls reading a story with her grandfatherThis got me thinking about storytelling, and the role of identity, voice and perspective when it comes to relaying an experience. In recent blog posts, I’ve talked a bit about knowing your audience, and creating experiences for them as the basis for business storytelling. So what happens after the experience? Apart from people who tell the story without you asking them to (ie. outside of your communication plan), the next logical step as a communicator is to figure out what the ongoing core message or narrative* will be, and who you’ll designate to officially tell the story on behalf of the business.

A clear “voice” in business communications simultaneously implies an understanding of the business, and implicitly conveys important characteristics of a business to the audience. The choices you make about who tells your business’ story, and the messages they relay, will tell your story almost as much as the content itself so it’s important to choose wisely.

In order to nail down the voices that will get your story across most effectively, you really need to:

  1. Know your business
  2. Identify the characteristics you want to reflect
  3. Understand the perspectives from which you can choose

For example – consider that you work in a medium-size company, with three senior executives. You want to share a great story with employees and customers about a new product that’s going to make things easier for the purchaser. Who would you choose to tell your story? Perhaps you’ll bring in the voice of the customer (say, a focus group participant), an employee who worked on the project, as well as one of the leaders. Each person will tell the story differently, colouring the experience with their own perspectives, shaping the identity of the business and the new product.

But wait! What happens when their stories don’t sync up? What if the customer says the product is helpful, but the user manual isn’t clear? What if the employee tells everyone they worked on a quick-and-easy-to-read user manual, and the executive sends out an announcement talking about glowing customer reviews?

How do you reconcile voices and perspectives so that people aren’t confused about the story you’re trying to share?

In this scenario, the fail comes from either not accurately framing the real story, or not choosing the right voices to weave together a consistent story. These two elements – voice and core messaging – come together to reflect the experience. The more frequently and consistently these two elements come together, the more your story will build a strong and clear identity for your business.

*I would like to thank Jennifer Charney who mentioned “core narrative” in a LinkedIn discussion thread recently. This terminology fits nicely into the storytelling approach.

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