The Art of Corporate Storytelling

Raj realised everything was lost and his dream was shattered all over the floor. He could hardly summon enough strength to pick up the broken pieces that lay orphaned on the marble. Mr Murthy has finally managed to accomplish something that all his parents, teachers, well wishers and even friends could not over all these years – talk him out of his madness by casting a shadow of doubt on his idea, his elixir. Everything seemed a waste — the decision to drop the final year of engineering, the decision to chase the singular idea that had almost driven him mad, chase it every living and breathing moment of his life. But Raj just …

And …what happened to Raj? Who is Murthy? What did he exactly do? Or even, how can Murthy do it to Raj?

There is something about stories… the sound of the word automatically makes our pre-frontal cortex more receptive, making us open to stories. Small wonder, storytelling as a concept has become so popular in the corporate parlance.

While the example you saw earlier is a traditional way of telling you a story – through literature or even movies, the traditional way of telling stories in the corporate is very different. So the same will be narrated as follows in the “History of the Company” section or in an “Interview with the CMD” section of the corporate website. The format will also be very different.

Interview of CMD of ACB Inc: Mr Rajsekhar Ghosh has been a visionary and an alumni of XYX College of Engineering, UVX School of Business (US) and have received Hon PhD from 123 University (US). Mr Ghosh’s vision led him to create ACB Inc in 2010 at the age of 25…

Will you as a reader want to know more unless ACB Inc is of the stature of Infosys or TCS? What you read above is a traditional communication of a corporate. While the story of Raj was gripping and made you ask for more, the “story” of Mr Ghosh is like a eulogy or propaganda of a self-proclaimed “visionary”. Somewhere in all these efforts of creating an extraordinary corporate leader with words, the real extraordinary story has taken a hit.

So when a consumer is promised a story and fed a propaganda, he or she feels cheated. And the executive brain generates a negative association with the brand.

So while almost everything goes in the name of storytelling beware of five pitfalls:

  1. Not every information merits a story: Only if there is a real story or a real possibility of weaving a story around a product launch, tell that to the world. Otherwise, let it remain a hard news with the features and benefits that the readers will be interested in.
  2. Honesty is the best policy: In the compulsion of creating a story do not end up weaving lies. This can ruin the brand as in today’s e-connected universe, know for sure you will be caught.
  3. Storytelling is not a science: So there is no formula and for sure one size does not fit all. Weaving a story has to be highly customised. A communication may or may not lend oneself to storytelling. And well, there is no guarantee of a success either. Just like art one has to be more receptive to its dynamism and flow, rather than put it in a straightjacket with pre-defined outcomes.
  4. Do not be afraid of failure stories: For a real story to appeal or to connect with an audience it needs to celebrate the human factor. There will be open-end questions, moral dilemmas, greys and of course failures. The story will tell the audience how these failures and dilemmas helped a simple and afraid young man or woman to be brave enough to give up everything for a dream.  Remember we love to hear failure stories only of successful people.
  5. Never identify with the story: Always keep a distance with the story. It is only when you are able to keep your distance with the story you will be able to do justice to it on behalf of the audience or readers. As a writer when I am done writing a piece of fiction, I read it again, multiple times, from the perspective of a reader. This helps me, as a writer, understand why a piece of writing or a story will appeal to a reader or engage, or it won’t. Then if the answer is in the negative I go back as a writer to work on the story again. In a corporate parlance it will become a propaganda of your achievements if you end up identifying with the story.

Always remember, in the art of storytelling the only thing that takes precedence, literally, is the story.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Mahul Brahma
Prof (Dr.) Mahul Brahma is Dean and Professor of NSHM Media School and NSHM Design School. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Business School, Bath Spa University, UK. He is former Professor, Dean of School of Media and Communications and Director of Communications at an Indian university.

Prof Brahma was Chief Editor and Head of CSR, Corporate Communications and Branding, Publishing and Conferences for a Tata Steel and SAIL JV, mjunction. He is a D.Litt in luxury and communications, and a PhD in Economics. He is a TEDx speaker on the mythic value of luxury.

He won Sahityakosh Samman in 2022 and 2023, Crisis Communications Leader of the Year Award in 2021 and several other national-level awards in communications and CSR. He is a luxury commentator and award-winning author of 10 books – 'Bharat, A Luxe Story', The Quiet Luxe, Aesthetic Leadership in Luxury, Mostly Missing: Be Silly Be Slow, The Mythic Value of Luxury, How to Communicate Strategically in Corporate World, the Luxe Trilogy (Decoding Luxe, Dark Luxe and Luxe Inferno) and Quarantined: Love in the time of Corona.

He is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management - Calcutta, St Xavier’s College, MICA, Sri Satya Sai University, and University of Cambridge Judge Business School. He is a golfer with a 7 handicap.

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