Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How Storytelling Can Shape the Corporate Brand and Culture

By Jay Gronlund.
"Technology has transformed our world into a data-obsessive circus where information is unbelievably accessible, connectivity is constant, and unpredictable events always surprise and engulf us. Call this extreme clutter and volatility. With so much information and multi-tasking surrounding us, it has become a challenge to restore simplicity, clarity and focus in our communications. These excessive conditions provide the main impetus for the re-emergence of storytelling for inspiring, engaging and connecting to others.

Storytelling is ageless and remains the most powerful form of persuasion. Socrates recognized the value of storytelling, so did Aesop, Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius and even Mark Twain. Today the power of storytelling has been scientifically proven:

    Neuroscientists have shown that the brain was built to wander on average over 1,000 times per day (e.g. including daydreams). They also found that storytelling stops this wandering and engages the listener (they call this “neuro-coupling”).

    Bruce Perry, an expert on brain development, says that “neural systems fatigue quickly, actually within 4-8 minutes, and become less responsive,” but can be stimulated and sustained by storytelling.

    Artificial Intelligence specialists have been studying how our brain actually works, especially how we file and store all this information that the brain absorbs every day. They discovered that the brain does not process information in “files” (e.g., like a computer program). As an example it sorts information from a PowerPoint presentation in a way that the first and last items on a list are usually remembered (also any item that has an emotional impact), and the rest is discarded as “trash” and never retrieved. Instead, the brain more effectively files and retrieves information when there is a context, as in the form of a story.

    Reinforcing this discovery, author and marketing professor Jennifer Aaker from Stanford notes that people remember stories as much as 22 times more than they do facts alone.

So what can storytelling do to improve communications, process our changing world, and especially help shape a corporate brand and culture? Vibrant leaders now recognize that storytelling can create an emotional connection, which is the heart of good branding. It engages listeners emotionally, creates empathy, and inspires action. Importantly, neuroscience has also concluded that humans are more likely to make decisions based on emotions, not rational thinking.

Our world is changing dramatically and so leaders are more challenged than ever to adapt to such a groundswell of populist trends, technological advances, declining trust in the establishment, globalization, growing uncertainty (particularly with the incoming Trump administration), and fundamentally what a corporation should stand for today. All these changes can affect a corporate brand and culture, so it is incumbent for a CEO to explain and especially inspire support for any updates on its corporate values and strategy. Simply using words and sharing data with customers and employees can be too cerebral and esoteric, but using storytelling to communicate “who we are,” “what we have learned,” and “why we are changing” will be far more captivating and motivating. Storytelling describes a journey and is ideal for meaningful change.

For millennials, storytelling represents an ideal form of communication. This “first digital generation” thrives on social media, which is different from traditional media mainly in that it involves a one-on-one conversation that begs for engagement, versus the one-to-many in mass marketing. Many older managers don’t understand or even resent the independent, restless, unpredictable tendencies of millennials. However, millennials represent a huge opportunity for creativity and innovative ideas, so they should not be ignored. They do want to learn and respect experience, albeit sometimes in trying ways, but the key to maximizing their potential is to engage them. And this is what storytelling does.

More companies today are using storytelling to recruit and train new employees–Apple, IBM, 3M, Nike, Coca Cola, Disney, Microsoft, NASA, and other forward-thinking organizations. In addition, as social media becomes more mainstream for advertising, they are using storytelling to engage prospective customers in blogs, videos, newsletters, content branding, and other digital communication vehicles.

Millennials simply don’t trust traditional advertising–95% rely on feedback from friends for purchase decisions instead and find stories much more credible and trustful for learning about products. Storytelling is also ideal for young entrepreneurs who focus more on cost-efficient digital media and realize that stories about their personal experience can create a strong emotional connection.

To update a corporate culture and strengthen a brand, one must learn more about the types of stories that will work, depending of course on the audience and their aspirations, the different situations (e.g., for a new leader, change in direction, new challenges, etc.) and the various nuances for making a story credible, compelling and emotionally engaging. But it all starts with a recognition of the power of storytelling in communications.

Jay Gronlund is President, founder of The Pathfinder Group, a business development firm specializing in emotional branding, ideation facilitation and international expansion. His background has focused mainly on marketing and new product development with executive positions at reputable companies in the US and abroad – Richardson Vicks/P&G, Church & Dwight, Seagram and Newsweek. Jay has also been teaching a branding course at NYU since 1999 and recently wrote a book on the “Basics of Branding”, published by Business Expert Press. Jay has a BA from Colby College and MBA from Tuck at Dartmouth (see www.ThePathfinderGroup.net) for previous articles and blogs."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Shiller: Explanations of some economic events can be found in sociologically important narratives, not the conventional data favored by economists

See How Tales of ‘Flippers’ Led to a Housing Bubble in the NY Times. He has written several articles  on this issue.  But to see an opposing view to the use of narrative in this way, see Heterodoxy at the AER by economist Scott Sumner. Excerpts:
"Real home prices rose 75 percent from February 1997 to December 2005, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, corrected for inflation by the Consumer Price Index. And then, from 2005 to 2012, real prices reversed course, falling to just 12 percent above their 1997 level. In the years since 2012, they have climbed 29 percent, about halfway back to their 2005 peak."

"The problem for economists is that these changes don’t correspond to movements in the usual suspects: interest rates, building costs, population or rents. The Consumer Price Index for Rent of Primary Residence, compiled by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and corrected for inflation, went up only 8 percent in 1997 to 2005, so unmet demand for housing services can’t explain the huge increase in real home prices. It doesn’t explain the 29 percent rise in real home prices since 2012 either, because inflation-adjusted rents increased only 10 percent in that period."

"I believe the price swings have something to do with the changing mentality of the times, changes caused by narratives that have gone viral and swept across the population. Looking for answers in such popular stories contrasts starkly with the prominent approach of modeling people as though they react logically to economic forces."

"The prevalent narratives of 1997 to 2005 did not include the concept of a housing bubble, not at first. A computer search using ProQuest or Google Ngrams shows that the phrase “housing bubble” was hardly used until 2005"

"during the 1997 to 2005 boom there were multitudes of narratives about smart investors who were bold enough to take a position in the market. To single out one strand, recall the stories of flippers who would buy a house, fix it up, and resell it within months at a huge profit. These stories appear to have been broadly exciting to people who didn’t flip houses themselves but who appear to have begun to think that stretching a little and buying a house with a large mortgage would make them wise investors.

In his book “The Complete Guide to Flipping Properties,” published in 2004, Steve Berges extolled what he called “the O.P.M. principle,” meaning “other people’s money.” He wrote, “Your objective is to control as much real estate as possible while using as little of your own capital as possible.” In other words, borrow as much as you can. He wrote about the upside of leverage but not about the perils of leverage during the kind of big price drops that were just around the corner."
See also The Role of Narratives in Economics: Narratives are vectors of ideas. Nobel laureate Robert Shiller suggests that in the age of social information networks, economists need to rethink how and why information really spreads by Prateek Raj of The Stigler Center's Pro Market blog.