Who tells the most riveting stories?

Well construction workers tell the most riveting stories, naturally. They’ll make the completion of a three-month intensive renovation seem borrowed from an action thriller novel. It’s a great story to hear, but it only describes the nuts and bolts of the project. From a marketing perspective, any construction company can tell the very same story, whether verbally or online.

When I joined a construction company to lead their marketing efforts, my mandate from day one was to “tell our story”. The 75-year-old company was a self-described marketing and promotion introvert, with a great brand story to tell but lacking a voice with which to tell it.

Their brand story, in a word, was trust. They combined a particular project delivery method and internal processes to create efficiencies at the project level. The brand story was articulated by senior management in client meetings, but marketing collateral and project teams were rooted in telling the familiar construction story.

I wanted to inject the company’s brand DNA into the exciting construction story. And those stories would still be the vehicle.

The Plot

At a lunch meeting with the project managers, I brought up the seven basic plots in storytelling, as put forward by Christopher Booker in Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. I also got into archetypal characters, such as hero and mentor. Admittedly, this was a down-to-the-studs examination of storytelling. I wanted to emphasize that branded communications really are a story, and not merely a recounting of events.

Going through our construction projects one by one, we identified the major themes in each build. From the client’s perspective, did the project represent a journey to new capabilities? Or was it an effort to solidify legacy? Or a return to past values?

Monster schedules featured prominently in some of our projects, and quests of renovation and expansion delivered clients to a new era of capability and market dominance. In most cases, an obvious plot line overlaid other themes more closely tied to the clients’ core motivations. There were instances where adherence to schedule or budget was the client’s expressed concern, but limiting intrusion on regular facility operations was the driving interest. These are difference-making motivators.

The Brand

Telling a story is all well and good, but it doesn’t differentiate without the brand.

This particular company used what it called “vital signs” to continually measure the “health” of the project throughout its life cycle. It’s essentially a customer satisfaction survey, except that the internal project team fills it out, and then reviews it with the client. This seemingly backwards method of examining the client’s viewpoint had the result of extending trust to the client. It was an important part of a trust-building strategy, and was at the core of their brand.

The vital sign metrics told the how and the why of the company’s story in relation to a specific project. They provided the framework on which to stretch out the fabric of the brand.

The plot line(s) having been identified, specific vital sign elements could be tied to the motivating themes. This is where the builders’ familiarity with the nuts and bolts of the project could come to the fore, but with the rich infusion of the brand story.

The Story

At a prestigious private school, our value wasn’t that we were able to finish extensive renovations in the short space of the summer months. Rather, it washow our process had yielded repeatable success over a decade for the same client, in a live environment filled with summer students, teachers, support staff, and ongoing activities.

The client’s facility manager would have experienced the work first-hand, but we wanted them to understand how success was truly a function of our unique processes and brand differentiators. We also wanted to tell the same story to stakeholders not directly aware of goings-on at the project level.

Establishing the how in the minds of our clients was a bridge to communicating the why: a much bigger story about challenging an entire industry to eschew decades of habits.

Each story was a vehicle for communicating both the capabilities and vision of the company. Marketing communications materials transitioned from expressingwhat we did to how and why. Communicating with customers and prospects in this way brought them into our world in a way not achievable with a sterile listing of capabilities and completed projects.

The net effect of this storytelling effort was to bring to life the vision of a 75-year-old company.

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