The Business of Story
There was a time when major upheavals happened over large spans of history. Last month, the world recognized the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Chapel. In modern history, upheavals have been happening faster, anywhere between 100, 50, 25, or even 10 years.
Today, we’re seeing accelerated upheavals in everything from our politics to business. In business, we’re seeing innovation cycles compress and disruption cycles compressing even faster. The current marketing and communications model is undergoing a seismic upheaval of its own. It’s not an upheaval that has to do with current marketing and communications concerns like attention spans or how to harness virtual or augmented reality. It’s an upheaval that’s less technological and more foundational. It actually has to do with the new reality of the communications discipline itself.
The upheaval I’m talking about begins with the following premise: the story of business in the 21st century will be the business of story. This evolution — this transformation — is happening now. A marketing and communications discipline that has largely been used to increase visibility and enhance reputations has an opportunity to become a competitive advantage that will increasingly drive business and performance.
One of the most mission critical C-Suite roles in companies today and in the future will be the CSO — the Chief Storytelling Officer. Microsoft was one of the first companies to create this role. If over the next 5–10 years, your primary concern isn’t the business of story, it’s going to be a steep climb to stay in business.
As we move from a world dominated by the Internet to a world driven by the Internet of Things, the business of story does three things that are essential if you want to survive and thrive.
First, you have to be in the business of story for your brand and your messages to cut through the clutter and noise of a 21st century world filled with data, content, and information.
Second, you have to be in the business of story to make sure that the audiences you care about — especially your customers and consumers — are at the center of innovation and product development. The business of story keeps your eyes on the prize that really matters: those who will buy your products and services.
Yes, in the not-too-distant future, sophisticated algorithms in the form of bots will increasingly inform and even drive the customer journey and business decisions. But people will still be pulling the financial trigger on purchases. Unless a bot can sign up for a bank account or a credit card, we should okay at least for a while. In the business of story, your audience always comes first. This is job one in a world where people still have purchasing power.
Third, the business of story will increase in importance as we become more enamored with technology. Because the business of story fixes its attention on the end user, it’s the greatest check and balance against the tyranny of technology, where technology uses us and not the other way around. This by far should our biggest concern and story is crucial to our rising to the challenge.
IBM predicts that in a world with 5G (the next generation of mobile and wireless) and the Internet of Things, one single smart factory may produce the same amount of data in one day as the amount of healthcare data you and I will produce in a lifetime. And it’s not like we’re not producing a lot of data now!! Already, some high-end cars have more software code than a jetliner.
My question is this: who’s going to make sense of all this data and content in a way that makes sense to everyone else? Who’s going to make all this data and content mean something and stand for something? Those who know how to make things matter and move people to act. Storytellers like you and me.
We’re all storytellers now. It’s time we realized we’re working increasingly in a new business called the business of story.
Douglass Hatcher is founder and president of communicate4IMPACT, a New York-Based firm specializing in storytelling training for businesses and organizations. Douglass Hatcher is former VP for Executive Communications at Mastercard and was Senior Advisor and Speechwriter to former U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME).