Getting Our Story Straight: External Marketing in a World that Cares (Part 3)

We were in Texas recently to shoot some footage for a documentary when I saw a billboard for a company boasting that they were “probably the best on the planet.” I got so hung up on the phrase that I couldn’t remember what kind of company it was. A quick google search revealed that this tagline shows up in all kinds of external marketing campaigns. It’s a trend, apparently, for companies to boldly proclaim their superiority over every other group on the planet and then balk at the last moment by adding in a “probably”—just in case there are frozen yogurt restaurants or real estate agents on the other side of the world who might be a little bit better. It’s a curious line. I wonder why they didn’t go a little bigger and claim dominance over the whole universe. Why stop at this planet, especially if the “probably” is there to cover you in case there’s some really good frozen yogurt place on Neptune?

I’ve been thinking about this phrase and the stories we are all putting out into the world. We are in a moment when people are looking to do business with companies and organizations who are something more than the “best” on this planet or any other. We help companies and organizations craft these messages and we’ve been paying attention lately to how this work and these words are changing. (link to first part) We know more about the way work works these days. Consumers and crowds are responding not only to messaging but to meta-messages. More than ever, people are asking questions about how a company operates, what they value, how they get their work done. And because of increased transparency and accountability, we know more than ever about what goes on behind the scenes, not just of movies, but all kinds of industries.

This is a moment for us to ask hard questions about the stories we’re living behind the headlines but also the stories we’re putting into the headlines, or up on the billboards.

Here are a few of the key questions we can ask right now about the Story we’re putting into the world about our work:

-Are we communicating what we care about? People are far more likely to spend money or time with a company if they value the same things. If people are putting their purchases through filters of compassion and integrity, will they hear those things from us?

-Do the stories we put into the world show awareness of people’s pain and struggle? In a hyper-aware world, corporate messages cannot afford to exist outside of those hard stories. How does being the best, or possibly the best, serve the world or make someone’s day better? Tell a story about why being the best matters.

-Are we inviting people into something greater than they can experience on their own? Part of why organizations like Toms shoes or Kiva loans work is because they draw people into a story bigger than a financial transaction. We need to communicate how spending time or money with us is worth more than we can count.