CEO and storytelling: Leading by content

Brand products and services often resemble each other. Unfortunately, CEOs do so, too. Many value propositions may sound good – we have all heard terms like “innovative, competent, high-value, transparent, cooperative, customer-friendly, and service-oriented” a thousand times – but they still remain abstract. Again, the same applies to CEOs. Even where CEOs are genuinely “competent” or “decisive”, such descriptions ultimately do not convey much as they are used anywhere and everywhere. And extended wordings – e.g. “X is a strong business personality”, “Y is a visionary manager” or “Z is a driver of success” – mostly do not do much better. They may serve to differentiate a manager from other CEOs and – justly or not – set him or her apart for specific traits, values or competencies. However, if such claims are not filled with tangible qualities, they will ring hollow and not help much to communicate a leader’s particular values and unique capabilities. Equally, a CEO’s strategic position has to be seen and felt to truly come across. How to achieve all this? The solution is to apply narrative branding techniques to communicating a CEO’s profile. This also means: CEO-communication is not about marketing a ‘product’, it is about managing relationships.


Marketing is no longer about monologues

Today, it requires an integrated dialogue with consumers and other stakeholders (B2B, Investors etc.). Sales processes and other brand decisions occur in the course of interactions between brands and their consumers. In other words: They involve a relationship and this relationship is constantly developed by means of stories, anecdotes and myths. It is storytelling which serves to maintain and permanently rekindle the relationship between consumer and brand. And storytelling does not just invoke the brand – this would quickly be repetitive and boring in the long run! Instead, it creates stories around it.


Coca Cola calls this concept ‘dynamic storytelling’: It integrates a multiple of consumer-product interactions within a “brand experience”, and it actively embraces the fact that the brand experience cannot be controlled as stories develop their own dynamic effects. The corporation intends to manage its shift from “Creative Excellence to Content Excellence“ by 2020. Intended ancillary effects include: increased customer loyalty towards products, stronger leads, better ideas and an effective Corporate Social Responsibility.


Tell me your story! Don’t sell me a brand!

This new branding paradigm also impacts upon the CEO communication. Eulogies which spout brand or product messages according to the classic sender-receiver-model are outdated. Or at least they should be; remnants of this old model are still around. However, as CEOs seek to position themselves successfully through appearance and communication, they are advised to pay heed to the new paradigm which is based on storytelling and managed relationships. As an invitation, “Tell me a/your story”, certainly has a stronger appeal than “Sell me a/your brand!”.


A CEO will certainly continue to ‘stand for’ certain topics and a particular agenda, but these aspects alone are no longer enough in defining his interaction with audiences. A CEO will need content and speaking occasions which invite and facilitate dialogue and exchange. Depending on his own self-perception and the stories on offer, he will decide on the role that story-telling can play as part of his management style. And depending on whether he sees himself as his company’s top columnist, chief editor, general publisher or curator of brand-related content, his story will radiate differently both inside and outside of the company. By prompting public dialogue through story-telling, he will increase his personal and the company’s reputation. And within the company, employees are effected and invited to extend the culture of storytelling.

This post was first published in German in my blog

Leading by content – Storytelling des CEO

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