Dig deep into these five essential story elements to connect with your audiences

What makes some company stories sing, while others fall flat?

Successful company stories—those that turn customers into brand advocates, appeal to partners, attract motivated team members and capture media attention—contain a handful of key ingredients woven into a tight narrative: inspiration, vision, accomplishments, claims to fame and challenges overcome.

That list may sound straightforward, but in our work helping impact enterprises tell their story and clarify their messaging, we’ve found people often undersell their own accomplishments and ah-ha moments—or simply don’t dig deep enough to find the gold.

Here are some common first responses to questions about the five essential story elements along with suggestions for generating meatier answers:

What’s your inspiration? “It really was more of a slow-growth realization” or “The opportunity just presented itself” are common responses, especially for enterprises that have been around a while. But if your enterprise is putting in the work to make a difference, that was inspired by something. To uncover the initial spark, think about the problem you’re trying to solve. What motivated the founders (or the current leadership) to actually do something?

What’s your vision? “We want to grow” and “We want to help as many people as we can” are valid answers, but don’t give you much to work with. At the other end of the spectrum, a statement like “We’re going to solve climate change” is so big it’s implausible. Get specific about your impact. The more detailed you can be, the better. What’s next for the business? What’s your five-year stretch (but plausible) goal? What keeps people in your organization coming to work every day (besides a paycheck)?

What are your accomplishments and claims to fame? Some social enterprise teams are so scrupulous about not making claims they can’t fully support that they fail to capture the true breadth of their impact. Others (commonly startups) lean toward, “We haven’t done this yet, but we want to share it because we believe we will, and it will be awesome.” That kind of messaging just creates mistrust when people see it isn’t panning out. To find the sweet spot between real impact and future goals, ask yourself: What is my organization’s direct impact? What are the ripple effects? What’s the best case I can make that won’t fall apart under examination?  

What challenges have you overcome? “I don’t want to say anything about problems we’ve had” is often the knee-jerk response to this question. But challenges conquered are successes, not failures. And company stories that include them are richer and more effective at illustrating resilience, creativity and intelligence.

A strong company story is an essential aspect of brand communications because your brand is much more than your products and services—and that’s particularly true for mission-driven enterprises and sustainability-focused companies. Capture the five essential story elements and you’ll create a compelling story for all audiences.

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