Jun 13 Storytelling: From Campfire to Corporate Boardroom

While storytelling is as ancient as early humans sitting around a campfire (some even say it is our key to survival), it’s also been enjoying a renaissance in business with the rise of design thinking, service design and customer experience. We sat down with our Associate Director of Visual Strategy, Carter Romo, to get his take on what makes great storytellers.

Visual strategy is our way of telling smarter stories so decision makers have the opportunity to make smarter decisions.

Carter, you lead Visual Strategy here at Rêve. Can you tell us more about the role of visual strategy in our work?

You bet. Rêve is a big “D” design-centered organization and culture. We believe in the power of design, and if done well, design can help people and organizations make better decisions about tomorrow’s strategies today. In that sense, visual strategy is about leveraging the power of visuals to enable clarity for a path forward. I used to think that great design was purely about bypassing complexity and creating something visually pleasing and ultimately, simple. Well, like anything in life, business and strategy is anything but simple. Business is complicated. It’s complex. Great design goes headlong into complexity to uncover the needs of both the business and their customers and then translate those needs into a set of empathy-driven insights that decision makers need to act on. Visual strategy is our way of telling smarter stories so decision makers have the opportunity to make smarter decisions.

What exactly does storytelling look like in consulting? Who is it about, who is it for, what is our medium?

Typically the stories that we tell are about our clients’ customers and their world. We want to be able to understand the brand experience through the lens of the customer and uncover the insights and the needs that he or she may have as they experience a particular touchpoint with the brand. Our stories are often crafted to be told up-stream to executives, as well down-stream to teams. We use a variety of human-centered design and service design tools to capture both customer and business needs and insights which we then translate into visually rich tactics such as journey maps, service blueprint maps, wireframes, digital prototypes, testimonials, videos, strategy decks, and implementation roadmaps.

What makes a good storyteller? 

I think what makes a good story is a shared moment of humanity. At the base level it’s a shared moment between two or more people that is immersive, engaging, and ultimately transports us to another moment in time and helps us see a world that maybe we haven’t seen before. There’s a lot of empathy that goes into a good story. Therefore a good storyteller is somebody who understands both the story and the audience well enough to help us immerse ourselves in a world that we otherwise wouldn’t experience.

In business, a good story is one that creates breakthroughs, such as helping people imagine the future today. Creating a collective vision is so important to the work we do in helping our clients bridge the gap between strategy and execution—this is true both for future products and services, but also for the growth of an organization. If you lose sight of your story, you lose sight of who you are. Sometimes, organizations have grown into complex ecosystems and we have achieved breakthroughs with our clients by distilling complexity into a compelling story that is both true to who they are but also provides a fresh perspective that energizes people.

Let’s turn to some more practical questions: Is there a process in our storytelling? Tell us more about what framework you use. 

Yes. In order to tell a good story, you need a good story to tell. So much of what we do is connecting our clients back to their customers. We leverage best practices and tools to gather insights about both the customer and the client, but we use a particular process to frame-up those insights in a customer-centric way. It’s called the StoryBrand framework. It’s a 7-point framework that puts the customers at the center, and makes him or her the hero of the story and positions the company—or the brand , if you will—as the guide. This is a framework that a lot of great books and movie scripts follow. A classic example is Star Wars: Luke Skywalker is the hero, Yoda is the guide. Luke has both internal and external challenges that create tensions in the plot. Yoda is the trusted guide and gives Luke a plan and the training to become a Jedi, and equips him to be successful (if he so chooses.) Using this framework helps our clients position their customer as the hero at the center of the experience they are delivering, and sometimes, that can be a paradigm shift.

You mentioned personas: what are some of the pros and cons of making them the hero of the story?

Our persona methodology goes well beyond marketing demographics. Our customer insights help us create a deeper understanding of their context, their day-to-day, the needs they have, and the jobs they are trying to get done. One pro for have having your customer or persona as the hero is that it helps reduce the political red tape that often entangles so many companies today, and that can hold them back from delivering a really meaningful experience for their customers. Having a customer-centered culture or mindset helps make decision making more in-sync, more focused, and ultimately more profitable. A con to making the persona or customer the hero is that having great CX insights alone is not enough. The business has needs too. CX opportunities must also address the feasibility and viability of the experience from a business perspective, and generate revenue.

Great design begins with great observation.

What tips do you have for a CX professional who understands the importance of storytelling, but doesn’t necessarily have any design support?

Well, you don’t have to be a designer to tell a great story. Like anything else, it takes practice. Great design begins with great observation. And great storytelling starts there as well. To quote IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown, “Good design thinkers observe. Great design thinkers observe the ordinary.” One thing to do is to practice your observation skills in your day-to-day. Be a fly on the wall during your next meeting and see what you uncover as you observe body language, or the energy of the room, or the group’s behaviors. Observe the ordinary moments, uncover needs, translate them into insights and put a little report or story together. Then share it with someone and begin to co-create solutions. Also, look to comedians. They are fantastic storytellers. It’s also a fun way to learn. Get on Youtube and find your favorite comedian. Listen to how they frame up a joke, and how they deliver the punch line. Another of my go-to design resources: InVisionApp.com–their newsletter is a favorite amongst our team.