Without purpose, there is no story

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In the information [overload] age, storytelling is becoming increasingly important to capture an audience’s attention, convey information and inspire action. It can win over employees, investors and clients alike. John Kotter, a professor at the Harvard Business School and author of Leading Change, believes that “those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves.”

So how can you create powerful stories that engage and inspire people to act in your favor? To understand storytelling and its underlying principles, let’s take a look at Hollywood, the world’s most successful story factory. Every great film has a hero, a protagonist pursuing a goal against forces of antagonism, or as screenwriting legend Robert McKee puts it, “First and foremost, good stories have purpose.”

Purpose guides a character’s action throughout the story and provides the conviction to overcome any obstacle. Purpose is why the audience cares for the hero. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker’s purpose is to restore justice by bringing down the regime of Darth Vader, while in Cast Away Tom Hanks plays a character whose purpose of finding a way to escape the island.

In order for brands to employ storytelling to inspire and persuade stakeholders, they first have to find their purpose. A well-articulated brand purpose defines the difference a brand is trying to make in the world and provides the basis for all storytelling activities. IBM is fighting for “a smarter planet,” Zappos is “delivering happiness” and Starbucks is “inspiring the human spirit.”

Once a purpose is articulated, it serves as a basis for a brand’s narrative and is an infinite source of inspiration for storytelling across all audiences and channels. Every touchpoint becomes an opportunity to tell the brand story. This is also becoming more important as brands seek to optimize their digital footprint (i.e., SEO) and feed digital outlets such as Facebook and Twitter with new and relevant content. In other words, without a larger narrative based on purpose, brands will eventually run out of meaningful stuff to talk about and lose their audience.

A great example for purpose-based storytelling is TOMS shoes. The company’s purpose of “creating a better tomorrow” is brought to life with its “One for One” program. With every pair purchased, TOMS gives a pair of new shoes to a child in need. This is not only the overarching narrative of the TOMS brand—it’s a story that the company’s enthusiastic customers pass on every day by wearing the product.

Founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie reveals: “I realize the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes, they tell our story.”

Purpose is where it all starts. Have you figured out yours?

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