Expert Interview Series: Mike Wittenstein of StoryMiners About the Importance of Storytelling in Business

This interview was first featured in John Mattone: Expert Interview Series

Mike Wittenstein advises leaders on how changes in customer experiences can positively transform their brand narratives and bottom-line results. He is the managing partner of  Storyminers , a design pioneer, and a developer of unique methods and tools to enhance customer experiences on the front lines. Mike spoke to us recently about the importance of storytelling in achieving a company’s or brand’s goals and offered some suggestions for how business leaders can get their companies to adopt this approach.

Tell us a little about your experience. Why did you decide to create Storyminers?

When the dot-com boom turned to the dot-com meltdown, it was time to leave a very rewarding position in IBM Global Services as its eVisionary. There, I had worked on early consulting practices dealing with customer experience and business design (adaptive firm). Undeterred by significant corporate change, I wanted to continue doing customer experience and business design work, so I started StoryMiners. I’m glad I did it!

What are the characteristics of a monotonous, lifeless and ineffective speech or presentation?

People who use themselves as their primary frame of reference miss out on great opportunities to connect with their audience (or potential customers). Regardless of how good your slides look or how convincing your stories are, prospects like to be the heroes of virtually any presentation. If you put yourself at the center, you’re stealing the opportunity to learn—and connect.

Oh yes – bland titles, too many ideas presented at once, graphics that don’t match the main point, and smug writing styles all contribute to this dreaded feeling of boredom.

What is “Human Prototyping” and what kind of information can it generate for a company?

Human Prototyping® allows leaders and their teams to see how ideas work before committing to key components such as retail construction, software development or training and implementations. The Human Prototyping technique puts client ideas on a real theater stage with professional actors AND their clients.

The results are transformative. In real time, everyone can see what works and what doesn’t. The technique identifies the smallest details that can go wrong at first and then suggests corrections on the spot. Our clients have used Human Prototyping to help identify new services, find the right story, improve sales training, rehearse negotiations and accelerate innovation.

When you conduct a “undercover” search for a company’s history, what information do you often discover that cannot be found anywhere else?

As a normal course of business, we visit our customers’ companies across all channels to see how the experiences they provide for their customers work. We also go behind the scenes to get a feel for the employee experience, including its peaks and challenges. We try to talk to real customers too. We look for what’s most important to customers and how well the company is delivering the kind of value they want.

From these interactions, we learn firsthand how customers position the company’s brand and what they expect from it. We learn the stories customers innately want to share. The end result is that we discover how customers want to connect with the brands that serve them. There is no better direction for a company’s brand, experience, or narrative than this!

Under what conditions can the leader/owner of a company use their personal history as a key component of the company’s marketing or branding?

Brands that promise personal transformation often rely on “founder stories.” Examples include Sara Blakely of Spanx (look better, feel better). Richard Branson of Virgin (fun, value, sass). Steve Jobs from Apple (design, ideas that change the world). Each individual’s personality imbues their respective brands with behavioral characteristics, values, causes and style.

If the value-creating attributes around your name are hard to define, consider how your personal values ​​create value for your customers. If there’s a good overlap, you’ll likely link your personal stories to customer expectations of your company’s brand.

Since your website states, “The best strategy is to become agile”, could you tell us what steps a business leader can take to improve the agility of their business?

Choosing a traditional / hierarchical way of scaling a company versus an adaptive one is one of the most critical choices a leader makes. Follow the traditional design route (command and control) and the organization will get better at the  same things . If the market wants to change, this company can  quickly go under.

Choosing agile as per your organization’s design makes your business resilient. By sensing and responding to customer needs, an agile business can stay relevant, innovate faster, and deliver the new kinds of value customers want. Agile companies can adopt technology faster, accommodate new generations of employees with less effort, and change their go-to-market plans – all while staying on brand and being meaningful to their customers.

Agile business leaders need to install new thinking and new capabilities in their operations. Here are some of them:

  1. Adapt your business structure from a hierarchical (command and control) model to one that detects and responds to customer requests.
  2. Projete sua organização para atender aos clientes antes dos acionistas.
  3. Declare seus “Razões de Ser”, que articulam claramente como a empresa criará valor para seus clientes e como eles, por sua vez, criarão valor para seus clientes.
  4. Documente seus princípios – aqueles que todos na organização subscrevem.
  5. Negocie compromissos autenticamente entre as funções responsáveis ​​pela criação de valor para o cliente.

Como um líder corporativo pode utilizar a narrativa para facilitar a adoção de uma campanha ou iniciativa pelos funcionários?

Em vez de compartilhar histórias sobre os resultados numéricos que um líder espera, desenvolva histórias claras que permitam às pessoas ver e sentir como será para elas a jornada para atingir a meta. Esta informação não pode ser inventada. Você deve projetar a maneira como as coisas serão e como funcionarão pensando nos seus funcionários.

Uma “história futura” bem pensada pode ajudar as pessoas a entender o quê e por quê. Surpreendentemente, você pode deixar o “como” para eles na maioria dos casos. Isso lhes dá algum controle sobre os resultados, o que reduzirá o estresse e aumentará a confiança.

Como você vê a evolução do conceito de narrativa nos negócios nos próximos anos?

I can already see that we have more good storytellers in the world. Storytelling is a conscious effort you want to hear before you speak. When storytellers listen first, how stories they tell others become more relevant, have more purpose, and create more value.

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