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:
- Adapt your business structure from a hierarchical (command and control) model to one that detects and responds to customer requests.
- Design your organization to serve customers before shareholders.
- State your “Reasons for Being,” which clearly articulate how the company will create value for its customers and how they, in turn, will create value for their customers.
- Document your principles – those that everyone in the organization subscribes to.
- Authentically negotiate compromises between roles responsible for creating customer value.
How can a corporate leader use storytelling to facilitate employee adoption of a campaign or initiative?
Rather than sharing stories about the numerical results a leader expects, develop clear stories that allow people to see and feel what the journey to the goal will be like for them. This information cannot be made up. You must design the way things will be and how they will work with your employees in mind.
A well-thought-out “future story” can help people understand what and why. Surprisingly, you can leave the “how” to them in most cases. This gives them some control over the results, which will reduce stress and build confidence.
How do you see the evolution of the storytelling concept in business over the next few years?
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.