Are You Guilty Of Telling A Single Story?

I’ve been re-visiting some great TED talks in the run up to Christmas and one in particular got me thinking. Conventional wisdom is for companies to keep on telling versions of the same story over and over again. The more their customers see and hear similar stories, the more they all add up to a consistent brand.

However, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of telling a single story. Her argument is that the more we are exposed to the same story about a country, continent or people, the more we are inclined to fall victim to the power of the stereotype. She’s quite right of course. To what extent is your view of something influenced by the first – or only – story you encountered about it?

But what about the company story? Don’t we want our business to build a consistent brand by continuing to tell what is effectively the same story over and over again? Well, yes, but only if it’s accurate. This is where so many companies come a cropper. There’s no point banging on about how wonderful you are if it’s inconsistent with the truth and what your customers experience. Do that, and you effectively set yourself up as a hypocrite.

I’ve had personal experience of this with the online shopping catalogue, ASOS. Having failed to deliver an item I ordered on 5 December – it was due on 15 December – and despite the fact that their Facebook page and other online forums are littered with similar stories, their website continues to state that pre-Christmas deliveries are going ahead without any problems.

Telling the story of your brand is as much about facing and correcting your vulnerabilities as it is about consistency. And when things go wrong, there’s absolutely no point in sticking to a story that no longer holds water. If you don’t get real and speak with an authentic voice, your single story will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, which is the last thing any business wants.

So, remember, a single story can turn around and bite you at any time, so never put that single story above authenticity.