Storydoing vs storytelling and the bottom line

ParrotsI picked up this article on my Feedly this morning: “Good Companies Are Storytellers. Great Companies Are Storydoers”. Promoting a new book about how companies use stories, it describes research carried out by the authors that they say demonstrates that ‘storydoing’ companies do better than ones that are merely telling their stories. You can read more about the methodology here but the premise is that “Storydoing companies use their core story as an organising principle for activities throughout the company: new product development, recruiting, compensation, partnerships, as well as any communication that they create”. Another way of putting it might be that they are walking the walk, while storytelling companies are just talking the talk – all mouth and no trousers.

I am (of course) wholeheartedly in agreement that companies must live their brand story in everything they do for it be true, effective and impactful. That is what a brand is about – it’s not a mask or a sticking plaster, it should be about a company’s true nature and be reflected and lived in everything it does. Whether you call it ‘storydoing’ or ‘living the brand’ is neither here nor there.

I’m not convinced by the methodology of the research though, or its results. (The mantra ‘correlation does not imply causation’ keeps going round and round my head.) For example, in selecting the companies they define as ‘storydoers’, they say “We applied the criteria that define a Storydoing company to a wide sample of candidates, to create the list of seven companies that in our judgment best met the criteria.” So in the retail sector, Target is a storydoer, Sears is not. Or in food and drink, Starbucks is a storydoer, Wendy’s is not. But given that the criteria include things like ‘the story is understood and cared about by your entire company’ and ‘the story is being used to drive action throughout the company’ there is not much detail given on how they decided whether that was true. Maybe it’s in the book. The selection feels rather arbitrary, and the storydoers are all companies with very high public profiles, which means they probably do need to spend less on paid media (which was one of the measures of success). But what came first, the storydoing or the success and the profile?

I’ll be interested to see what sort of debate this project and book generate. Anything that reinforces the idea that living your brand is essential is good with me, and I think it almost certainly does have an effect on the bottom line, but I’m not sure if this research clinches the case.