Digital Strategy Fails Without Story
It is more important to be able to effectively communicate and "sell" your digital strategy than it is to actually have the best possible digital plan.
How can this be? There are many roads to success — many strategies that can make a company successful in any given circumstance. Furthermore, most strategies are iterated as they are being implemented so if you start with something that's at least vaguely going in the direction along one of the infinite roads to success, and if you have an engaged team executing, likely they will course correct along the way. So you should be set up for success. On the other hand, if you create the truly perfect, absolutely optimal, can't beat digital strategy, but fail to bring people on board, you are doomed to fail because nothing will be executed.
So how do you bring people along? Your strategy must be a story. Think of the speeches that inspired people over the years. The Gettysburg Address, the battle speech from BraveHeart, MLK's I Have A Dream speech. These were all stories.
Why are stories so effective? Extensive research has been done on this topic, but at its core, the human brain is wired to pay close attention to stories because that was how ancient man learned things. When a hunter came back and told how he managed to successfully hunt down a bison, or escape from an enemy, or protect himself when caught in a storm, listening closely to the details of these recountings was a way to gain knowledge that could save your life in the future. We got genetically wired to seek out stories and listen to the details all the way through to the end (after all that's where the lesson is). Today that human drive yields billions of dollars for the media industry in the form of movies, television, novels and other storytelling media designed to scratch that genetic itch. So use stories when you want people to pay attention, and not just pay attention, but really be listening with the readiness to change what they are are doing based on what they learn. This is exactly what we want from the audiences of our strategy stories, for them to hear a story that makes them say "I need to do something different; I need to take action based on that story."
So what is a story, and how can a strategy be a story?
Well first let's be clear about what is not a story — a list of things you are going to do is not a story. A resource plan or budget is not, in itself, a story. A brilliant vision for an app including its beautiful screen design and list of features is not a story.
So what is a story? A story is a series of incidents, usually told in chronological order. They can be in the past or the future, real or invented. But that's not enough for something to be a story. A story has a framework around it that makes those incidents meaningful in relationship to each other. That frame has three key components:
A Goal: To free the galaxy from the tyranny of The Empire; To be the first woman to pilot a trans-continental flight; to win the world heavyweight championship. Stories always have a desired goal.
An Enemy and/or a substantial challenge to overcome: None of the goals above are easy. Good stories do not come from goals easily attained; they come from some kind of battle.
A Lesson — all stories have a meaning, intentional or unintentional. Our minds will create a meaning if needed because that's why we are listening to the story in the first place. What can we learn? You generally have to get to the ending to understand the meaning (did the plan work? Or did it fail?). That's good because it keeps the audience engaged to the end. The best stories don't outright tell you the lesson, but you can infer it from the story, and that's where the psychological change comes from. Did you ever watch a movie and feel changed by it?
So how do we build these elements into our strategy presentation?
In a prior article we talked about an optimal structure for a strategy document or presentation so we won't go here into everything to put into a strategy, but here's how you shape it into a compelling story.
At this point you want the audience to be uncomfortable, the same way they are when The Empire starts firing up their planet-destroyer. The situation looks bleak. What will the rebellion do? They need… what? A PLAN! You want your audience asking-- so what can we do? This is the optimal tee-up to the details of your strategy.