Good stories form the backbone of communicating any long-lasting and impactful message. Companies hoping to garner new customers have always known of this. But today, it's not only new customers that many are interested in conversing with.
While reaching out to consumers with the right branding initiatives remains imperative for companies across the board, an often-ignored part is a way they communicate to their employees and prospective candidates. Employer branding, a broad cohort of initiatives that includes conveying the right message, has grown in importance over the last few years. With an increased focus on both hiring and retaining people with the right skills becoming crucial for organizational success, more and more companies are focusing on crafting the right stories.
Storytelling and employer branding
Employer branding seeks to build a company's reputation and image as the right place to work. By weaving meaningful experiences, strong stories of change, and data to create the right messages, companies stand to engage and attract the right talent. And it's been more important than ever before. ‘It's incumbent on companies to do everything they can to attract the right people in this tight labour market,’ notes Rohan Sylvester, Recruitment Evangelist, Indeed. ‘This includes being able to craft the right stories.’
But often, storytelling is a difficult art to master. Communicating within a corporate paradigm is limited by factors such as brevity, time, and context. Employer branding doesn’t have the liberty to tell complex tales. Rather, it requires short and impactful messaging which attempts to bring tangible change.
Understanding the nuances
To address this gap, a recent People Matters and Indeed Virtual Roundtable discussion expanded upon established principles of storytelling. With renowned author Devdutt Patnaik joining in the discussion to share tips and insights on creating powerful stories, many tools and techniques were explored and debated. The following steps, according to Devdutt, are key to sharing any impactful message.
1. Why are you telling this story?
An often forgotten part of creating any story is also the most relevant bit. ‘Reflect on the essence of the story you're about to tell and hone into the reason why you’re telling the story in the first part,’ explains Devdutt. ‘This means finding answers to questions like What do you want to talk about? Is it your company’s vision that you want to share or are you trying to market an idea? By having clarity on why you want to tell the story builds the base of your story.’ This builds on what many other writers define as a key first of storytelling. The answer to this question goes on to define all the latter stages of storytelling and the same holds within the context of employer branding. Companies who seek to leave a mark on their targeted audience, need to first identify the idea behind what they want to convey.
‘It is important however,’ adds Devdutt, ‘to boil down your answer to a single crisp sentence.’ By doing this, employer’s storytelling can find the impactful message they want to convey.
2. Setting the stage
The second step is to move from the key idea to the features of the story. According to Devdutt, this step of the process involves building the foreground and background. ‘This is part of the storytelling process where you visualise the characters and flesh out the details,’ he explains. Building on the idea that you created in the step before, you need characters and settings to tell the story. Who are the characters and what is the setting?’ ‘It's important however to keep it short and not waste a lot of time on this step,’ he notes. While the idea is anchored through the characters and settings, spending excessive time can derail the steps further down and cost employers valuable time.
3. The plot structure
In corporate storytelling, time is an important consideration. This means being able to convey your idea in a crisp, clear manner. Additionally, the story has to demarcate a change from the beginning to the end. The plot structure is the step where all this is done. ‘Storytelling is like dropping a pebble on a still water surface,’ explains Devdutt, ‘and watching the ripples.’ For an employer branding story, a good plot plays multiple roles. It helps the audience connect with the characters and the message, it helps create the right emotions, all while showing the necessary causality in the flow of the story. The plot dictates how the characters travel from point A to point B in the story, indicating change and clarifying the idea built in the first step. Causality is a necessary factor. This step also ensures that the point/purpose of the story is clearly conveyed to the audience. ‘It's through the plot that you clarify exactly what and why you're telling this story,’ adds Devdutt. ‘You can't let people assume the meaning. You have to say it clearly. A well defined plot structure does that for you.’
Emotions play an important part in storytelling and by extension in employer branding. According to Devdutt, all stories have a visual component, idea component, emotional component. ‘Between the visual component and idea component, lies the emotional component, elucidates Devdutt and adds that ’emotions are what links the visual component to the idea component’. By creating the right emotions, employers can create a connection with their audience and make them genuinely invested in the story the employer is trying to put across. 'Corporate stories have to be peppered with the right emotions,' explains Devdutt, 'but it all has to be part of a logical progression.'
5. Tell multiple stories
A key component to making employer branding stories successful is to ensure not to tell the same story again and again. Not only does it reflect myopia of perspectives to share from the employer's end, but it also showcases a lack of respect for the audience the story is meant for. Repeating the same story over and over again creates an image of complacency and points to the lack of awareness that employers might sometimes have of what makes their companies a truly special place to work. 'Have a basket of stories that help you convey your message. Not only does it showcase a freshness in the messaging but also helps reinforce the message in different ways,' explains Devdutt. He further illustrates this point in the context of making recruitment a more inclusive process. ‘With the help of stories, companies can convey their efforts to revamp their recruitment process much more impactfully.’
Storytelling is by no means a new concept. For ages, humans have used the medium of stories to convey important lessons, often imparting a timeless essence on how such lessons are shared. Impactful storytelling uses different components that can bring about emotions and raise the sentiments it wants to in its audience. It, therefore, comes as little surprise that modern-day corporate communication seeks to leverage these very principles of impactful storytelling to reach their audience. But to make employer branding a successful endeavour, employers and HR professionals alike need to pay close attention to how their stories are being crafted.