Beyond Story Telling

The rise of social tools, coupled with powerful new approaches that go beyond traditional concepts of storytelling, offer marketers the chance to make their brands really stand for something in the minds of consumers.

Storytelling is outmoded, according to Ty Montague, author of the book True Story, and a founder of Co:collective.

In True Story, Montague discusses companies that not only communicate effectively (storytelling), but connect with something important in the consumer’s mind, and do something iconic to differentiate (“storydoing”).

For example, Red Bull: It’s not just a soft drink company, it’s also an events company, and a media company that connects with customers’ desire for extreme stimulation and love of adventure sports.

Interviewed for this article, Montague said that storydoing companies have a more clearly defined purpose than other companies, a reason to exist that transcends profits.

“This often creates intense loyalty among customers and employees alike,” Montague says. “Storydoing companies don’t just practice what they preach – they actually preach by practicing,” he adds.


Attributes of Storydoing Companies
Adapted from Storydoing with permission

Co:collective identifies six attributes:



1. You have a story.


4. The story is being used to drive action throughout the company.

2. The story defines an ambition beyond commercial aspiration.


 5. You have defined a few iconic, transformative actions to focus on.

3. The story is understood and cared about by the entire company.


6. People outside the company are engaging with and participating in the story.

A 2012 Co: collective study compared companies that have an action-oriented, storydoing focus with those that take a more traditional storytelling approach. The agency analyzed a range of publicly available financial data on 42 listed companies over the course of five years, including revenue growth.


Annualized revenue growth rate (2007-2011)
Source: Storydoing Reproduced with permission

Co:collective then used the social listening platform Radian6 to assess the frequency of mentions of each company, sentiment, and other social data.


Number of social media mentions (2008-2011)

Co:collective also collaborated with IPG’s Mediabrands to collate paid media data from 2007 to 2011.


Media spend as percentage of annual revenue (2007-2011):

The sample size was small – only seven of the 42 companies met the stringent storydoing criteria: Apple, Disney, IBM, JetBlue, Target, Starbucks, and American Express.

More research would be necessary to precisely determine causality, but it appears that companies with storytelling attributes spend less on paid media, generate more social media mentions, and achieve better financial performance.

The study appears to be broadly congruent with the findings of the 2013 Watermark Consulting 2013 Customer Experience ROI Study, which found that customer experience (CX) leaders outperformed the S&P 500 index by three times, on average, based on Forrester
CX data.

CX is a concept that dovetails with storydoing. As the sum of all experiences that customers have with a brand, CX is much broader than storydoing, which focuses on a few iconic actions that matter most. But good CX could also be seen as a successful outcome of storydoing, which drives action throughout a company.

But if storydoing is such a great idea, why aren’t more companies making it core to what they do? According to Montague:

“Most companies separate product development from story development, and make marketing responsible for telling the story. This creates a difficult job for marketing — trying to orchestrate a story across the entire enterprise — product development and customer service — areas that marketing does not control.”

However, things are changing: “Social media is undoing that structured approach,”
Montague says.

Born out of the technology start-up space, a growth hacking phenomenon has been gaining momentum. Many growth hackers don’t have a traditional marketing background, but are developers with creative flair, and a familiarity with effective, low-cost digital and social media marketing tactics.

Many fast-growing brands owe much their early success to growth hacking approaches, including Airbnb, Facebook, and many social platforms that have experienced rapid growth in recent years, despite minimal use of paid media.

Skilled growth hackers build story into their brands early in the product development phase, making them inherently meaningful, so that customers are motivated talk about them. They also use data and feedback to iterate quickly.

While marketers in large corporations may find it more challenging to get buy in across the organization than a growth hacker in a nimble early stage company, cross-functional teams working on a new project can be a good be a good place to start to build story into
their brands.

Ultimately, companies that become proficient in storydoing may find that they spend less on marketing. Companies that move toward an action focus rather than just a communications focus outperform competitors that use storytelling purely as a bolt-on tool, because their narrative purpose – in the words of Montague – lights up the medium of people.


Storydoing is about having a story that shapes and drives action within your company, that employees relate to, and that customers talk about. Do you have a story that is about shared purpose, a story that goes beyond commercial aspiration? Apart from price, quality and product features, why should consumers care about your brand?