Book Club: ‘Story Driven’ – Bernadette Jiwa

So we’re back with another book review and this time it’s a little book called ‘Story Driven‘ by Bernadette Jiwa.

I’m not sure how I came across this book. If I’m honest, I think it was probably just that it was reasonably cheap on Amazon and came with a recommendation from Seth Godin, so the thinking was: win, win! And, you may have seen that it’s provided the inspiration for a few blogs already and so for that, it’s been well worth the money.

In the book, Jiwa explains how so frequently we are conditioned to play to win, but that those businesses and individuals that we admire and respect play to a different set of rules. They are driven by a strong sense of identity, where rather than focusing on how to differentiate themselves from the competition or ‘obsess over telling the right story’, they focus solely on their truths. Telling the real story is what matters.

The book itself tells you most of what you need to know in the first couple of chapters, and there’s no denying the value in what Jiwa offers up. What follows though, is a vast number of short ‘case studies’ on what she calls ‘story-driven’ companies doing things the right way. In the interest of being completely transparent: it drags and contains far too many examples to leave a lasting impact and so I skipped about half of them… But, the real gem of the book is in the last chapter so make sure you persevere to the end.

Anyway, my takeaways:

Don’t be like VW

Almost the entire first part of the book revolves around the Volkswagen scandal of a few years back and how it was their drive simply to ‘win’ that led them there. I’ve written about this more extensively in my post ‘Pursue meaning not more‘. Instead, Jiwa suggests that those who are driven by a story and sticking to their truth, are less likely to create a culture where good people do bad things.

Don’t read this book if you think VW has nothing to be ashamed of. Or rather, do – you’ll soon change your mind.

Align story with strategy

This is something I’ve banged on about a couple of times already. So let’s be clear:

You. Have. To. Back. Up. What. You. Say. About. Yourself. With. Actions.

Jiwa does a great job of explaining that often brands start out with a grand vision for the future, but without a plan to make it a reality, it can be easy to focus on succeeding in the present and taking your eye off the long-term goal. Having a strategy that aligns to your backstory and the future you’re looking to build, is the way you’re going deliver. Your strategy is your ‘how’ – the stepping stones to achieving your vision. Make sure they are aligned or you risk failure.

(pp. 69-71)

Invest in yourself

This is the gem.

It has nothing really to do with branding, and everything to do with your own personal story. The whole chapter is excellent and beautifully-written. I can’t quote it all but it feels particularly relevant. I’m just going to quote part of it here, so if you take nothing else from ‘Story Driven‘, remember this:

“We spend a lot of time looking at our reflection […] to wonder how our appearance will be perceived and what we need to do to perfect it. Our days are consumed with measuring up in all kinds of arbitrary, superficial, ungrounded ways. What would happen if we spent as much time reflecting – wondering about and working on the inside, nurturing the things that make us who we are?”

And while we’re here, there’s also this zinger:

“Exceptional performance is not a result of expending the most effort. The secret to being exceptional is the small choices we make moment-to-moment.”

Sorry it’s a bit of a lengthy one!


Clearing up ‘brand purpose’

If you’ve never heard of the Cannes Lions festival, I don’t blame you. But, it’s this one week a year in the south of France where the great and the good of advertising and marketing industries get together to pat each other on the back, schmooze, and mull over the big talking points of the business.

This year, almost everyone has been talking about two phrases: ‘brand purpose‘ and ‘woke-washing‘: the manufacturing of a brand ‘purpose’ where it doesn’t really exist, in order to tap into morally-fashionable trends. The whole subject has sparked debate on both sides of the argument.

There are those who seem to believe strongly that creating a brand around a ‘purpose’ is the only thing that matters right now. Consumers care more than ever about what their brands stand for and are willing to go further than ever to avoid giving their cash to a brand they socially or politically disagree with. They have a point.

Then there are those who dismiss it all. It’s a vanity act and a futile pursuit of moral one-upmanship. Not only is it often meaningless (see woke-washing), but it’s not very differentiating if everyone’s doing it, is it? They too have a point.

Here’s my take:

Your bullshit won’t cut it!

If you’ve read anything of mine over the last few weeks you know I’m a believer in standing for something more meaningful than margins and turnover. But, let’s get one thing clear – you’ve got to mean it. Like really believe in it.

Everything you do has to be authentic, not just because consumers are more ‘woke’ than ever and can smell BS a mile away, but because how else are you going to make it work if you don’t truly believe what you’re saying?

If you’re struggling to think of a *thruthful* but meaningful reason that you exist, start by asking yourself “what do we do?” – that be should be easy. Then, ask yourself ‘why?’ as many times as necessary until you feel it in your belly. Verne Harnish recommends going until you reach “to save the world” and then backing up a step or two.

Purpose ≠ Politics

This is really the thing I want to say.

Don’t be drawn into thinking that by having a ‘purpose’ you have to be all holier than thou, or overtly political in your stance on things. For a lot of small businesses, it simply isn’t feasible to risk antagonising your customer base by being overly-vocal on issues that aren’t relevant to your products or services. It’s also not always financially realistic to ‘put your money where your mouth is’ on major cultural issues. But your purpose doesn’t *need* to be that.

Just be authentic

Your purpose can be as simple as being the leading example of exceptional customer service, or to pioneer a new way of working in your industry. It’s could be that you love something so much that your sole aim is to get others enthused about it too. As long as it’s authentic and you truly believe in it, then you’re on to a winner.

No matter what it is, you can find your ‘minimum viable audience’ – those who buy into that same vision – and go on to succeed.

Yes, social injustice, or tackling climate change and inequality are all honourable causes, but let’s not get blinkered about what ‘brand purpose’ actually means.