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Our first Inside Out company book club

We like to practice what we preach, and we’re always preaching about how knowledge is power. As such, in October, in an effort to support our ongoing team learning and development, we held our very first Inside Out book club!


Up first was Magnetic Stories, the most recent book release by Gabrielle Dolan. Gabrielle is a world renowned thought leader, author, and keynote speaker on communication and business storytelling, and the creator of the Jargon Free Fridays movement, which challenges people to oust jargon from the corporate world.


In just a few words, Magnetic Stories is your how-to guide for brand storytelling. Gabrielle dives deep into what brand storytelling is and isn’t, and explains how using the right stories in the right ways builds connection and engagement with both internal and external audiences.


It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and here is our review.


Our best bits


Barbie, the feminist superhero


Gabrielle demonstrates the power of brand storytelling with many examples of brand stories throughout her book. One of our favourites is from Mattel, the creators of the Barbie doll.


We are all aware of the criticism that Barbie has faced in recent years. With her slender figure, abnormally long legs and perfectly proportioned face, many parents now take the stance that Barbie sets an unrealistic beauty standard for young children, and is an inappropriate toy. But as Gabrielle explains, Barbie’s backstory may actually surprise you.


In the 1950’s the doll’s creator, Ruth Handler, wife of the co-founder of Mattel, noticed that her young daughter’s dolls always represented a caregiver, while her son had dolls who were doctors, firefighters and astronauts. Handler is quoted as saying that she created the Barbie to show every little girl that she could ‘be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.’ This is supported by the release of a number of progressive Barbie’s as early as the 1960s: the Astronaut Barbie, the CEO Barbie, or the Surgeon Barbie.


As intended, Gabrielle illustrates her point here extremely well: that a great brand story can challenge and completely change your perception of an organisation. We definitely agreed.


A game of Mr & Mrs to define your brand


To discover great brand stories you need to know what your brand is. Unfortunately it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of ‘defining your brand’. Many organisations collect lots of data from stakeholders, others even appointing external consultants to assist with the process.


Gabrielle reminds us that sometimes the most effective thing you can do is just ask. She introduces us to her simple three step process for defining your brand:


  • Write down five words or phrases that you would want other people to describe your brand as.

  • Go out and ask others how they would describe your brand in five words or phrases.

  • Compare the two! (Can you see the similarity to Mr & Mrs?)


You may find that the way others describe you matches up perfectly with how you see your brand. That’s great news and means your ‘brand’ is in alignment with what your organisation is really like and what it’s about.


But you may find that what you see and what others see doesn’t match up. You may describe your brand as easy going, while your stakeholders see you as specific. You may think that the most recognisable feature of your brand is your ability to adapt, but your clients could highlight how you go above and beyond on the delivery of every project.


This simple exercise allows you to tune in to what your brand really is as you focus on how others perceive it. We love this technique.


Stories are your salt and pepper


Have you ever been to a restaurant where each item on the menu has a short explanation below it? Where the ingredients are sourced from, who carefully selects them, or what inspired the recipe? It can really add to your dining experience and make you even more excited for your food to arrive.


Gabrielle uses the example of a restaurant called Columbia, the oldest restaurant in Florida, owned by the same family since 1905. Columbia has an extensive creation story on its website, paired with descriptive menus and wine lists which explain the history of the establishment, favourite dishes of family members, and how their recipes first came about.


We like this approach so much that we’ve come up with a fitting culinary analogy. Brand stories are like your salt and pepper, taking your brand from bland to full of flavour, and enhancing how others experience your brand. Just like salt and pepper, they are the finishing touch (which should be used sparingly).


Lessons we’ve learnt


With so much out there about business storytelling, Magnetic Stories is the perfect whistle-stop tour and reminder of how to tell a brilliant story to employees and/or customers.


Via a plethora of real life examples and case ‘stories’ (not studies!) it cuts through the waffle to help you get to the “Who are you?” and the “Why should I choose you?” messages and how best to share them. It reminds us that it’s not just about your product or service. It’s about your history, the pride you have in your roots, your building, your people, their successes, and why your employees want to work for you. If you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge, or even if you are a complete beginner, this book is a great one to pick up.


Reading all those fantastic examples of stories has motivated us to incorporate a little bit more storytelling within our own writing. Can you tell we’ve given it a go? We’re also feeling inspired to put some of Gabrielle’s suggestions into action, so we’re off to formally define our own brand and write Our Story, ready to include on our website.


Make sure to head to www.insideoutconsulting.co.uk to read it first!

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