This month I had the opportunity to tour The Heathman Hotel in Portland, OR with General Manager Chris Erickson. The Heathman counts Conde Nast Readers Pick for 2013 World’s Best hotel as one of its many awards – quite a feat given it is a fairly small, local hotel without the big marketing budgets of national hotel chains.
So how does The Heathman Hotel get national attention? By telling stories. The secret power of stories is that people like to retell them. And when that happens, you exponentially increase your marketing reach. From making sure that the inevitable connection to the racy Fifty Shades of Grey books that mention its famous headboard design best reflected The Heathman brand and history, to telling the story of how fresh coffee beans from a local company are delivered and then ground in the hotel’s basement each morning, The Heathman demonstrates that the “everyday” can be special.
Telling your story is one thing, but what really impressed me about General Manager Chris Erickson was his ability to generate new stories to tell. My favorite example is how he took his love of running and connected it to his work at the hotel. Chris runs every week, and so it just made sense for him to create a “Run with the GM” day where he maps out weekly runs to visit tourist attractions in the city. One week might be great happy hour bars, another week great street art or best coffee houses. Even on weeks that no one chooses to run with Chris, he has a story to tell based on his route and the adventures along the way. I can tell you that I will never run with Chris (running is not my thing), but I will tell people his story!
We Talk Ourselves Out of Telling Our Stories.
Chris is unique – not because he has made the connection between his job and his love for running – but because he is willing to talk about it. Most organizational leaders don’t tell stories of the personal variety. We talk ourselves out of telling our stories because we think they are too small. Who really cares, right? So while we work with our marketing departments to craft the story that we deem “big” enough to tell, hundreds of smaller opportunities are missed.
Worse, many organizational leaders actually discourage storytelling by employees. Unless your story has been thoroughly vetted through the advertising agency, cleared by the in-house attorney, and screened for appropriate representation of diversity by human resources, it’s something best kept, well, to yourself.
I have a friend who is the lead of business lending for a financial institution. He told me this story – but I have to change all the names and references because it’s hush hush. He’s not allowed to share it. My friend, let’s call him Marty, gets a call from a customer who has something to show him. He takes Marty out to his car and shows him his new invention – a prototype he carries in his trunk of a device that shall remain top secret. Then he shows Marty his “business plan” – handwritten on one sheet of binder paper. Marty knows this poor guy would be laughed out of any of the business lending competitors shops in town. But Marty knows this customer well, knows his wife has a good job and that he is a good guy. So, Marty takes a chance on him. He gives him the loan to start his business. One year later the top secret invention is snapped up by several national companies. Let’s just say his account has significantly more money in it today. Marty’s story is great. Hearing it would make me want to use his business for all my future financial needs. But, according to the marketing department, sharing Marty’s story might make it seem like the company favors some customers over others. So no dice. If we can’t tell everyone’s story, then we can’t tell anyone’s story. Makes sense to me…
Let Your Employees Tell Your Stories.
While many leaders talk themselves out of telling stories they see as too small, too insignificant, or trivial, this barrier is nothing compared to the abject terror organizational executives experience at the mere thought of employees being unleashed to share stories. But the world is changing dramatically. The rise of social media has altered the marketing game forever. And by silencing the voices of all of your employees, you are missing a HUGE opportunity to magnify your organization’s stories – reaching more people, increasing influence and credibility – through the voices of your trusted “tribe”.
If you’re ready to make this Evolutionary marketing leap and reap the rewards of sharing your stories more widely check out the latest post by organizational communication expert, Margaret Murray, on 5 Steps to Harness the Social Media Impact of Your Employees. No excuses. Start telling your stories today!