The Value of Openness in Telling Your Story

I had a conversation with a potential client the other day. It went something like this:

US: We think your story has a lot of potential, and we're excited about telling your company's story.

THEM: Fantastic! We're in! Just don't tell people exactly what we do. And you can't shoot any video of our operations. It's all proprietary. 

US: *dies a little inside*

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Believe it or not, this is not an uncommon conversation for a marketer.

In theory, a great number of companies are eager to "tell our story" - a multipurpose phrase conveniently rolled out from the C-suite, or their marketing department, that may encompass a combination of written, visual and/or audio media. The words "telling our story" are typically engaged to avoid speaking other words like "self-promotion" or "company history", both of which may be assumed as a negative to the company's image or cool factor.

I don't mind the phrase, honestly. What I do mind is the inherent, and frankly misguided, baggage that comes attached to it - when it's used as a replacement for other more specific phrases of intention, and not as a set of words with its own unique meaning.

Telling one's story should be just that, carefully crafting and then sharing a listenable/readable narrative of one's experience as a business, or as an organization or as an individual. It should be like the relaying of a memorable event, or the sharing of a family anecdote or the telling of a joke. It should be clear, honest and entertaining. That's a story.

But in a litigation-heavy, trust-light world, I suppose it's understandable that some businesses feel the need to, at best, wrap themselves in a hazy gauze of unspecific statements and images, or at worst, in an impenetrable cloak of misdirection. It's understandable, but it's also a shame.

The best stories - whether business or personal - have at their core a common thread: openness. They are told to engage the listener/viewer on both an intellectual and an emotional level, to draw them into a world that is either foreign or all too familiar, and to leave them with a feeling of having gained something in the end. The best may take a "warts and all" approach where the teller is able to acknowledge, and often create understanding of, their shortcomings and a desire to improve. Memorable biographies do this. The best feature articles do this. Viral jokes do this. Why, then, can't business videos?

To be honest and open about oneself in your company's marketing pieces may be considered a liability in some cases, and I can't deny there may be the occasional spy around the corner looking for intel from the inside. But more often than not, the advantages of showing the marketplace you have nothing to hide, and even better that you are a relatable company with an easygoing spirit, an open door company if you will, may reap long run benefits greater than you could imagine. 

As human beings, we want to consume products and information from others in the "us" category, not in the "them" one. We do business with those we consider friends - the Apple's, and McDonald's and Nike's of the world. We consider them friends because we feel like they show us who they really are in everything they do, that they don't keep us at arm's length for fear of corporate espionage, skeletons in the closet or just general shyness (whether or not they actually do is fodder for a different blog post).

In business, as in business video and marketing, impressions matter. Next time, try erring on the side of openness. You might be surprised who responds.

Josh Dasal is an Emmy award-winning video producer and digital marketer with a 20-year history of telling stories that matter. You can Google him.