Not long ago, the BBC aired a fascinating episode of a series called Four Thought, which featured as its guest speaker the psychotherapist Philippa Perry. In the 15-minute segment (you can listen to it here), Perry discusses three foster children who seem unable to interpret good news because they have never heard it; she tells us that they’ve become victims of their own self-narrative – the story they tell about themselves, to themselves. The children did not tell themselves a happy story, and it changed how they were able to perceive the world.
This got me thinking; what stories do we as businesses tell ourselves, to ourselves? What’s our brand’s self-narrative?
If we tell ourselves negative stories – that business is slow right now, or that our market is in decline and there’s nothing we can do about it, for example – then what opportunities might we miss?
One of the companies I used to work for had just this problem. We told ourselves that our market was only interested in the cheapest price, that our head office in Japan didn’t understand how we worked, and that our colleagues in mainland Europe weren’t cooperating with us because they didn’t like our relative autonomy. I wonder what opportunities we missed because we told ourselves these things. If we’d adjusted our brand’s self-narrative, who knows what new approaches might have occurred to us? Our entire way of doing business could have changed.
Of course, you can’t just go changing the facts – for instance, if you’re in a declining market, there’s no point in denying it – but you can change how you view them. Instead of telling yourself that there’s nothing you can do about your market, tell yourself that you can get your exit strategy sorted and take business from others leaving the market early. Positive thinking can go a long way in changing how you see the market. In the case of my old company, if we’d told ourselves that we needed to show our customers that the cheapest price wasn’t the benefit they thought it was — that there were other measures of value — we could have made some interesting opportunities for ourselves. And if we had taken some more time to understand and support our colleagues in Europe and Japan, we might have been able to follow up on those opportunities with great success.
Changing your brand’s self-narrative won’t just potentially help you find new strategies and customers; it will also change how your customers think of you. If you sound negative, your customers will think of you as negative. If you believe in your company, then your customers will start to do the same.
So what’s the moral to this tale, other than that BBC Radio 4 produces some very thought-provoking material? It’s this: the stories we tell about ourselves have an enormous impact on us and our customers. Make sure you’re telling the right ones.