When we read examples of great storytelling in business, case studies often profile Nike or Apple or Coca-Cola: exciting brands selling cool (or at least cold) products. Yes, they have storytelling chops, but by showcasing only these high-profile, perhaps enviable brands, journalists and bloggers are doing a disservice to those brands or companies who aren’t, shall we say, quite as sexy.
We’d argue that regardless of your service or product, you have a story to tell. And examples of great storytelling abound—far beyond the Apples and the Nikes.
Take mine safety equipment. Or windshield glass. Or materials testing, or insurance. Companies specializing in these seemingly-niche areas may be working behind the scenes, but they are doing so for hundreds of thousands of people, and many have been at it for a very long time. Their longevity can so often be explained by a deeply rooted value system and company culture that virtually guarantees employee loyalty. And this alone results in some incredible stories. We strongly believe these stories should be told, and told well.
Mine Safety Appliances (MSA)
Take Mine Safety Appliances (MSA). The Pittsburgh-based company has a genuinely inspiring and noble history. Employee tenure at MSA is legendary, and staff often refer to “The MSA Way” to describe how and why they make decisions. When company leaders asked us to help them translate their values into a compelling narrative, we were happy to oblige.
We know that values transmitted through story are remembered because they hit the readers’ hearts, not their heads. We chose to start MSA’s book with a powerful chapter about the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and how MSA responded that very day by sending tractor trailers packed with breathing apparatus, face shields, respirators and dust masks for the first responders in New York City.
The company’s roots and enduring mission is about saving lives, and the journalistic narrative we wove throughout the book boldly illustrated the company’s values in an entertaining and inspiring way.
Then there’s the family-run national insurance company California Casualty. They also wanted to celebrate their long history. And while for some, the word “insurance” might prompt yawns or—worse—assumptions of untrustworthy salesmen, their story was the very opposite of this stereotype. We knew we had to start the book with the company-defining story of the 1991 Oakland Hills fires.
The devastating blaze destroyed over 3,000 homes, 30 of which were insured with California Casualty. As soon as he heard the news, Tom Brown, the CEO at the time, made the decision to take the limits off their customers’ policies and pay whatever it took to rebuild their homes. That’s the California Casualty Code and we wanted to kick off the story with a tribute to its rare standard of integrity.
Brand Stories Are Worth Telling
Stories like MSA’s and California Casualty’s are worth telling because they are about the people at the heart of these companies. Their stories reflect their values and those values ripple out to be lived by employees. The resulting books aren’t designed to be temporary marketing pieces, or campaigns, but rather expressions of the companies’ enduring legacies, which at heart are truly the sum of their parts.