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Bedtime Stories Aren't Just for Kids Anymore

Remember bedtime stories? You're probably reciting the same fairy tales to your kids that your parents lulled you to sleep with. Why? Because you remember them. Wouldn't it be great if your clients remembered you half so well as you recall the Big Bad Wolf and Cinderella's Fairy Godmother?

Borrowing from psychology, that's the idea behind a new marketing and motivational concept called narrative theory. "No matter what its size, specialty or scope, every organization has its own unique legends and lore that become part of the very fabric of its identity," says a journal published by the Stanford Alumni Association.

If you want to build your company identity, grab a teddy bear and start articulating your legends and lore -- your company story.

Having your company story up your sleeve comes in handy. You might use it in presentations, your business plan, or a prospectus. Some companies, like Caribou Coffee, post theirs on the wall for everyone to see. But most importantly, you seize "the tremendous power of using these stories to increase productivity, implement change, and motivate employees," according to Peg Neuhauser, author of Corporate Legends and Lore.

Types of Company Stories You Can Tell

The Time Line Story This doesn't even need sentences. Just map out the key dates of your biz, like when you got the idea, opened the doors, served your one thousandth customer. It helps employees and clients feel they're participating in something with a past and a future. It can also help you tell more elaborate stories.

The "Idea" Story Caribou Coffee, a Starbucks competitor, uses and posts this one. It tells of the founders, husband and wife, who spied a herd of caribou from an Alaskan mountaintop and decided then and there to create a place that felt like a mountain lodge. Its characters and plot revolve around one pivotal moment or idea. This story type works well for inventors and any biz that forges new territory.

The Cinderella Story Everybody eats this one up! Especially Ben & Jerry, the ice cream moguls. It starts with two unemployed guys and an idea (like buying a home ice cream maker). It then tells of their transformation, and how their hometown values and interests led them to fame and fortune.

The Survivor Story Tells how your biz overcame daunting odds to get where it is now. Everybody loves an underdog!

The Hero or Great Feat Another effective story type, this tells of a great deed that helped establish or guarantee the success of your business. It often involves helping your market or community and deriving your success from theirs.

The list goes on. To start yours, first brainstorm. Stick to the truth (they're stories, not myths!) And remember, good stories hinge on interesting characters, plots, and settings. Identify these in your business, and then your company story is sure to keep 'em up past bedtime.

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