The Power of Story And Client Management

by seanlow on June 27, 2017

I have touted Bill Baker here for years. All the links to my five previous posts about what Bill is all about and my thoughts on why he is just so so important to creative business are here, here, here, here and here. I just re-read all of them and each are still completely relevant to how I think about story in creative business today.  For those who have not listened to Bill’s podcast with Studio Sherpas, you should.

And just when I thought the power of story could not be any more prevalent, along comes this article in the New York Times about how General Mills and its Yoplait division are trying to get their groove back with Oui. How are they doing it? With, ahem, the power of story. The big takeaway (shocker) is that story drives data, not the other way around. If you are truly invested in what propels creation, you live there and then the creation becomes accepted and adored. Story is more important than the product. It does not mean the product can be inferior, it is just that product cannot be exceptional without a story. General Mills watched Yoplait disappear to the story of Greek yogurt, even though Yoplait tasted better. Product matters; story matters more. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is this more true than for creative business.

If the New York Times article is not hitting the story mindset you need to have for your creative business smack in the head, I do not know what will. Please note, story is not about marketing, branding, advertising and eye-ball muscle. General Mills had all that in spades. They got their ass kicked because the story of the business, of the history of the product, its legacy as told by its employees to anyone who would listen drove everything for Greek yogurt, Chobani in particular. This is not to say that the external branding effort is not critical, it is, it is just that it is not enough. The story, to be authentic, has to run deeper, it has to be woven into the fabric, the DNA of the business, creative business most of all. This is what Bill Baker is the master of and why every creative business owner needs to beat a path to his door. Once you understand what it takes to create the depth of story, generate true authenticity, you can then enter my world of client management.

Client management, as we discussed last week in The BBC Collective, is about knowing what is valuable and getting paid for it. Getting paid is not just money, it is having your client do whatever is necessary to move your process forward.  With the framework of story in place you can undertake the effort to develop the value points that need to exist during the arc of your creative business’ story. The exercise, then, becomes what is valuable about what you do, how valuable it is in relation to the rest of what you do and when you need to deliver the value (i.e., its place on the arc). This is how I and the members of The BBC Collective discussed Mindy Weiss’ lawsuit against one of her clients, and, in this context, the insights were profound.

Here is what happens if you do not fully appreciate the exercise – you, your art and your creative business tell an inauthentic story. Why? Your creative business will be saying something opposite to what is coming out of your and your employees mouths.

The most common example: design. Say you need your clients to finish design with you in a month but they paid a thirty percent deposit and the balance of payment(s) is/are not due for months. This is your creative business saying design does not matter and there is no value in finishing design in a month. You and your employees could be talking until you are blue in the face about how important it is that you get design done in a month, but you charged exactly zero for it. The story of your art and its creation is undercut by your business process and will become more (not less) inauthentic the more you tell it. Oh, and trying to fix it after the fact only makes the trust and believability of the story that much worse. Whether you like it or not, your creative business has its own voice and your clients very much speak the language. Clients value what you tell them to value when you tell them to value it, and, if you do not do this work, they will choose on their own. And, when clients are in the position to determine value, you literally just gave away your voice. Nothing good ever happens or can happen if your client is driving your creative business’ process. Your voice and that of your creative business has to be the only ones that matter. Period.

The essence of client management is timely value delivery. The power of value delivery is through resonant story. It is a three-legged stool. Lose a leg and you will fall down. Please do not, not because you now know better, but mostly because of the awesome opportunity that exists when you acknowledge how far you can go when the three legs are firmly in place. Enjoy your Chobani.

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