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Keynoter Smith Says Storytelling Is Strong Business
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (10/10/13)--Story telling is growing as a tool for business leaders, and credit unions can tell their stories to define their cooperative culture, inspire staff and--a big one--grow their business, according to Paul Smith, director of consumer and communications research at Procter & Gamble, who delivered Wednesday's keynote address at the Community Credit Union & Growth Conference.
 
Storytelling has been around since the dawn of man for a reason: It's contagious, demographic-proof, memorable, and inspirational. And credit unions, Smith said, have great stories to tell--from the birth of the movement to everyday experiences that change people's lives.
 
Click to view larger image Paul Smith of Proctor & Gamble says story telling can be a significant tool for business development. (CUNA Photo)
But don't confuse a recitation of facts with a story, advised Smith, author of "Lead With a Story: A Guide to Drafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire." A good story requires an emotional hook--something too many organizations are hardwired to downplay or ignore, he said.
 
"Emotional things happen around us all the time, but we intentionally exclude them from our thought process because we somehow think it's unprofessional," Smith says.
 
He invited his community credit union audience to consider this lost opportunity by Pizza Hut, a tale he relates in his book.
 
One day, a woman ordered a meatball sandwich from a young employee at the Pizza Hut in Springdale, Ark. When informed the restaurant didn't offer that item, the woman became distraught. She explained that her husband had lost his appetite due to illness, and only a meatball sandwich appealed to him. But no other restaurants offered them, and Pizza Hut was her last chance.
 
The employee realized he had the ingredients to construct a makeshift meatball sandwich, and she agreed to pay $3 for it. The next day, she called the store to personally thank the employee for going out of his way. She explained that he wasn't just sick; he had advanced lung cancer. He savored every bite of what became his last meal, as he died overnight.
 
"The real travesty behind that story is this: That happened almost 30 years ago, and the first time the story was written down was last year, when my book was published," Smith says. "That's an unforgivable sin in the business world. Can you imagine all the good that story would've done Pizza Hut internally as a display of excellent customer service, or externally as a market campaign?
 
"Why wasn't it used?" Smith asked rhetorically. "Because no one saw value in it. It was just a story."
 
Conversely, in the 1980s, Procter & Gamble conducted field studies on why some families continued to bypass Crisco for lard. One woman told a researcher that lard was a healthier choice, which perplexed him, because he knew otherwise. Why? he asked. Because buying Crisco meant she wouldn't have enough money to also buy milk, the woman replied.
 
"That hit him in the chest," Smith explained. "This was a personal decision a single mom had to make because of the high price of his product."
 
To his credit, the researcher didn't just recite facts--"Respondent says Crisco's too expensive"--but rather jotted down the entire story, which resonated within the company.
 
Likewise, founders of the credit union movement aren't just names--they have stories worth telling, says Smith. Friedrich Wilhelm Raffeisen noticed from an early age that bankers either ignored rural areas in Germany or practiced loan sharking at residents' expense, and became a cooperative pioneer. Alphonse Dejardins stumbled into a story that shocked him while working as a journalist in Canada, when a judge ruled that a man had to pay $5,000 on a $150 loan he'd taken out with a bank a year earlier. He co-founded the first North American credit union in 1900; 200 credit unions operated at the time of his death, 20 years later.
 
"This is the noble history of the business that you're in, and you should be incredibly proud," Smith said. "I'm convinced there are stories like these all over this room. Find them. Share them. People want to do business with people who have a purpose to what they're doing, beyond profit."

CUNA's Community Credit Union & Growth conference concludes on Friday.


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