There is no master key when it comes to unlocking the value of your heritage. Every company’s history is different, though many share similar concerns, ranging from a major anniversary on the horizon to an acquisition or divestiture. What some companies may not recognize is that a shared wealth of authentic content—for use when authenticity is recognized—is among the most attractive and compelling corporate values.
At The History Factory, we recommend that our clients focus first on goals such as employee engagement, using heritage as a way to support and authenticate current messaging. We call it Start with the Future and Work Back,™ and it’s an effective means of putting authentic content to work.
Right now, authenticity is everything. More companies than ever are searching to connect to their audiences in a way that is natural and true to their brand. To help with this we’ve compiled a list of ways that you can leverage your own authentic content for greater value.
If properly executed, an anniversary celebration is less about commemorating the founding of a company and more about the future. Corporate anniversaries are a time to convert your heritage into actionable authentic content that can engage and energize employees, customers and other stakeholders. But first you must ask yourself:
- What need was the founder identifying and meeting by starting our company?
- What industry mainstays or practices were being disrupted by these upstarts?
- What was the corporate culture that united and motivated this group?
- What challenges were overcome on the road to success?
Research suggests that, as social beings, we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Repurposing how you convey your heritage can help your employees see your company as much more than a source of income, and it can help customers perceive your company as much more than a source of supplies or a “vendor.”
Experts have been predicting the death of hard-copy books for decades. Books’ persistence underscores the importance so many of us attach to holding a good story in our hands. Publications bring a wealth of information both in words and images and provide a necessary binding for authentic content. They are also a handy reference for the next generation of leaders or new partners being brought into the fold.
If you are approaching a corporate milestone, you may default to thinking of your history in terms of decades, quarter centuries, etc. Don’t let chronology become a straitjacket that limits your narrative flexibility. Themes that reach across milestone markers may present a much more compelling storytelling option, even as you note the passage of time. At times, a company’s narrative is dominated by a charismatic leader or breakthrough technology, at times by a global recession and recovery. E-books supplement traditional books and offer engaging options for displaying related graphics and videos. The bottom line is that these tools offer another, more enduring reminder to both employees and customers of the rich heritage of your company and their part in your continued narrative.
These can range from permanent, museum-quality showcases to mobile roadshows or temporary exhibits that can be mounted in breakrooms around the world. Taking a strong and clear point of view is essential if you want to sustain interest and engagement. As with publications, displays have gone virtual and extend the reach and impact of a fixed display. Use apps or augmented reality to capture the best of both permanent and temporary exhibits. Like publications, exhibits offer a tangible experience that helps augment your story if done well.
It is often said that how someone views the same event differs, depending on where they were standing at the time. So it is with experiences in your company’s past—while the CEO may see it one way, the junior sales rep may offer a different perspective. Send out department- or company-wide messages asking for authentic content that employees may have that provides an alternative view of your corporate heritage. Photos, letters, commendations and memos all add depth and authenticity. Solicit anecdotes about memorable moments or experiences, as well. This material supplements existing corporate files and archives, and it can be leveraged to engage employees in a variety of ways—from the aforementioned publications and displays to periodic posts on intranet and business social pages.
Current and former senior management and directors are obvious choices for extended oral history interviews. But don’t overlook “culture carriers” within the organization whose titles may not fully convey their role in codifying and sustaining your corporate culture. Consider, as well, interviews that will capture your company’s involvement in the community as well as on the frontiers of global expansion. Like the results of discovery programs, these oral histories can provide the authentic content that drives other tactics to unleash the value in your company’s heritage.
This is just a sampling of the options available to the corporate storyteller. Don’t wait. There’s no time like the present to use the past to help drive future goals.