If You’re Selling Storytelling (Or Anything Else), Tell a Story

By Kirk Cheyfitz, Story Co-founder

Here’s a cautionary tale about how not to sell storytelling to a client, a boss…or anyone.

Earlier this week, the global leviathan Deloitte Consulting — with “245,000 people in 150 countries” — ramped up its claim to be a “storyteller” by posting a video on YouTube titled “Insights-Driven Storytelling.”

Here’s the problem: There are no stories in the nearly three-and-a-half-minute video. Sadly, the absence of storytelling is not a one-time oversight for Deloitte. A quick check finds no actual stories across a number of Deloitte’s efforts to proclaim itself a storytelling expert. (Proving a negative is not possible, I know, but try googling “Deloitte and storytelling” and see where you get.)

In the video that Deloitte posted on July 11, Christine Cutten, a principal in the consulting firm’s Customer Transformation practice, talks a lot about merging data — from social media, web behaviour and transactions — to figure out “what customers are really thinking and feeling.” Cutten even talks about stories: “There has to be an emotional trigger,” she says, along with “a beginning and an end.” Envisioning the “future of storytelling,” there’s a mash-up about connecting “the offline, the online.” We hear the words “augmented reality and virtual reality” and there are even “holograms” in stores.

But never, ever do we hear a hint of a coherent story about someone who used merged data to locate an insight to drive a particular storyline that moved a human being and produced a business result.

Elsewhere on Deloitte’s web site, we find a “story” for Chief Financial Officers called “What’s your story?” Again, there lot’s stuff about defining a story, structuring a story, categorizing stories. But missing in action is any recounting of any story actually told by a CFO.

Finally, my google search dragged me to a “media release” about Deloitte’s acquiring a tiny (nine people, $1.4 million in annual revenue) Australian B2B shop that specializes in short “explainer” videos to explain business processes and products. Deloitte tries to sell this minuscule deal as the basis of a “narrative strategy” offering. But once again, there’s not a single story in the Deloitte release about the stories or narrative strategies The Explainers have created that moved audiences and markets to produce results.

I don’t necessarily enjoy Deloitte-bashing, even though I believe that most companies with $36.8 billion or more in annual revenue must take care of themselves. But Deloitte’s story — or lack of stories — is a prime example of a very widespread phenomenon which sees all kinds of companies trying to pose as storytelling experts without the asset of any real storytellers.

If I were Deloitte, I’d get an actual storyteller — someone who’s reported a news story, made a movie, written a book, or done anything similar — and I’d send them out in the field right now to begin creating actual stories about storytelling.

In the meantime, I’d caution other storytellers not to follow the example of a consulting firm that fails to use storytelling to sell its storytelling services.

I’d advise clients, as I have before, to stick with storytelling firms that use compelling stories to sell themselves. It shows they know something about what they’re trying to sell you.