How to Move Past Failure with Effective Storytelling

How to Move Past Failure with Effective Storytelling

Sat, Dec 8, 2018 - 18:24

  • Why is it important that my brand acknowledges its failures?
  • How should I tell the story of failure?
  • How can I show that I've moved past a failure?

Imagine there's an online pet food store called Kimble's Kibbles that touts its products as a superfood for cats and dogs.

Thanks to positive reviews from 2- and 4-legged customers alike, business is booming and the Kimble's team is working overtime as new sales continue to pour in. Everything's going great.

Now imagine Kimble's Kibbles fills hundreds of dog food orders with bags of cat food. Whoops. With hungry pups on their hands, unhappy customers start barking about the mix-up on social media. How should Kimble respond?

Kimble's Kibbles should acknowledge their mistake, take responsibility, and explain why the failure occurred. Ignoring the failure or making excuses would likely upset customers and create a larger backlash.

Making the occasional blunder is just part of doing business. So why should you invest time in crafting a narrative of your failure?

In today's interconnected, social media-driven world, there's no hiding from failure. Word is going to get out. But telling a compelling story about your mistake can help prevent it from turning into an all-out disaster.

When something goes wrong, you need to be able to talk about your failure honestly and specifically, without making excuses.

If you ignore or downplay what the public knows to be true, you may come across as dishonest and tone-deaf. This can undo the hard work you've done to build the popularity of your brand and your products among your target audience.

No one wants to buy dog food - or anything else -from a dishonest company. Mishandling failure and appearing insincere or evasive can give your competitors an advantage and an opportunity to snatch away your business.

When you choose to talk about failure in a smart and thoughtful way, you come across as accountable and self-aware. This can limit the damage to your brand and go a long way towards retaining customers.

Talking about your mistakes doesn't mean painting your business as a failure. Instead, redefine failure as an unsuccessful outcome. It isn't the end of the story, but it is a part that needs to be acknowledged.

The first step to telling the story of a failure is to choose your words carefully.

Words like "because" and "why" make it sound like you're trying to explain things away. It's better to stick to the facts and summarize the sequence of events. Tell the story of how you failed, not why.

For example, Kimble's Kibbles can take responsibility for their failure by saying: "We mislabeled our Feline's Feast cat food and sent incorrect orders to hundreds of our customers."

This is likely to go over a lot better than saying: "Because of a labelling error, some of our customers received incorrect orders."

Your failure affected customers, but it affected you too. Describing emotions and reactions will make you relatable and prove that you care.

Showing emotions can be more effective than just telling them. You can paint a picture of how you and your employees were affected by describing the actual sequence of events.

Kimble's could say: "When we learned that we'd sent the wrong products to customers, the whole Kimble's team was distraught, and we all gathered on the factory floor to see what had gone.

This is better than just saying: "The whole Kimble's team was distraught when it turned out our orders were mixed up."

The last step to telling the story of failure is to talk about how you've fixed the problem and are moving forward.

Discussing how you addressed the root cause of the failure will demonstrate change and improvement. This can help earn your audience's trust and business back.

You don't want to be vague. It's not enough for Kimble's to say: "We have reviewed our shipping processes and taken measures to ensure this won't happen again."

It's better to be specific and say: "To ensure the accuracy of our orders, Kimble's has added additional verification steps to our packaging and shipping processes and established a 24-hour support hotline."

Now that you know how to talk about failure, think about a brand you’ve recently heard about that experienced a mishap or failure.

  • When the failure occurred, did the brand rake responsibility? Yes/No
  • When explaining what happened, did the brand tell the story of how they failed, without making excuses?
  • Did the brand describe how the failure affected them and their employees and did they show emotion in their reaction?
  • Did the brand explain how they fixed the problem?

References: Google Webmasters, Think With Google, Google Primer

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