What if you could get people as excited about reading your business or development plan as they are about the novel they’ve just ordered from Amazon?
We’re all familiar with vision statements – the brief, well-intentioned paragraph that describes a company’s essential goal. The secret to engaging everyone from investors to future customers may be through vision stories. Vision statements – as the name implies – do more telling than showing. Vision stories, though, illuminate a company or brand’s experiential destination.
A vision story is a piece of creative writing set in your brand’s future, one that shows how your brand will live and breathe in the world through one or more narrative vignettes. It brings to life the vision statement in evocative, engaging and multidimensional writing. Vision stories capture the imagination and ignite the passion of those who read them.
Whereas a business or development plan is logistical, and a vision statement succinct and direct, a vision story is evocative, creative and engaging. It paints a picture of your brand’s future self, infused with sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and most importantly, emotion.
It’s a good exercise for each member of a leadership or development team to write out a short story about how one or more people (customers, employees, guests, visitors, investors, strategic partners) will experience the brand once the vision has been realized. This helps to anchor the vision experientially in each stakeholder’s heart, not just her mind.
Vision stories can take numerous forms. Among the techniques I’ve used are: short stories, poems, testimonials, blog posts, a mock Constitution, magazine articles (using styles ranging from the New York Times to dwell), postcards, a short sitcom scene and – my favourite – four intersecting slice-of-life stories.
For a resort in Mexico, I wrote four slice-of-life vignettes from different perspectives: a guest who had come down from the States for her sister’s wedding, an employee, a town resident and a visitor who had sailed down from California, following the path of John Steinbeck’s The Sea of Cortez. Each character interacted with the resort and town in a different way, and each crossed paths with the other three, albeit tangentially. These vignettes were woven throughout a strategic storyline that focused on the resort’s values, vision and differentiators.
For the town of Ladysmith, British Columbia, I helped develop six public workshops for creating a vision for the town’s sustainable future. The project was run by a leading sustainable development consultancy, and they asked me to write “future visions” to complement the traditional planning guidelines they submitted to the town Council. Planning guidelines, like most business plans, tend to be pretty dry. The creative writing sections allowed Council and residents to taste the experiential outcome in addition to the logistics.
(That project, by the way, won the 2009 Canadian Institute of Planners award for innovation in planning.)
While it’s useful for executives to contribute their own stories – shifting perspective to the future and to a different stakeholder – these stories benefit from literary skill combined with strategic savvy. As a professional creative writer, I bring an extensive literary toolkit to my work. I’ve written dozens of vision stories for destinations and companies, primarily in tourism and real estate (where experiential placemaking is essential) but also for other types of brands and destinations – a yoga studio, a subway line, and a film company, among others.
The people involved in a project may change – executives, contractors, strategic partners, the entire management team – and business plans often get ripped up or replaced. But an experiential vision of how your brand will be experienced – that remains constant. If a business plan is a roadmap, a vision story is a compass. It doesn’t tell you how to get there; it tells you what it will feel like once you’ve arrived.
©2014 Sarah Chauncey