Telling tales

Storytelling is everywhere in the business world at the moment (once upon a time, The Writer even held an event all about storytelling). When it’s done right, it can bring your big concepts to life, really explain and humanise your brand, and engage your audience. But for that to happen, the stories need to be authentic. And your audience needs to be able to relate to them – because the whole point, after all, is to build a connection with the people buying into your brand.

So when Alistair Macrow, the vice-president of marketing at McDonald’s, gave storytelling a go recently, we were left slightly bemused. He told two stories, both from his personal life, to highlight McDonald’s focus on customer service and brand experience.

The second story struck a chord with most of us: the family camping trip. The rude customer. The polite, patient, unwaveringly professional barman. We saw a scenario we recognised, service we could appreciate, and it seemed like something that shouldn’t be a million miles away from what McDonald’s aspire to. Overall, not bad.

But the first part of this article was a different story – literally. Now, I don’t know about you, but even when I’ve been served my Big Mac with a side order of wonderful customer service, there are still a couple of things that have never crossed my mind. One of these things being: ‘Ah yes – this really reminds me of being a wealthy VP of a global company, sunning it up at a luxury resort in Barbados. This is the life.’ And when I think about the many millions of people worldwide who’ve eaten at McDonald’s, I struggle to compare their ‘diverse requirements’ to those of a British father, mother and daughter, ordering a meal from a small Caribbean restaurant.

Put simply, it doesn’t work. At best it’s just too try-hard, at worst it’s almost patronising. Either way, it certainly doesn’t make me feel like I can now really relate to Alistair. Or McDonald’s as the brand he’s representing. I don’t doubt that the story is true – but trying to join it up with ‘excellent McDonald’s customer service’ forces it to take on a meaning which isn’t really there.

And the moral of the story? Choose yours carefully.

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