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23.03.2021 By Michelle Maggs, EVP of Global Technology Practice, Current Global

Building Corporate Reputation through Innovation Storytelling

Side profile silhouette of a young woman looking to the right. She is wearing glasses and looks pensive. There is a city skyline behind her. There are graphic images of technology overlaid.

“It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” – Godfrey Reggio, director of experimental documentary films

Mr. Reggio’s quote reflects the depth of our collective relationship with technology today. Its omnipresence, imperceptible integration, and perceived indispensability have woven it into the fabric of the human experience. Beyond the individual, technology’s impact on business is equally as profound.  Though overused, the notion that every company is a tech company – even if it doesn’t actually produce technology solutions – has never been truer. It doesn’t matter if you work in healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, consumer package goods, hospitality, or education. Technology is disrupting, enhancing, and transforming every sector and every role in business today.

Digital transformation has been a topic on everyone’s minds for some time – I remember working on messaging around digital transformation for clients back in the early 2000’s. But as technology adoption tends to go, an unexpected accelerant emerged – in this case, the pandemic – which shifted the pace of digital transformation into overdrive. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella famously proclaimed in April 2020, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning, to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security—we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything.”

The pandemic has revealed the critical importance of a solid technology strategy, recognizing its role in helping companies maintain business continuity, support remote working, ensure supply chain stability, and most importantly unlock maximum growth. While technology used to be seen by many in the C-suite as a cost, savvy executives now rightfully see it as a value driver, an essential piece of the corporate strategy. Not something relegated solely to the CIO or CTO, but something the CEO, CFO, and CMO must consider and prioritize enterprise wide. “C-suite executives and board members should have a broad understanding of the critical technologies in which the company is, or should be, investing to gain competitive advantage and to build resilience against disruption,” according to Deloitte’s recent Tech Trends 2021 report.

With every company infusing technology further into its business, innovation storytelling should be a part of every corporate communications team’s remit.

As tech strategy is integral to business strategy, it also should be integral to corporate communications strategy – sharing how the company is using technology to differentiate in the marketplace, accelerate products’ time-to-market, and uphold its ESG commitments, to name just a few examples. An innovation story has universal appeal to all of a company’s key communications stakeholders – customers, partners, investors, and employees/prospective employees alike. So, what should communicators be thinking about to elevate innovation storytelling?

Define the innovation narrative

To best articulate your innovation story, it’s important to “get under the hood” to understand the technologies being used in the business – and why. Consider a series of internal stakeholder interviews with every member of the C-suite to understand the approach to innovation, get a deep sense of the technologies being implemented and where the company is on its digital transformation journey. Armed with those insights, draft a tech-focused narrative and set of messages to inform future storytelling, owned content, media pitches, speeches, executives’ social content and more. Differentiation and learnings are key – with everyone embracing technology for strategic advantage, dig for what is unique and what insights/learnings would be interesting to an external audience. Also take a look at innovation/technology-related coverage and social conversations of both your company and your top competitors to understand what topics are most resonant, where you overlap, and where there is opportunity to own parts of the innovation dialogue.

Questions to ask include:

  • What is the company’s technology strategy and roadmap?
  • What tech solutions are you using to run the business?
  • What tech solutions, if any, have you brought to market in the last 12 months?
  • How are you employing emerging technologies – AI, machine learning, cloud, IoT, robotics, AR/VR?
  • What are the desired outcomes of the tech investments – running a stronger business, driving efficiencies, delighting customers, mitigating risks, ensuring compliance, fueling sustainable practices?
  • How are you collecting data and turning it into actionable insights to drive the business?
  • What are customer use cases that showcase your innovation?

Identify the voices of innovation

Once the corporate innovation narrative is defined, the next step is to identify the people who will give it voice on behalf of the business:

  • Executives – not just the CIO and CTO. Think CFO and how they position investments to the board. Think CMO and what they’re using to harness data that increases conversion. Think CHRO and whether they’re using technology to monitor progress against diversity commitments.
  • Employees – beyond your executive-level technology champions, identify the lesser-known heroes driving innovation at the company like patent holders, front-line factory workers, rock star developers – those using technology to invent new products and improve ways of working.
  • Partners – who are you working with to bring your innovations to life? These could be tech provider partners, resellers, co-marketing partners, supply chain partners, systems integrators.
  • Customers – what customers are benefitting from your innovations in interesting or unexpected ways? Bonus points for any willing to speak about how your technologies have impacted their businesses directly in terms of revenue growth or cost savings.

Amplify the story

Innovation storytelling should be integrated into all relevant programs at the corporate communications team’s disposal. Here are just a few:

  • Executive visibility – explore speaking opportunities at tech-focused events where your company might not normally appear to build thought leadership and credibility.
  • Multichannel content – fuel owned and social channels with tech-focused content via social posts, videos, blog content, whitepapers, etc.
  • Proactive media relations – promote tech-related announcements, opportunistically insert the company’s POV into trending tech conversations, and host events for media solely focused on innovation.
  • Paid – consider sponsoring innovation-focused content in influential tech media outlets.
  • Investor relations – position technology investments as part of the company’s overall growth story with financial stakeholders.

Walk the walk

Corporate communications also should turn to technologies that can help maximize its own efforts. There are an abundance of tools and platforms designed to help the communications function: culture tapping/trend jacking research, campaign performance analytics, social listening, project management, reporter and influencer identification, reporting and more.

If you’re looking for help crafting your company’s innovation story or are seeking strategies to ensure that story gets seen by the audiences that matter, we’d love to help.

 

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