Storytelling is a real opportunity to connect innovators buried inside the organisation with our customers.
Caitlin Smith, Digital Communications Manager at Continental, participated in the inaugural #BecauseInnovation Storytelling Lab organised with our partners — Diffferent in Berlin. After the workshop, I caught up with Caitlin to understand how she uses stories to engage internal and external stakeholders.
Hello Caitlin, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m the Digital Communications Manager for the Commercial Vehicle Tyres Business Unit in Hanover at Continental. I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan. Detroit, as you know, is synonymous with the automobile industry. When I first moved to Germany, I realised that most people have a negative impression of my hometown, but I feel the city is starting to reinvent itself at the same time as the industry embraces innovation. The futures of both are inextricably linked.
What is your role at the Commercial Vehicle Tyres Business Unit?
Our Business Unit provides tyres for buses, trucks and speciality vehicles like tractors. They can range in size from a few centimetres to tyres that are nearly as big as a person. We’re also on a journey to become a solutions provider. In our view, the tyre is a data hub that provides valuable insight that can impact the business, particularly by increasing efficiency. This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a fascinating area. My role is to communicate this transition to internal and external stakeholders.
“Storytelling is a sense-making exercise that allows us to communicate the benefits of the transition across the business.”
How do you communicate such an abstract concept?
Storytelling plays an important role. It allows us to explain not just what we’re doing, but why we are doing it. Let’s take the work we’re doing within the organisation as an example. Storytelling is a sense-making exercise that allows us to communicate the benefits of the transition across the business. It’s a narrative about evolution rather than disruption. A story about possibilities rather than threats. This context is vital as it allows us to be inclusive and find internal change agents who can become public advocates for our innovations.
How do you come up with a good story about tyres… that involves data?
That’s a good question. We try and ensure that all our stories have an emotional quotient. It’s easy to come up with a contrived narrative, but we have to be pragmatic because, at the end of the day, we have to enable the business to meet the bottomline. We’ve found a balance that works for us. For instance, we combine product specifications with the story behind it’s development. This allows us to communicate our expertise and the underlying values of pride and commitment in an authentic manner. We just launched a brand campaign which does exactly that, using individuals from various functions to share their passion about our new, digital approach. We call it “We Love Tires” because tires will remain our core business.
“If we think of our key stakeholders in generic terms — the customer, the employee, the business owner — we’ll end up with a stiff narrative.”
Can you explain what authenticity looks like in this context?
The commercial tyre industry is an interesting one, simply because of the sheer number of people it impacts. My view is that a tyre is not just a hulk of black-brown rubber, but a core unit of transportation that ensures things run smoothly. The story begins the moment you hop onto a bus or when you order something online with the expectation that it will be delivered on time. So this is a story of mobility or access with many different characters. If we think of our key stakeholders in generic terms — the customer, the employee, the business owner — we’ll end up with a stiff narrative. We have to learn to put ourselves in their shoes and really understand the individual connections to the product. That’s when we come up with authentic and, dare I say, exciting narratives.
You were part of our #BecauseInnovation Storytelling Lab in Berlin this March. What was your key takeaway from the workshop?
It was great to get so many external impulses to understand the challenges and opportunities of communicating our innovation story to different stakeholders. We want to put real people at the heart of the narrative, especially in our case studies, to make our stories more engaging and this is where I feel the workshop made an impact. My key takeaway is that we cannot just communicate a narrative that we hold at arm’s length from the organisation. We must find ways of becoming part of the story, which is when we became relatable to all our stakeholders.
Thank you Caitlin.
We held our inaugural Berlin edition of the storytelling lab on March 8 with our partners Diffferent. Participants included communication, innovation, HR and marketing professionals from automotive, FMCG and media. If you’d like to take part in our next event, please write to contact[at]digitalidentities[dot]info and I’ll be in touch. You can also get in touch via Twitter — Abhay Adhikari