6 lessons in ‘story-doing’ from the government shutdown

How six companies tied in the government shutdown to their brand (like charging Congress members double for a cup of coffee).

Businesses are buzzing about storytelling. They should be—storytelling through content marketing is quickly proving to be a consistent and effective marketing path in a constantly changing consumer-driven world.

But there’s a problem: In order to tell a good story, you have to have a good story to tell. Content marketing will never work for you if you’re simply regurgitating your marketing collateral or press releases.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, author Ty Montague explains the difference between companies that tell stories and companies that create their own stories through authentic action. He calls the latter “story-doing companies.” He says:

In times of stress, strife, and negativity, story-doing companies make change happen—such as during the government shutdown.

Here are six examples of companies that have done some good during the government shutdown—and though some are more serious than others, they all caught nationwide attention:

1. Starbucks gives away its gold to prompt people to pay it forward. From Oct. 9–11, Starbucks gave away a free tall cup of coffee to all patrons who bought someone else their favorite drink. “It’s that simple — ‘pay it forward,’ and Starbucks will pay you back,” said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to Bloomberg.com. “This is a different yet authentic way Starbucks can help our fellow citizens to come together by supporting one another during a particularly challenging time.”

The company followed up the campaign by stepping deeper into the political fray, announcing that it would circulate petitions nationwide urging lawmakers to end the shutdown and avoid defaulting. These bold moves came with risk, and they wouldn’t be popular with all consumers, but Starbucks is proving that big brands can take big action—and, hopefully, generate big change.

2. TD Bank “Cares” about supporting federal employees. TD Bank launched its “TD Cares” initiative to provide federal employees with access to their funds at no cost during the shutdown, through checking overdraft services and flexibility with credit card and mortgage payments. Nandita Bakhshi, executive vice president, head of retail distribution and products, TD Bank, said: “By launching TD Cares, our hope is that we can make it easier for our customers to cover their bills and make ends meet if they’re not receiving their pay.”

3. Boston Market feeds the furloughed. From Oct. 6-13, Boston Market gave all federal employees and military personnel a whole chicken for free with the purchase of a family meal. The restaurant chain showed its support for its core customer base with its official statement: “Government employees and our servicemen and women have been some of our best customers over the years, and we appreciate all that they do for our country,” said George Michel, chief executive officer of Boston Market. “Extending this offer to them is a little something we can do to give them a break during a stressful time.”

4. AMC Theaters pop up the deals. One of America’s biggest movie theater chains, AMC Theaters, offered a free small popcorn from Oct. 1–10 for all patrons with a valid government or military ID. The deal’s fine print read: “Offer Valid: Until common sense returns, or we run out of popcorn, whichever happens first.” A lighthearted step into the political mix, but a sweet deal nonetheless.

5. Hyundai furloughs car payments. Korean automaker Hyundai announced it would defer car payments for federal employees during the government shutdown. “We recognize the impact on family budgets that the furlough will drive,” said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America. “This is our way of saying ‘We’ve got your back’ during this uncertain time.”

6. The Daily Dish serves up free coffee—but members of Congress pay double. This D.C. area restaurant and catering company has made its allegiances known by offering free cups of coffee to all government employees during the shutdown—except for members of Congress, who were charged double.

Though it takes more than one-time, special brand initiatives to become a true story-doing company in the footsteps of TOMS shoes and Starbucks, companies like the above who begin to take action when it counts give themselves a stronger storytelling foundation.

So the next time you sit down to brainstorm your upcoming storytelling initiative, first ask yourself: What are we doing that deserves to be told?

A version of this article first appeared on CursiveContent.

Topics: PR

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