Storytelling has been around since the dawn of man for a reason: It’s contagious, demographic-proof, memorable, and inspirational.
And credit unions have great stories to tell—from the birth of the movement to everyday experiences that change people’s lives, according to Paul Smith, director of consumer and communications research at Procter & Gamble, who delivered Tuesday’s keynote address at the Community Credit Union & Growth Conference in Uncasville, Conn.
But don’t confuse a recitation of facts with a story, advises Smith, author of “Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.”
A story requires emotion—something too many organizations are hardwired to downplay or ignore.
“Emotional things happen around us all the time, but we intentionally exclude them from our thought process because we somehow think it’s unprofessional,” Smith says.
In the 1980s, Procter & Gamble conducted field studies on why some families continued to bypass Crisco for lard. One woman told a researcher that lard was a healthier choice, which perplexed him, because he knew otherwise. Why? he asked. Because buying Crisco meant she wouldn’t have enough money to also buy milk, the woman replied.
“That hit him in the chest,” Smith explained. “This was a personal decision a single mom had to make because of the high price of his product.”
To his credit, the researcher didn’t just recite facts – “Respondent says Crisco’s too expensive”—but rather jotted down the entire story, which resonated within the company.
Likewise, founders of the credit union movement aren’t just names—they have stories worth telling, says Smith. Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen noticed from an early age that bankers either ignored rural areas in Germany or practiced loan sharking at residents’ expense, and became a cooperative pioneer.
Alphonse Desjardins stumbled into a story that shocked him while working as a journalist in Canada, when a judge ruled that a man had to pay $5,000 on a $150 loan he’d taken out with a bank a year earlier. He co-founded the first North American credit union in 1900; 200 credit unions operated at the time of his death, 20 years later.
“This is the noble history of the business that you’re in, and you should be incredibly proud,” Smith said. “I’m convinced there are stories like these all over this room. Find them. Share them. People want to do business with people who have a purpose to what they’re doing, beyond profit.”