Leading academics call on manufacturers to put storytelling at the heart of servitization

UK manufacturers can increase their chances of implementing new business models through servitization if storytelling is at the heart of their strategy.

That’s according to Aston Business School, whose free SME Partnership programme has now worked with over 300 businesses on developing and communicating their service offer. The programme has been running since 2012, helping businesses to integrate advanced services into their operations through academic engagement, business model transformation and the adoption of new technology.

A common theme linking the businesses is the important role of storytelling within servitization strategies, particularly when it comes to stakeholder engagement. Dr Daniel Andrews is a research fellow at Aston Business School and has worked with hundreds of SME manufacturers on using stories to facilitate organisational change. He commented: “Managing organisational change is challenging and there is nothing as powerful as a story when persuading people to get on board. We coach our leaders in communicating their strategy through narrative, swapping slides for story boards and inspiring stakeholders to join them on their servitization journeys.

“Humans are born storytellers, and stories are an invaluable tool for managing change and promoting emotional as well as rational engagement. It is easier to make sense of information through narrative and appreciate just what is involved. Good stories are enduring and inspire action.”

Companies that work with Aston Business School learn how to form a narrative out of their journey and present a compelling case for business transformation. They take the template of The Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell and adapt it to their own situation. The classic story is found in texts throughout history and follows a protagonist who goes on an adventure, encounters death and overcomes all obstacles to return home victorious. This simple story and plotline resonates with the human psyche and allows businesses to communicate their mission in a more memorable and engaging way.

Dr Andrews continued: “Stories are a very effective way of bringing ideas to life, and by turning the business case for change into a narrative people are more likely to be supportive. That ability to communicate the rationale will help businesses to move further along their servitization journey. Communicating the value of your service offer is also easier through narrative, a reason why we see so much storytelling in advertising and on social media channels.”

Birmingham-based business, Allsee Technologies, joined the SME Partnership programme to enhance the value of its service offer. The digital display manufacturer had already developed software and associated services but hadn’t fully exploited it as an avenue for growth.

The Aston team helped Allsee tell the story of its servitization journey to its network of distributors, resellers and integrators. By improving its lines of communication, the business could do a far better job of bringing people on board. Marketing Director Thomas Fraser-Bacon said: “We had a really positive response, and it opened our eyes to the impact these services have on our value proposition.

“It has changed our relationship with the market and is helping us to win a bigger slice of the cake. The Advanced Services Group SME Partnership is helping us to take our business to another level and the team is passionate about helping their cohort companies to succeed. I’d advise any SME to join the programme. Services are critical to modern manufacturing and no one can afford to miss out.”

The Advanced Services Group’s SME Partnership programme is currently recruiting its next cohort. Part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the programme helps businesses trading in the Black Country, Birmingham and Solihull LEP regions to boost competitiveness by embracing servitization. Financial data from participating companies indicates that shifting to a servitized model led to combined growth of £30 million.

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