It's a simple question, but one many companies can't easily answer. In marketing and PR, we try to distill a company's story down to key messages -- the points that each spokesperson uses to ensure that they are telling the audience exactly how they want their company to be understood.

The truth is, while messages are valuable when keeping spokespeople on point with the media, investors, clients and consumers don't make decisions based on messages. What drives people to action is a good story.  In his book, All Marketers are Liars, author Seth Godin states that there are three questions that every company must ask themselves:

"What's your story?"
"Will the people who need to hear this story believe it?"
"Is it true?"

Businesses of all sizes have failed simply by not answering these questions correctly.  Companies must think beyond just what they do to create a story that will resonate with their audiences. The story is not the experience, but rather, the experience is part of the story.

Think about the experience as how an audience interacts with a product or service. User interfaces, portfolio reports and Web sites all contribute to it. The story is the internal narrative that contextualizes the experience within their lives. Think of it as the personality of an organization and the reason that people seek out the experience. Experiences meet needs, but a good story creates a want.

This is why people pay more for products or services that do exactly the same thing as less expensive competitors. Godin talks about the story that companies like Mercedes, Apple and JetBlue have created. Every detail, from the sound of the car door closing, the user friendliness of an iPhone and the personalities of the flight attendants, convey a part of those companies' narrative that make users want to be a character in the tale. The story is the intersection between a company and the lives of its stakeholders.

Your audience believes what they want to believe. This is their truth and trying to change it is an exercise in futility. Creating your story means first identifying what the accepted truths are among your audience and telling a story that either meets an unmet need or creates a new want.

As we've seen, the leading brands in every industry have a story. They create wants that their audiences didn't even realize they had. But each of these companies has competitors that are desperately fighting for market share and profitability because their stories simply don't create the same effect. A company is not going to beat the competition by attempting to tell the same story better. Godin points out the fatal flaw in that strategy.

The natural instinct is to figure out what's working for the competition and then try to outdo it -- to be cheaper than your competitor who competes on price, or faster than the competitor who competes on speed. The problem is that once a consumer has bought someone else's story, persuading the consumer to switch is the same as persuading him to admit he was wrong. And people hate admitting that they're wrong.

So companies need to tell a different story. If one firm has the best technology, then you need to communicate better investment choices. Buzzwords aren't stories, so don't fall into the trap of calling your company innovative, revolutionary or anything similar. Audiences have been fooled before and using those words without authenticity could turn them off to your company, even if you are superior to the competition. Your story must be different. It must make the audience question the story of your competitor and view you as the solution.