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Narrative | Chapter 1

About Narrative

By Mark Bonchek and Causeit, Inc.

Our starting point is the recognition that business needs a new kind of storytelling. In the past, companies looked to Hollywood as a model for how to tell their story. The product or company is the hero, and the message is like a movie script for employees to read from.

But digital technology has changed the way these stories are told, and who gets to tell them. Thanks to social media, what others say about your company matters more than what you say about yourself.

People want to know who you are, not just what you sell, and customers are not just consumers of your story, they are co-creators. You simply can't control the message the way you used to.

It’s time for marketers to say goodbye to Hollywood. Today's brands need to focus less on persuading and entertaining, and more on engaging and co-creating.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s make a distinction between story and Narrative:

Story vs. Narrative

Story

is something I tell you about me

has a pre-determined outcome

has a beginning, middle and end

has an audience

Narrative

is something we create together

is open-ended

connects the past, present and future

has participants

Most corporate communications fall into the category of story rather than narrative. They explain why a person should buy something from the company and what they will get if they do. It is a story building up to a transaction.

But in today’s digital economy, the narrative needs to be more about a relationship than a transaction. People need to know why they should have a relationship with you, what they will get from that relationship, and who they will be if they do. It is as much a story about identity as it is about utility.

The brands that understand this new kind of narrative are the brands that have been the most successful. In the coming days we’ll learn from their example.

You might be wondering how this applies to B2B companies or your particular industry. We have used this method with companies of all sizes and industries and even personal brands and haven’t yet found a situation where it doesn’t apply. These days everything is H2H (human to human).

Why you need a Strategic Narrative

Your Strategic Narrative says who you are as a company: where you’ve been, where you are and where you are going.

It is concise but comprehensive, specific but with room to grow. It defines your company’s vision, communicates its strategy and embodies its culture. It explains why you exist and what makes you unique, how you believe value is created and what you value in relationships.

Your Strategic Narrative can inspire employees, excite partners, attract customers and engage influencers. By providing a single compelling basis for all forms of communication, it enables your company to stand out from the crowd with authenticity and integrity.

A strong Strategic Narrative doesn’t come out of the usual competitive landscape, customer interviews and whiteboard sessions. It takes a different approach and a shift in thinking led by the leadership team.

Human context

The first step is to understand the context of the Strategic Narrative. Research shows that our brains think of companies not as objects but as people. Every time someone engages with your brand, they are asking you “So tell me about your yourself.”

Consider a job interview. You have the candidate’s resume, but what really matters can’t be put on paper. You want to know what inspires them, what they are like to work with, and whether they can be counted on. You want to get a sense for them as a person.

The same is true for your company. The context of the Strategic Narrative must be a human, not an institutional, relationship. People want to get a sense for your company as if it were a person.

Human relationships require reciprocity and authenticity. The narrative should say who you are, not just what you do.

Go deeper

For more on the distinction between story and narrative, see John Hagel’s post here.

Practice

How well does your company story connect your past to your future? How much does it focus on your product vs. your purpose? Does it engage people as consumers or as co-creators?

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