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Chapter 1 | Narrative Guidebook

From Story to Narrative

Discover a new kind of brand storytelling to build engagement and enduring differentiation.

Digital technology has changed the way brand stories are told—and who gets to tell them.  

Say goodbye to Hollywood

Today's brands need to focus less on persuading and entertaining, and more on engaging and co-creating.

In the past, companies looked to Hollywood as a model for telling their story. The company or product was the hero, and the messaging was like a script for employees to read from.

But digital technology has changed the way these stories are told—and who gets to tell them.  

You simply can't control the message the way you used to. 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.

Your customers aren’t just consumers of your story anymore—they’re its co-creators.

Story vs. Narrative

The most successful brands today are more about identity and relationship than transactions.

Most corporate communications explain why people should buy something from them and what they will get if they do. It’s a story building up to a transaction.

But in today’s digital economy, people need to know why they should have a relationship with you, what they will get and who they will be if they do. Narrative is as much about identity as utility.

Now, you may be wondering how this applies to B2B companies or your particular industry.

We have used Narrative with companies of all sizes and industries, even personal brands. We haven’t yet found a situation where it doesn’t apply.

Because these days, everything is H2H (human to human).

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

Narrative has a human context

People want to get a sense for your company like it’s a person.

In the The Human Brand, Chris Malone and Susan Fiske use MRI scanning to show that we use the same parts of our brains when we relate to companies, brands and even inanimate objects as when we relate to other people.

That means every time someone engages with your brand, what they’re really saying is “So tell me about 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.

Narrative needs to connect the past to the future. You wouldn’t trust an applicant who said “Don’t worry about my past jobs, let’s just talk about what I can do for you now.”

And yet we often do that with traditional corporate communications: “Don’t worry about our last campaign. Just focus on what we're saying now,”

Human relationships require reciprocity and authenticity. Your Narrative should communicate who you are and what you’re about, not just what you do.

More than just messaging

Narrative says who you are as a company, where you’ve been and where you’re going. It explains why you exist and what makes you unique.

Narrative tells how you believe value is created and what you value in relationships. It inspires employees, excites partners, attracts customers and engages influencers.

By providing a single compelling basis for all forms of communication, Narrative enables your company to stand out from the crowd with authenticity and integrity.

But Narrative is more than just messaging for marketing. A strong Narrative doesn’t come out of the usual competitive landscape, customer interviews and whiteboard sessions. It takes a shift in thinking and approach led by the leadership team.

The power of Shared Purpose

Alignment on Shared Purpose is the key to unleashing powerful network effects across your entire ecosystem of stakeholders.

The heart of your Narrative is Shared Purpose. It serves as the guiding star by which a networked organization aligns and self-organizes.  

A strong Narrative has the power to transform your organization's leadership and culture.

It can guide the shift from top-down management of products and process to networked leadership based on alignment with purpose and principles.

Exercise

Assess Your Company Story

Think about your current company story. How well is it working for different audiences? How could it be stronger?

Where do you need a more powerful narrative: with customers, employees, investors, influencers, others?

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


Recap

Discover a new kind of brand storytelling to build engagement and enduring differentiation.

  • Today's brands need to focus less on persuading and entertaining, and more on engaging and co-creating.
  • The most successful brands today are more about relationship and identity than transactions.
  • People want to get a sense for your company like it’s a person.
  • Narrative says who you are as a company, where you’ve been and where you’re going. It explains why you exist and what makes you unique.
  • Alignment on Shared Purpose is the key to unleashing powerful network effects across your entire ecosystem of stakeholders.