In fact, stories are not enough anymore. As your company evolves to meet the opportunities of the 21st century, you'll need a narrative that communicates who you are as a company, where you've been, and where you are going.
But a narrative is more than just messaging for marketing and generating brand gravity. It explains why you exist and what makes you unique, and helps your organization maintain an authentic identity and point of view, even when digital transformation means making big changes to products and business models. By articulating your shared purpose, your narrative can serve as a powerful tool to align stakeholders, inform decisions and guide your innovation strategy.
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.
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).
is something I tell you about me
has a pre-determined outcome
has a beginning, middle and end
has an audience
is something we create together
connects the past, present and future
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 of 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.
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 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 processes to networked leadership based on alignment with purpose and principles.
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?