You’ve probably heard that a brand is not a logo. A brand is also not a website. It’s not even the unique value proposition (please forgive the “marketing geek” lingo) of your primary product or service. Rather, your brand is a strategic narrative communicated through your marketing message.
Successful companies focus on figuring out their strategic narrative—that big-picture story that grounds the work they do—and then look for innovative ways to express their message. Beyond this, they weave crucial talking points throughout their internal communications so that authentic messaging becomes embedded in the culture.
In other words, successful companies see marketing as more than a department occupying office space somewhere. Marketing done right expresses the heart and soul of what makes your business unique. What this means, though, is this strategic narrative actually precedes your marketing message.
So, let’s talk about that strategic narrative, shall we?
Developing Your Strategic Narrative
If your head is spinning a bit right now, don’t panic! Your marketing department can help you develop your strategic narrative. I simply want you to consider the difference between a strategic narrative and a marketing message.
Your strategic narrative is your company’s story:
- It has a beginning (your company’s “origin story”),
- A middle (where we are and what we stand for now), and
- A vision for the future (where we’re headed and how we’ll get there).
The narrative also explains what matters to the company. Your company values propel the story forward together with what’s unique about the organization and how those values support to customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
When employees and leaders understand each other, they unite around this common strategic narrative. Ideally, at every level, everyone involved should want to be a part of the story and help to write chapters through their experiences.
For example, here’s part of the strategic narrative for Audacia Strategies: we help firms take bold (and audacious!) steps to transform their businesses. And because we know that asking our clients to come up with bold communications often means stepping outside of their comfort zones, we promise to be there every step of the way. We want to be known as the team that isn’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and jump into the ring with you.
In addition, the narrative represents more than one particular version of the story. A robust corporate narrative helps employees and managers understand their roles. When changes are necessary, the narrative explains those changes. When faced with a crisis, the narrative should guide the response.
So how do you develop a strategic narrative?
Start with key questions.
You have to be able to answer these or…well, maybe this isn’t the right business for you:
- What customer or market problem do we solve? And why?
- What customer or market pain do we alleviate?
- How is our solution or service better than anyone else’s at addressing #1, #2?
- No really. Be honest. What makes you truly different from your competitors?
- Note: If your answer here sounds at all like what your competitors say (check out their website, talk to them at events, do other kinds of reconnaissance), start again.
- Gut check: If your ideal customer heard your message and your closest competitor’s message side-by-side could she tell the difference?
- Note: We’ve slipped into discussing the marketing message here because that’s how you communicate your narrative. But here’s precisely where the narrative is useful. When you have a clear corporate story to tell, it is an excellent resource for developing your unique value proposition and messaging.
Bonus round: What do you stand for? Why are you in business? What motivates or drives your organization? Remember, your narrative doesn’t have to involve “motherhood and apple pie” to be significant, but it should speak to a more profound answer to why you are in business.
Exercise: What are the one or two words or simple phrases (no more than three words) that you want to define your organization? Think about what you would want happy clients to tell others about your business. Keep it simple.
Keep your audience in mind.
It’s natural when working on a marketing message to consider our target audience and ideal customer personas. But it’s easy, especially in the early stages of developing your strategic narrative, to forget about the audience and just tell your story. Even though you will want your story to be able to be shared from different perspectives, those perspectives all should speak to your primary audience, the client (AKA the hero of your narrative).
Who is your target market? Get super clear here. Divide your audience into as many different segments as makes sense based on their unique problems, challenges, and pains. Think about brands you respect and their corporate stories. Do you deliver a lower price and greater convenience (e.g., Walmart)? Do you offer high quality and luxury (e.g., Aston-Martin)?
When you’ve figured out who you want your narrative to engage with, make your ideal client the star of the show. It doesn’t hurt to literally tell your story like a fairy tale. Seriously. Don’t spare the “Once upon a time’s” or “Happily ever after’s.” These can be left out of marketing copy.
Once you have your narrative—you need an elevator pitch.
To get into character here, imagine this scenario: you have 30 seconds in an elevator with your dream client—what do you say?
Start with a generic version of your elevator pitch, but then plan to tailor your message to different audiences (think of this like your LinkedIn Summary or a cover letter for your resume—is that even a thing anymore?).
- Introduce yourself (your name and title, if appropriate).
- Introduce your business and why it’s unique.
- Give one quick, meaningful statistic (e.g., we save our customers over 10% per year on average), bonus points for putting that key statistic in context.
- Make an ask (offer your business card, suggest a follow-up meeting, etc.).
Make sure your elevator pitch aligns with your strategic narrative. Think of the story as inspiration or a jumping off point. This works for online introductions as well!
Companies sometimes make the mistake of tasking the marketing and communications department with messaging before coming up with a strategic narrative. The result?—An inauthentic marketing message with a disjointed company culture.
Successful companies understand that messaging grows out of the narrative. If your organization keeps returning to this question: What’s our message? It may be time to think harder about your strategic narrative. The loveable marketing geeks at Audacia Strategies are happy to discuss the art of the corporate narrative. Are you in?
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