It’s no secret that a person who talks endlessly about themselves is a bore. For years, businesses have been guilty of this “look at me” approach when it comes to positioning and messaging. Mission statements, inward value manifestos and the overuse of self-serving superlatives result in a dead end of unfocused and uninspiring brand messaging.
But the use of narrative in marketing is quietly and slowly gaining traction. While storytelling has helped move the needle away from traditional messaging approaches, narrative addresses the more strategic role industry vision and leadership play in the growth and success of an organization.
It’s simple: Companies that win are category leaders. They define the market, shift perceptions and play an integral role in advancing the industries they serve. These companies see change and disruption, and they embrace it. Through a strategic narrative, they rise above the noise and clutter — not by talking about themselves, but by articulating a new vision for the industry. All great cultures have used strategic narratives to frame a unique view of the world, articulate a clear vision for a better tomorrow and chart a course of action that supports their aspirations and beliefs.
The same holds true in business. Look at Ford’s vision for the automobile as the pathway to accessible mass transportation in a nation of great distances. Or Apple’s “computer for the rest of us” narrative and Steve Jobs’ well-documented vision that inspired the company’s breakthrough innovations in music, smartphones and personal communications. It was narrative driving the visions that resulted in changing the world.
Let’s look at how strategic narratives impact forward-thinking companies and what they do by consciously driving category success.
The thought process of creating a meaningful and selfless industry narrative is profound. Stepping back and looking at mega-trends, industry disruption and even the shortcomings of the industry is something most business leaders think about but never articulate and share. Shifting from proclaiming yourself a leader (by what you do) to leading a new aspect of the market energizes and elevates the thinking of an organization. In fact, it’s often the CEO that gets the most excited about the possibilities of defining and owning a category as a business strategy.
Strategic narratives focus on redefining existing categories or creating new ones, resulting in 100% unique messaging. Communicating an industry strategic narrative — through PR, content marketing and social media channels — is not only meaningful but also helps solve the “we sound like everybody else” conundrum.
Winning companies are aligned around a singular, common purpose. However, this is easier said than done. Strategic narratives demonstrate a clear vision and strong executive leadership. All employees want to rally around a common higher-level cause that becomes the connective tissue of the organization. A unifying strategic narrative that connects all aspects of the business extends value well beyond the realm of marketing.
All companies want to be thought leaders and they should aspire to be market drivers in the process. Striving to establish a new category space is a powerful approach — and a massive goal. Strategic narratives provide the connected, industry-level themes that empower marketers to lead the category champion charge that ultimately increases the overall value of the organization. Think of the valuation difference between Uber and Lyft. Every category winner raises the most money, attracts the best talent and reaps the highest valuations for IPO or acquisition. This new mindset also elevates the strategic role of marketing that is increasingly tactical and digitized. Creating a strategic narrative, and the content and campaigns needed to establish a new category space, leads to opportunities to harness the best creative and strategic thinking you and your team have to offer.
The marketing landscape will continue to evolve and technical innovations will create new and unforeseen opportunities in the future. However, the challenge and difficulty of creating messaging that makes a positive difference to the business remains. Poor messaging reaches far, and the consequences are real. Strategic narrative, as well as storytelling and other approaches to positioning and messaging, represent new opportunities for businesses of all types to inspire change, connect with audiences and align people and teams. Talking about what you do doesn’t cut it anymore. Think higher. Be bolder. Words still matter more than ever.