If you think about a marketing communication as a problem that needs solving, then a brand narrative can arm marketers, communicators and leaders with words and stories they can use to think around the problem. Helping them develop messaging that not only solves that problem but strengthens the brand and echoes authenticity.
Like in anything that requires even a remote amount of reflection. Self-awareness can be your greatest enemy, and your closest friend. And I mean this organisationally. When it comes to writing a brand narrative it has to come from two places: 1.) somewhere aspirational and 2.) somewhere utterly truthful. The combination of which can render some management vulnerable and can question the purpose of entire businesses… but get it right and the north star is set from a genuine heart within the organisation.
When I talk about self-awareness of an organisation it’s largely about the directorship and management being real with their intent. If the business is driven entirely by the bottom line, then the utter truth is exactly that… There would be no authenticity to a brand narrative that said the business existed to benefit the world around it and help to fight poverty. It’s just not the case. It’s about recognising strengths and weaknesses, as well as the driving currents that flow within an organisation.
Once your team is comfortable with the strategic drivers behind the business and the brand that represents it, the ultimate question then becomes “why?”.
Why should anyone get out of bed in the morning at all? Why should the business push through hard times? Why would anyone do donation-matching, or corporate responsibility programs or flexi-time… and that answer could be different in every organisation.
Try to establish a driving purpose. Asking questions like, “beyond making money, what are we trying to achieve?” and “why do people love us/our product?”. If you’re stuck, absorb some of Simon Sinek’s work, journey through the five-whys – try and articulate the unseen forces that give your company it’s super-powers and drive people to do their best work or be their best self.
I find, generally speaking, the conversation becomes a lot easier with a concrete set of corporate values that are entrenched in an organisation. The less value-driven, the harder it is to find purpose. If you’re struggling, trying workshopping there first.
With a solid understanding of the driving forces, values and purpose of an organisation, the conversation moves from rather existential, to something more practical. How do you lead? Are you a price, service or quality leader? Do you differentiate by being the cheapest, and build the most efficient production with the cheapest possible parts. Or does your organisation strive to be the best? Is it quality, quality and quality over quantity. The artisanship of market leadership by making something simply impossible to replicate. Or does the business lead by having the best or most convenient service? Giving customers a bottle of water after a long run. The best possible solution at the most convenient possible solution.
People like to connect with people, and giving your brand human qualities and leadership styles give marketers heaps of ammunition to build their communications from – but you still need to know how it’s delivered.
Then, when it comes to doing the communication, the questions become increasingly tactical. Can this business mandate to an audience? Will it be seen, heard or both? What is the experience and how will most people first interact with the brand?
Does your brand narrative give you tools to communicate with conviction? Do you aim to inspire, or mandate? Are you here to scare people into making purchases or just want to buy some brand equity?
Think about a personality at a party, are they loud and brash, or quiet and mousey… and don’t forget, polarising personalities are the ones that get noticed, so playing it safe here doesn’t work. Think about the characteristics of your business, if it were a person.
A lot of people refer to this as the “brand voice” – which is one element, sure. But I think there’s more to it. It’s about giving the business some intangible love that comes through in the way it’s staff interact with people. The consistency and commitment the business gives to a unique customer experience. And the collective ideologies of the organisation as a whole to best represent the personality and experience one is likely to expect when dealing with this brand.
All these steps and it feels like you still haven’t put pen to paper. And that’s largely the point. The idea of a brand narrative is far more driven by the idea than it is the other way round. Which is why story becomes the vehicle for transferring these ideas… only now we have a roadmap.
There’s a voice behind the ideas, something relative to the personality. Something that gives rise to the ideas and communicates them in a way that peaks the interest of others. There’s a method for communication, to sell the story through inspiration, articulation, poetry or dictatorship. And this is where the leadership of the business shines through the brand narrative. Where we see the conviction and the ideologies of the leaders reflected in the portrayal of the brand.
A brand that is ultimately driven to a single north-star. A purpose that is found in a business that isn’t afraid of its own lofty goals and its own vulnerabilities. Instead, like an earnest man yearning to connect, the self-awareness, purpose, leadership, communication and personality is shared with the world in a way that creates a genuine sense of vulnerability.
Where people can connect with it, and where people can make that story their own.