Brand storytelling is one of the most powerful tools a business has. To be effective requires a compelling and cohesive brand narrative that convey why your business does what it does, and why it matters to your target customers, clients and influential stakeholders. It is what makes people pay attention. It enables your product or service to break through the competitive noise and proactively position your business where you want to be in the market.
Done well, an effective narrative should establish the dialogues that an organization wants to have (versus what others want to impose). It enables the team’s leadership to engage in conversations with multiple stakeholders across ecosystems, but always with a consistent messaging. Internally, the brand narrative is both an organizational compass (directly guiding marketing, sales, talent and recruitment among the core business functions). A powerful brand narrative is a growth accelerator and competitor differentiator.
Given how strategically important the brand narrative is as a business framework, too few leadership teams understand the importance of regularly revisiting their brand story — incorrectly seeing it as a finished product versus an ongoing iterative process.
Regularly Reviewing the Brand Narrative
The most successful business and brand narratives are ones that are regularly reviewed and adjusted. As with any other internal tool or core business program, it needs to be assessed and updated for changing market conditions and internal goals. At a minimum, the team should check in annually to make sure that the messaging and story still correctly positions the business — and check that the story and proof points reflect what is happening in their customer and client landscape. A narrative check-in also reviews the tone and language being used to make sure it is aligned with the sentiment and pulse of the public and cultural moment.
Regularly iterating the narrative against public, stakeholder, industry and business developments as well as current and political events is strategically offensive and positionally defensive. This ensures the business is on the front foot of how its narrative is interplaying with social issues. It also makes it much less likely that teams will be caught having to unexpectedly react to events or stumble into a communications crisis. Annual updates and narrative iterations enable the business to gradually adapt its social, marketing and design identity to reflect shifting stakeholder sentiment as well as internal goals without a complete brand overhaul.
Message Testing Narrative Pillars
For instance, the impact of COVID-19 alongside the economic, social and political divisions and volatility of 2020-2021 have significantly shifted the market, culture and landscape. Data shows consumers, audiences, institutional and financial stakeholders as well as employees and partners are coming out of this disruptive time significantly changed. They are revisiting old choices, accepted new norms and are more concerned about making value-based decisions.
As a result, organizations and businesses across sectors and stages are message testing their communications programs and brand narrative pillars. Many are reflecting on how they might be able to use it to join larger public moments and industry conversations. Teams are interested in re-auditing their competitor’s position and overall trends in the market. The purpose is to assess how the landscape has shifted in the past two years and what the implications are for their ability to find white space opportunities to share their higher purpose — and grow the business. It is also an opportunity to check the sentiment and priorities of key audiences and stakeholders and see how to adjust the messaging, so it still connects the way it was intended to.
As teams assess how to best position themselves to thrive in a moment of disruption as well as incredible opportunity, the narrative audit needs to become part of the internal strategic operational process. The brand story is both the foundation and overarching unifier of the business and needs to be regularly maintained and upgraded in order to best serve its purpose.
This piece first appeared on SHIFT Communications website.