Does creating a narrative for your company sound a little 'out there?' A little woolly? Even ethereal? What even is a company narrative? It can sound like all of these things. Companies are made to sell products or services, but what if they could be more? That’s where narrative comes in.
Narrative is a vital part of creating a strong and marketable brand. A brand that’s memorable and lingers on customers' minds. But how do you do it? As a content marketer, narrative is my bread and butter, so let’s explore how you can create a narrative for your company.
What is a company narrative?
I have to admit, in our world, ‘narrative’ is one of those words that's been done to death.
"We need more of a narrative."
"I can't see the narrative developing."
"Where's the narrative going from here?"
It was a real buzzword for a while. But as with anything that becomes a trend, the search for narrative split into two movements. Businesses that threw money at a writer to develop a semblance of storytelling and a somewhat recognisable voice and the businesses that truly delved into what their story was in a genuine and relatable way.
Narrative is crucial for telling the story of your business and selling it to prospects. From schools and colleges to insurance firms and car salespeople; having a narrative sells because it engages the audience.
It's a shaped story; something that triggers some form of emotional engagement with the recipient and leaves them feeling enriched at the end of it. It anchors practical need to emotional want, increases the trustworthiness of a business and gives potential customers something to relate to.
The by-product of showing your company in this way is you're forever associated with that feeling of enrichment. Whether it's happiness, satisfaction or gained knowledge; it's all good and it all increases sign up rates, conversions or sales in the long run.
Once upon a time, stories had a beginning, middle and end. Narrative follows the same structure but with a twist. There’s no end but rather continues in a constant development, changing as your company grows over time. It helps develop culture, informs your purpose and provides learning for external parties.
If this still sounds a little ‘zany’ or ‘out there’, let me give you a few examples we’ve personally been involved with.
Narrative in real life
Working with Doncaster Council
We were tasked with helping a local council improve school attendance. They came to us wanting an agency to bring some creative ideas to the table. What we ended up doing is creating two strong and identifiable characters - Sam and Sammie - who school children could respond to, engage with (literally; they proved so popular that real-life versions of our hand-drawn characters visited schools and proved to be a real hit) and learn from.
We even created an interactive website with games and parental advice to continue the story online.
The children experienced the narrative of Sam and Sammie being late for school and potentially missing out on all the great things that happen when you get there on time. It translated into real-world examples they appreciated and attendance soared.
It's a technique used to market, showcase and brand everything from chocolate bars to mortgages. That's because it works.
With animated characters, they can be used in motion graphic videos and be printed on posters and other learning materials. These characters become a central part of the teaching.
Our own branding evolution: a narrative revolution!
It got to a point in the Digital 22 story that things needed a revamp. So we decided to develop a fancy new look to match the stellar content we had going out into the world.
This is a good example of how narrative is more complex than just what you’re saying. It’s a holistic, all-encompassing thing, present in both the words you write, what your web pages and content looks like on-screen, and even how you conduct yourself with customers.
At Digital 22, we’re laid back but passionate, friendly but professional. The way we write and the design of our site reflects that. Check out this change. Here’s the Digital 22 homepage in August 2019.
And here it is now.
Big difference right? Much cleaner, brighter, easier to read. Visual narrative and company narrative are two sides of the same coin.
Our narrative is one of consistent growth, something we’ve not only experienced but also what we’re always progressing towards. It was about capturing a maturity we felt we’d earned.
Additionally, it was about finding more consistency in our tone. The content we want to put out into the world has to be enjoyable, helpful and impactful. It switched from shouting about how good we are to how we help our clients.
How does your company narrative change over time? How can you distil everything you’ve learned into a distinct presence now? That’s one of the key parts of developing a narrative.
You can read more about Digital 22’s revamp here.
How do you start to create a narrative?
The best place to start is by working out what your own story is. Where have you been? Where are you now? Where do you hope to get to? What have you learned along the way? These are all questions that make up the bulk of your story and influence how your narrative is developed in terms of branding, tone, style and emotion.
You’ll know when a narrative has been successfully created because it will be one your company and your experience has been the answer to any obstacles you’ve faced. Where growth has posed both challenges and then solutions.
But remember, a narrative doesn’t have to be some swashbuckling blockbuster. Even if it’s not the most interesting story in the world, that isn't a big issue. All it needs to be is genuine.
Here are some good starting points to consider:
- Who started your company and when?
- What does the company want to achieve?
- How does your company help?
- Why X? Why does doing X make sense for you?
Then, answer this in one sentence: What problem does your company help solve better than anyone else in the world?
Now we know the answer to that question, we have the tools to start building a narrative for your company that can be used to shape all sorts of things.
The history and shaping of the business is a great story to tell. It makes great webpage copy and brand promotion. What you want to achieve - for you and whoever uses you - is a great selling point.
How you help others by solving a problem of their own is great to use in marketing videos and printed materials. It's the old advertising technique of "'Gee-whiz, dusting these carpets is such hard work!' 'Fear not! The Wonder Vac by 50s Household Products Ltd takes all the hard work out of dusting for you!'"
Obviously, your narrative would be far more effective (not to mention modern). To break it down, the principle of creating a narrative for your company is as follows:
- Isolate the problem your company solves
- Create a means of showing that problem to your market audience
- Show your company being the one solving that problem
The bullet points you brainstormed earlier will dictate how this looks, feels and is put across in your campaigns.
So what else can you do?
Define tone of voice
How do you want your company to sound? Formal, informal, friendly, austere? Are you a luxury, high fashion brand? Are you a down-to-earth, relaxed tech support provider? Choose the voice that fits who you are and what you do.
Set your aspirations
Narrative should have goals. When describing yourself, what is it you hope to achieve for both yourself and your customer?
Developing aspirations within your work shows that you’re not only a company made of real, fallible people who have hopes and dreams, it also shows that you’re willing to change and develop over time.
No company is the be-all and end-all of an industry. There’s always something new to learn. Remember to make that clear.
Show your culture
Make sure your culture shines through. What sets you apart from the rest? What makes your team unique? What do you do that's worth remembering or showing off.
You can start by creating a culture blog that keeps interested parties up to date with everything your company is doing. It helps develop your narrative, offers you a nice repository of memories to look back on, charts the course of your company and shows customers the human side of your business.
Check out our culture blog if you’d like some inspiration.
So, what else can you do to show off your culture?
Using video to supplement your narrative
Businesses are now in a unique position to utilise countless technologies that help them get their message out there. It's not only about selling but it’s also about providing thought leadership, meaningful content and even entertainment.
Do you want to know one of the best ways you can do this? Something as simple as a YouTube channel. Look at what we do with ours:
We use ours to create vlogs, podcasts, interviews and videos that all add to the growing global knowledge of inbound marketing. You can subscribe for yourself to get inspiration on how narrative looks in the 21st Century, as well as learning something on the way.
Hit the button below to check out our YouTube channel.