Corporate Narrative Development: Combining Art and Science

Whether a company is coming out of stealth mode, launching into a new market or looking to refresh for competitive reasons, creating a clear and crisp narrative is as critical as investing in product development and talent retention. If a company can’t distinctly state what it does and how it impacts the world, no one – from prospects to employees to influencers to the media – will listen. A company with no narrative, or a poor one, is doomed to fail.

Naturally, a company narrative is different than media talking points, boilerplates, product messaging and competitive soundbites. Yet, many organizations treat the development process the same: create some language based on the company objectives, competitive differentiators gathered by the marketing department, and opinions of the executive team about how/why the company is successful. Voila!

Instead, a company will fail if it listens to internal voices only when creating a narrative. It’s only natural for internal players to feel that their mission is original, that their proof points are inspiring and their company is coming to market as “first, best, only.” During the narrative development process, there can be no naval gazing and back-patting because everyone outside the company walls will push back, tune out or dismiss a narrative that is tone deaf, repetitive and unrealistic.

Yes, a successful narrative process includes a gathering of stakeholders to discuss important points, such as the unique qualities of the organization, how the company can better align with markets or industries, and how the world will be different because of the organization. And good ol’ fashion storytelling is still part of the process – finding an eloquent and inspiring way to describe a middleware player or company in the SaaS space is highly valuable and necessary.

But there is a goal of the process most companies miss. And that’s creating a data-driven narrative. A narrative that considers the massive amount of data available to an organization. A narrative that can be tested in the real world before anyone hears it and still up to the type of scrutiny customers, prospects, competitors and the media will give it.

A data-driven narrative must include:

  • Fact finding mission from current customers and partners – interviews with those already associated with the company to learn how they currently see the company. What do they feel are the competitive differentiators? Why did they choose an organization over another? What does the company do poorly? What does it do well?
  • An analysis of the company’s current descriptors in the market – an analysis of every piece of earned media, owned and paid media to truly understand how third parties and the current company comes off in a variety of situations.
  • Comprehensive competitive analysis – a thorough analysis of the competitive landscape, including the AdWords a company’s competitors already owns. How well the competitors do at earning equity passing links and how much the market associated certain keywords and phrases with competitors in earned media. How much the competitors are investing in paid media (real dollar amounts) and how the organization stacks up against earned, owned, paid and social media.
  • Understanding of topics/trends – topic modeling to determine what those within the industry are saying and a recommendation on the “white space” the company can own and a different worldview on the topics in circulation, including trends that will resonate with key influencers, media, customers and prospects.

Creating a company narrative is an investment – in both hard and soft dollars. It is the language used to inspire an industry to rally around a company, see the organization as true leaders in its space and put trust in its products and services. Given the massive volume of data created daily, it’s almost impossible to ensure that an organization can truly understand the space it’s in without data analysis and the use of tools like IBM Watson. Investing in data analysis during the narrative development process removes the “human factor” that companies can get wrong during the process and increases the chances of success.

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