Do you know your Narrative?

Every company has a story, but what happens when those stories just aren’t enough to get noticed?

This story, Do You Know Your Narrative?, was originally published in the November 2016 issue of O’Dwyer’s.

To say that telling a unique, impactful story in today’s information glut is difficult would be a gross understatement. Journalists are struggling to swim through never-ending waves of pitches. Faced with information overload, readers don’t know whether to sift through the stories presented to them or ignore them entirely.

This is bad news for brands, especially startups looking to break out in a crowded tech space and eventually exit, as this over-load results in low coverage results from industry reporters and low visibility to potential customers. So, how do smart brands break free of the information glut?

Enter Narrative, the methodology that propels winning companies to rise above their competition and become category leaders. When a brand shifts its focus from story to Narrative, from a lens of “me” to a lens of “we,” it creates space for a movement to begin. Narrative differs from story, which emphasizes the history, values or features behind a specific product or brand. Narrative has a broader resonance that invites customers, investors, and competitors to participate in the conversation.

A strong Narrative has helped many brands build equity and attract a lot of attention around exits. In 2013, Snapchat, once a small startup but now very well-known company found in headlines often, refused acquisitions by both Google and Facebook. In 2016, Twitter stirred a worldwide conversation with acquisition interest from Sales-force, Google, and Disney.

Successful companies create new Narratives to set themselves apart and establish themselves as thought leaders in a newly defined space. We like to say, “You solved a problem. Let us solve your Narrative.”

If you’re looking to join the ranks of those successful brands, follow these steps:

Uncover the existing conversation

Every industry and brand is part of a pre-existing conversation created by competitors, customers, investors and the media. If a company wants to change that conversation, it has to identify what’s al-ready being said. In-depth owned and paid media research uncovers what brands are saying about themselves and the issues that matter in the industry. Earned media re-search fleshes out the picture by providing third-party perspective.

While conducting research, think: what are companies talking too much about (chances are, it’s themselves)? What aren’t companies saying? Where is there an opportunity to change the conversation or introduce a new theme?

Define the new conversation

Once you know the existing industry conversation, you can decide whether to respond to it or to initiate a new one. For example, a company in an industry with strong Narrative threads (i.e. drones and privacy) may only need to provide fresh insights. In other industries where the conversation is crowded or uninteresting, you may need to create a new Narrative or — as startups often do — define a new category altogether.

If defining a new category is your goal, think outside the box. At Spark, we use de-sign thinking to coax our clients out of their established thought processes and into the minds of customers, investors, influencers and the media. This exercise is especially effective when we bring employees from different disciplines together, as their combined perspectives help define the resistance or friction that an industry faces and find the resolution that could lead to a new movement.

Establish yourself through content

In order for your new Narrative spark to become a flame, you must fan it with quality content. Prepare to make a significant investment in content creation and distribution, lest the Narrative spark, sputter and burn out. Think of this investment as a way to create velocity for your brand.

The most successful content is clear, en-gaging, and consistent. Experiment with different media types and embrace the outlets that feel the most authentic. For some, that’s thoughtful blog posts written by company executives. For others, it’s videos, podcasts, e-books or social media posts. We recommend some combination of all of them to get the most value from your efforts.

Remember: quality trumps quantity. We’re living in a content bubble where lightweight, subpar content is so prevalent that many potential customers ignore it outright. Make your content count.

Push that content out everywhere

Great content isn’t great if nobody sees it. Once you have your content, make sure it’s everywhere. Use it as an opportunity to pitch to media. Distribute it on your owned channels and drive the reach of that content via paid channels. Native programmatic advertising is an effective tool for generating leads, in some cases creating a 500 percent increase in web traffic. You’ll also see a jump in how long readers spend looking at your channels — more exposure combined with better content creates stronger results.

Ensure that the company has high-level spokespeople who will speak to the Narrative you’ve created both internally and externally. If the CEO isn’t talking about your Narrative, it won’t feel authentic. Presentations, blog posts, bylines and interviews are excellent outlets for your executives to champion the new Narrative.

Measure — and reap — your results

Measurement and testing is critical throughout the Narrative process. Companies with strong Narratives constantly test, measure, and refine so they can quickly adjust to real-time feedback and seize opportunities to comment on current events or industry news. By measuring how your category or content is faring in the media, you’ll have the knowledge you need to optimize your Narrative push.

Repeat as necessary

Narrative is a long term investment in your success. This is not a three-month push; if you want to own a conversation, you have to keep talking. If a Narrative stops resonating, create another one. If a content piece or channel stops generating traffic, pursue another avenue.

While brand stories play an important role in the success of a company, Narrative speaks to a higher order. That order will ultimately increase engagement, align your brand ethos with the belief systems of your customers, and establish you as the undisputed leader of your category.

Tobin Trevarthen is Chief Narrative Officer at Spark in San Francisco. See what he and his team can do for your brand by contacting us.