How Important Is Strategic Brand Narrative?

Illustration by Aaron LeMay

It’s easy to see that Brands are no longer what companies tell us they are, but what their users say about them.

Brands have evolved. Today, “brands” are the moments and experiences shared between a user and a product. Brands are the conversations and moments we have together, whether we are a community, a movement, or a crowd swarming to create positive change.

The Strategic Brand Narrative is a tool for creating and attracting people to your community (even the community of You). This narrative ultimately can be distributed through social media, digital and other communications, including word of mouth.

It is axiomatic that attaching yourself to a larger narrative is the key to success. (Quick examples — We don’t make computers, we put a ding in the universe, we think different. And: We don’t sell shoes, we’re trying to create positive change in our world.) It’s not about building a better widget, it’s about building a bigger dream.

The more that you are in touch with a larger story, the greater your ability for success.

Too many people focus on building their product, without thinking about building their narrative. Saving storybuilding for “later” loses opportunities along the way, whether it’s funding, partners or strategic spaces. Think of your Strategic Brand Narrative as being foundational to your success, a parallel path with building your product or service.

The narrative is “Strategic” because by carefully designing the seven pieces of social code (creation story, creed, icons, rituals, lexicon, nonbelievers, leader), you can distribute each piece via content in digital and social media to deliver a comprehensive channel plan that pings the emotional touchpoints for users and fans and keeps them in touch with your community.

It is “Brand” because, these days, “brand” is your community of users, fans, advocates and others who share your beliefs, values and experiences. They don’t so much buy you, as buy into you. They tweet, share, snap, like, pin, download, link, tag and post because when people believe, they belong (or want to belong) to your community. And when they feel they belong to your community more than any other, they prefer you among other choices.

Belonging becomes your unfair advantage.

“Narrative” is an opportunity for key performance because you can take something that is meaningless — whether it is a person, place or thing — and make it meaningful. Companies who wrap themselves in story, rather than the peculiarities of their widget, have a far greater chance of success (or fail faster, if your widget sucks). Transitioning from meaningless to meaningful is transformational and speaks to the overpowering role of storytelling and narrative.

When you string together the pieces of Social Code (creation story, creed, icons, rituals, lexicon, nonbelievers, leader) your Strategic Brand Narrative pings the emotional and logical touch points human beings demand for things to “make sense” and contain meaning.

The strategic brand narrative also starts to bring synergy to the executional styles of growth hacking (ala Facebook) and steady community-building (like Instagram). At some point, both practices intersect — you need growth, you need community — they are not mutually exclusive. In a perfect world, each practice feeds their separate part of the ecosystem and can be integrated and synchronous, each one ramping the other.

Granted, the social code is (perhaps) complicated, but so are human beings.

It is much simpler and easier to concentrate on the ‘Why?’ (Creed) or focus on tactics and execution (chase after the latest selfie, face swap, VR or other trend of the day). This is human frailty, and why so few truly powerful brands exist. To engineer and coordinate creation story, creed, icons, rituals, lexicon, nonbelievers, and leader across multifaceted media channels engages layers of intricacy — and a matrix often too complex for channel and content planners to manage.

But it is not too complex for a computer.

With the advent of big data networks, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, the possibilities of designing a social intelligence engine that creates deep belief networks becomes not only possible, but likely.

At those quantum levels, data is not just personalized, distributed and responsive, but the Internet of Me can drill down to individual needs, patterns and desires. This allows us to work emotional attachments into binary data points that can be delivered and measured, creating a social logic engine for community-building.

When you remember how social code drives communities of people, places and things, you realize that these interconnected networks of influence, advocacy and preference not only impact individuals, products, services, and enterprise, but these powerful Deep Belief Networks will also command cities, nations, and governments.

This is both the opportunity and the problem. Only you will decide which.

(Note: Thanks to screenwriter Bryan Edward Hill for coining the term Strategic Brand Narrative over a decade ago, in response to my book Primal Branding.)