Narrative Whims #1 — Narrative is an IP

My hypothesis is when a corporate narrative is articulated well and understood by all of its stakeholders, both inside and outside of the company, it should be as valuable as a patent portfolio to the company. It should be considered IP. It should impact enterprise value. When we discuss that with a potential prospect, we get a head nod, but we are usually challenged to produce immediate proof.

Given, we live in a “quantified economy”, I can appreciate the doubt and the need for validation. Everything needs to be quantified, because digital has taught us so. Taking a leap today requires listening to your intuition or inner voice, which is fodder for another post. What would Steve Jobs do, races through my mind.

When you look at what companies are being given the highest valuations today, it is the intangible assets that are driving a large portion of that value. Tangible assets of yesteryear are now considered a drag on value. So, if narrative is considered to be an “intangible asset”, shouldn’t that become a part of your overall IP portfolio? A trademark helps, but I am talking about beyond the trademark. I am talking about a currency. A value. One that is acknowledged by the evaluator.

What began as a curiosity project two years ago, has now blossomed into a commercial application for companies spanning a variety of life stages. My team has created 16 corporate narratives, with numbers 17 and 18 about to commence this month. We have gained a lot of perspective and insight from executing our narrative process. We have generated seven trademarks, fueled two funding announcements and aided in one M&A exit. Can we claim credit for the funding and the exit? Not quantitatively, but anecdotally perhaps. Ironically, the key module in our narrative solve is about “validation”, so we understand the significance of value and validation.

We postulate that narratives are like living mosaics and are comprised of stories, not just a story. To borrow a passage from Barbara Bradley Hargerty’s book, Life Reimaginedon examining mid-life moments…”this moment can be exhilarating rather than terrifying, informed by the experiences of your past and shaped by the promise of your future.” We have created design thinking modules that address both experience and promise — we call them heritage and vision. And both are important to achieving “relatability”.

Living in the bay area we are surrounded by valley terms that serve to define growth as the life blood of a company -”accelerated growth”, “exponential growth”, “growth hacking” and the all mighty “scaling the business”. When I apply that logic to what we do, it certainly rings true on the “numbers side of the business”. But, I submit that there is another side of the business that provides an equal, if not counter-balance weight to a company — that being your narrative.

So, I find myself reframing our own narrative about creating narrative and how we believe narrative is an IP. My quest is to make this a new reality as we reimagine what marketing communications means for a company in the 21st century.


Tobin Trevarthen is the co-author of Narrative Generation and co-creator of Agile Narrative™- a design thinking process designed to create narrative architectures for corporations and organizations.