Why You Need a Brand Narrative, Not a Brand Story
Dynamically grow your brand using social media
Social media presents a tremendous opportunity for growing and sustaining brands to thrive. By embracing the call and response nature of social media, brands are nurtured through thousands of moments, each comprising a collective whole. The sum of these moments is a brand narrative — the interconnected stories, experiences and themes that comprise your organization, product or service.
The difference between a brand story and brand narrative
While stories are singular in nature and have a beginning, middle and an end, narratives are open-ended and evolve over time. Stories are one-sided messages meant to be received by an audience. Narratives are flexible, adaptable, ongoing dialog comprised of many voices. Stories are static and controlled. Narratives are enduring by their very nature of call and response. Stories allow no dissenting opinions. Narratives thrive as much from promoters as dissenters — each contribution amplifying and building upon that which came before.1 Narratives will continue to live on, nurturing and feeding brands when stories are long dead.
What makes an effective brand narrative?
To be successful, brands need to be compelling, relevant and true. To be successful in the feedback economy, good brand narratives need to address common pain points, offer a contrasting viewpoint from the status quo, transcend a specific context, and have a compelling call to action for participation from other voices.2
Great brand narratives take a position, cultivate dialog, and foster collaboration over time with active audiences of co-creators. A key place to start when building a narrative is identifying the brand’s reason for being. Knowing a brand’s purpose can be a compass for staying on course, and ensuring the ensuing narrative is authentic and relatable.
Great narratives can be cultivated
In the feedback economy, brands are built through contextually-based conversations, linked to an overall brand narrative. Because of this call and response dialog, individuals and organizations can’t completely control the future of narratives. Indeed, narratives can be effectively furthered by having opposing opinions and dissent. The energy of the narrative propels forward as the conversation continues.
Similar to pruning trees to strengthen and encourage more growth in stronger limbs, we can choose which parts of the narrative to emphasize and which to allow to atrophy. Effective narratives invite the audience to respond and layer their stories on top. Narratives are nurtured through active responding, co-contributing, listening, evolving and amplifying the contributions of respondents. While narratives can’t be controlled in the same way a brand story can, they can be shaped over time.
Nike brand narrative fueled by controversy
Many brands have tapped into the larger, more socially-conscious zeitgeist. Nike’s Equality Initiative engendered significant controversy as well as support when the campaign used Colin Kaepernick to be the spokesperson for the campaign. The brand narrative connected to larger movements on social justice and equality, succeeding as much from supporters as detractors. The narrative also outperformed with millennials, a key Nike segment. Nike received an estimated $43M in free advertising and 100K tweets within the first 24 hours of ad launch with more favorable posts than negative.
Dove upends the notion of traditional women’s beauty
Brand marketers for Dove soap were asked to extend the Dove brand beyond soap into other products such as skincare and moisturizers.3 To achieve this expansion into a new brand territory, the team identified a key insight from their research, that all women struggled with the traditionally narrow view of what makes women beautiful. The team launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, using non-traditional models with different body sizes, and in the process, tapped into larger conversations on beauty and women’s self-esteem. The Dove brand continues to further this 20-year-old narrative with educational initiatives, including the most recent effort in support the Crown Act to end discrimination against black hair. In the first ten years of the brand narrative, sales leaped from $2.5 million to $4 billion and Dove soap became the top preferred soap brand in the US.
Grow your brand narrative beyond your organization
Dove and Nike's brand marketers were able to take essential truths about each brand, borne out of each brand’s core purpose, and connect these truths to larger conversations happening in the world today. In enabling the brands to take a stand for equality and redefining narrow and outdated beauty standards, the brands have created ongoing narratives that have deepened and endured over time while also remaining extremely relevant to daily events.
Shifting our lens from creating a single brand story to the larger opportunity of crafting an enduring brand narrative, can unleash the true power of our brand to connect, to amplify and to contribute to larger narratives in the world. And quite possibly ignite a powerful conversation, discourse or social movement.
1, 2 Badillo, Ann; Donovan, Tim; Trevarthen, Tobin, Narrative Generation, Why Narrative will be your most valuable asset in the next 5 years, 21st Century Narrative, 2016
3 Millman, Debbie, Brand Thinking and Other Nobel Pursuits, Allworth Press, 2011