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Five signs your business needs a better corporate narrative

Is the story of your business a fairytale, an encyclopaedia or a cautionary tale? Ruth Callaghan looks at the signs it is time to dust off your corporate narrative.

It sounds like the worst sort of marketing buzzphrase — a corporate narrative — but telling a compelling story to your customers and staff can make a real difference to your bottom line.

Sure, you know what you do and you probably do it well, but how successful are you in sharing that story?

If a junior staff member is put on the spot for a quick description at a barbecue are they left floundering with “it’s a bit complicated”?

It’s a common problem for many large and diverse businesses, that do different things for different people or that have grown and shifted direction over time.

And it’s a problem exacerbated when a business is radically rethinking its future — listing on the stock exchange, for example, merging or acquiring competitors or refocusing its work.

That’s where a corporate narrative steps in to bridge the gap between the identity and purpose of the business, its strategic direction — and what that relationship means for your people and customers.

What is a corporate narrative?

A narrative tells the audience who you are, what you do and where you are going as a business — and it also captures your core purpose: the reason you get up each day and do what you do.

But it does more than that.

A good corporate narrative should also help resonate with your audience and give them a compelling reason to connect with you.

Take Apple, whose slogan “think different” is a distillation of the narrative that runs throughout their business, reflected in its messages to different groups.

Apple’s people “don’t just create products — they create the kind of wonder that’s revolutionized entire industries,” the company says.

For potential employees, that means they can “join Apple, and help us leave the world better than we found it.”

For educators, Apple will let them “teach in ways you have always imagined.”

For business, it “empowers today’s modern workforce to do something truly great.”

So each message ties back to the consistent narrative thread: wonder, possibility, products that support powerful change — and different thinking.

By having a clear sense of what the business is and what it is not, the brand is better defined and there are fewer chances for customers or staff to confuse the message.

So what are the signs your corporate narrative needs work?

1. You don’t have a defined narrative at all. Check the ‘About Us’ section of your website.

If you knew nothing about your company, had no understanding of the culture, or were weighing up several options, would the description of your firm compel you to buy? If it speaks only about who you are and what you do, but not why you do it and why this matters to the reader, you need a narrative to help tell that story.

2. You have a corporate narrative, but it’s only understood at executive level.

It is very easy for the most senior and long-standing members of a business to understand the purpose of the company but if anyone engaging with your customers, however junior, cannot articulate the cohesive narrative, that’s a problem. You need a single, well-articulated vision of what your company is trying to achieve, not conflicting versions.

3. You have a narrative but it doesn’t get used.

Corporate narratives are used more when they reflect how your business works and speak directly to the audience. They should also provide room for your people or your customers to engage — such as in Nike’s catch phrase “Just Do It”. It’s an invitation for people to align themselves with their brand. Your narrative should do the same.

4. You have a documented history that covers every aspect of your business journey, and thoroughly articulates your position on every possible front.

This is likely a great document, but could be too much to be useful or useable. Pare back to the core narrative for your business, and supplement with things like a Voice and Tone guide and an FAQ.

5. You are about to go through a change.

Even if your business has a fantastic narrative, it isn’t set in stone. If you are changing markets, merging, growing, or refocusing on different business verticals, it is time to dust off the narrative and rethink if it still applies. Remember that your story isn’t a history, it’s a roadmap — and it needs to remain relevant for you to get where you want to go.

Big companies or small, government or private sector, we help organisations develop a corporate narrative that supports your strategic direction. Talk to us about how we can tell your story in a compelling, effective way.