This is part II of the What the Eff Is a Strategic Narrative and Why Does Every Company Need One? series. In part I, we discuss what a strategic narrative can do for your people.
We began drafting this piece well before the health crisis became a daily driving force, and we still believe a strategic narrative is extremely relevant to all companies around the world. Companies both large and small have been rocked by recent events. We’re all scrambling to plan our next moves. During trying times like these, a solid strategic narrative can help you stay focused on established company goals, but also pivot to respond to unexpected market forces and rise to meet new consumer needs.
Understanding your company’s story helps you keep its values top-of-mind, which can inspire acts of generosity and philanthropy in your community or niche. Knowing and sharing your strategic narrative unites your employees, reminds them that you support and appreciate them. And above all, crafting a compelling story can steer your company away from hiding or merely surviving, and toward thriving. Countless businesses are entering uncharted territory, and a strategic narrative can serve as a much-needed compass.
At its core, a strategic narrative is simply the story of a company.
A well-written strategic narrative gives the reader a look at the actual DNA of a company, the underlying force that shapes it and drives it forward. It’s a fantastic tool for clarifying shared values and unifying your workforce, but also for building loyalty among customers and business partners. This story needs to be developed internally but has loads of beneficial external applications.
A Strategic Narrative Humanizes Companies
Just as employees want to work for—and stay at—companies that reflect their values, B2B customers want to feel their partner companies have similar beliefs. If you don’t clearly communicate company values, then your customers and partners are left trying to reverse-engineer them by observing how the company behaves publicly, typically with mixed success. Offering them a strategic narrative helps you control the story.
According to psychologist Susan Fiske, PhD, “…people surprisingly relate to companies as if they were people.” If customers think about each company as though it were an actual human being, companies should charge that human being with a distinctive character and true integrity. What kind of human being is it? Honest and full of convictions? Disruptive, innovative, challenging “the way it’s always been done”? Committed to achieving big, hairy, audacious goals? Philanthropic, globally-minded, determined to make a difference? Whatever the characteristics, they should be reflected in the strategic narrative for all to see.
Go to Market in a Meaningful Way
When you codify and share a strategic narrative that outlines the character of your company, it impacts how you relate to your customers, and how they relate to you. First, it helps you find meaning for your organization, so you can build marketing campaigns that reflect self-awareness and confidence. Second, it gives you clarity around which products and offerings are truly aligned with company values and customer needs; a great strategic narrative can tell you when to pivot, and when to forge ahead. Third, it allows you to speak to your customers in honest, direct ways that resonate. Understanding your company’s story in this way allows you to craft value-based messaging for each customer segment—their business problems, how the company solves them, and a relevant marketing message, along with clear steps on how you can take action together.
Attract New Customer Relationships
Writing this story means building relationships with your customers before they ever speak to you. Because when you’ve written your strategic narrative and you have complete clarity about the company story, that story becomes part of everything you do as a company. And the world sees that.
When you share the story of your company’s identity, it helps people make informed decisions before buying from you. So when a potential customer reaches out to you, they aren’t just doing it because you happen to have the widget or service they need. (Since, let’s face it, there are multiple suppliers for practically everything.) They’re reaching out because they admire what your company stands for, and can see where your values align with theirs.
That, my friend, is gold.
Create an Unbreakable Bond With Your Customer
If “higher purpose” describes what people in a company are doing that has a positive impact on the world, then “shared purpose” is what happens when a company’s core values are shared by its customers.
When this happens, you’re no longer doing things for your customers, you’re doing things with them.
You’re not just selling them stuff with a big smile and a clap on the back, you’re collaborating; building something that’s bigger than both of you. Doing this doesn’t just make you feel good. It also has a profound, positive impact on your bottom line, employee relations, client relations, and how you’re viewed by the world at large.
For example, Nike’s mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” This is not something that a shoe manufacturer can do to or for people, it’s something that company can do with its global customer base.
Similarly, Starbucks’ mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Again, this implies that the company isn’t churning out good cups of coffee, it’s aiming for something much deeper and more profound, in collaboration with its customers.
Not convinced that a strategic narrative will unite companies and customers in improving our world? If this sounds like a bunch of woo-woo mumbo jumbo, consider this: Deloitte and Harvard Business Review—both of which have their feet planted firmly on the ground—have issued reports that confirm how shared purpose can drive innovation, growth, and revenue.