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Getting started in the strategic brand narrative

Every brand starts with a few select words to communicate its what and why.

The dots that connect to form a strategic brand narrative

In my last two content strategy projects with two startups, I realized very early that different teams in either startup did not have a clear understanding of what the brand wanted to do, and why.

My second and then third meetings cleared off some dust but I could sense that the message was not absorbed effectively. It was NOT a “content strategy” problem — they are not ready for the language of content strategy. It was a brand narrative problem.

I planned to work on a basic level strategic brand narrative framework that I can use for my workshops for my future work. In this post, I am sharing some dots (not connected yet) in this framework, and how these form the brand narrative.

More context on why strategic narrative

A few months back, I read this amazing post by Andy Raskin, on strategic narrative. It is a brilliant analysis of how brands should actually invest in how they pitch. I can also see how content — every single word plays such an important role in business growth and pivots. I started following Andy and he published another gem in The Greatest Sales Pitches I have Seen.

Also, I love Michael Margolis’s work for his workshops and writings in narrative strategy and storytelling.

My content strategy work generally revolves around UX design, content architecture, and designing product story for customer stories. Andy’s and Michael’s works inspired me to explore how strategic content can actually change the face of a brand for its narrative storytelling, across functions, roles, and systems.

First steps: identifying vocabulary

Every organization has a goal. We often see a few frequently used words in their marketing or sales content, in the product experience, or in their social campaigns. For instance:

  • Customized. Quality. Full Cycle. Friendly. Skilled. UX. Experienced. OR
  • Opensource. Community. Empowered. Global. ROI. OR
  • Market. Solution. Affordable. Branding. Personalized. Dashboard. OR
  • Save. Incentive. Discount. Competition. OR Even
  • Prosthesis. Sclerosis. Epiphany. Care.

The challenge is the missing shared understanding of what words to use, and why.

For instance, in a new relationship, we use the words—Trust. Commitment. Care. Security. We do not think of a Spinach toast, the Nike shoes, or a Spotify playlist. This is because we know what matters is what we communicate in new relationships.

Likewise should be for startups—recently launched or high-growth teams.

A brand starts here

Every brand starts with a few select words to communicate its what and why.

Assume that ABCD is a brand that allows local businesses to design their custom coupons (deals) and these businesses can promote and distribute these branded coupons online.

  • The Business Success Goals are: To help local businesses who plan to sell coupons to generate more business and help them design, print, and distribute online coupons.
  • The Customer Success Goals are: To design custom branded coupons and to distribute these to their audience to increase sales.

Steps to vocabulary

Find some words that define the brand promise.

Search listings. Claim business. Free coupon, Custom designed coupons, Print. Distribute. Promotions. Increase sales.

Find the right voice for this brand story.

This voice gives a flavor and a characteristic orientation to the brand vocabulary. To continue with the ABCD example, the team has identified their voice to be:

  • Authentic — ABCD gives an independent space to its customers to help them design custom branded coupons and promote these.
  • Friendly — The product experience guides the customers with all directions and examples, for how to design coupons, in the entire coupons design, distribution, and management cycle.
  • Promising — The business listings are comprehensive and the customer experience is rewarding and result-oriented.

Related ReadingsUse a message architecture, by Margot Bloomsteinand Creating a message architecture (workshop), by Margot Bloomstein

The narrative

Identifying the shared vocabulary forms the two basic pillars of the brand narrative:

Structure (what is the promise) — Listing. Claim business. Custom branded coupons, Distribution. Increase sales.

Voice (how to communicate this promise) — Authentic. Friendly. Promising.

Based on these two pillars, the high-level brand narrative statement can be:

ABCD helps businesses claim their listings so that they can design custom branded coupons, to share, promote, and distribute to their audiences for more outreach, to increase their sales.

For functions, roles, teams, and people

Every individual working with a brand, across functions, roles, locations, and languages, should get the above vocabulary, and voice and the statement, framed.

This brand narrative statement keeps things in perspective, and aligned. It sets up a shared understanding of what everybody associated with the brand is doing, and why.

Also, a few small wins can be:

  • The marketer does not use the word “Ad” at an event, by mistake, because the actual term is “promotion”. (Shared vocabulary is internalized.)
  • Every message in any content type, on any device, in any language, for any audience, and as a result of any action or interaction with an interface — reflects Authenticity, Friendly, and Promise. (The brand voice is framed.)

Brand narrative contributes to

Business success: Brand story—for brand experience

Customer success: Aligned customer story—for customer experience

Shared Understanding of Business Success and Customer Success in Shared Vocabulary: It means that the individuals in every team across functions, locations, roles, and working in different languages across time-zones align their efforts and channelize their energies for common goals towards business success and customer success.

The strategic force in brand narrative

  • Content strategy
  • Narrative strategy

Can you hear it? There is something that sits right in the middle of all these dots and sub-systems. Even if startups do not embrace it on day one, content is playing its part right in the early morning on day one.

Every word discussed, whispered, discarded, or written in the narrative process, in the vocabulary or in the voice, is an extension of content strategy.

Vinish Garg

Vinish Garg

I am Vinish Garg, and I work with growing product teams for their product strategy, product vision, product positioning, product onboarding and UX, and product growth. I work on products for UX and design leadership roles, product content strategy and content design, and for the brand narrative strategy. I offer training via my advanced courses for content strategists, content designers, UX Writers, content-driven UX designers, and for content and design practitioners who want to explore product and system thinking.

Interested to stay informed about my work, talks, writings, programs, or projects? See a few examples of my past newsletters—All things products, Food for designInviting for 8Knorks. You can subscribe to my emails here.

Vinish Garg is an independent consultant in product content strategy, content design leadership, and product management for growing product teams.