Reveal Company Narrative & Shared Purpose
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF YOUR COMPANY NARRATIVE.
How readily can you describe your company and its place in the larger context of your community or industry? Not just the thing it does but its core values, vision of the future, fundamental qualities, aspirations, the things that live at its heart; its purpose, the how and the what for.
The who for: the mutually beneficial relationship you have with your customers. All of this and its collection of events and stories that ultimately form its narrative. Your company narrative and concurrently, shared purpose with your customers.
Your best response to that question, the most carefully thought out and deeply authentic, is not always within easy reach, even though at first it sounds pretty much like a simple question. The declaration that hits home most effectively will carry you into the future. It will connect you most powerfully with your customers. Yet it might be a little bit buried under the surface and you may have to do a little digging to unearth it.
“…narratives can’t just be created like stories. Narratives have to come from something deeper, more intrinsic to an organization’s top leadership and the core reason the organization exists.” John Hagel
TAKE THE TIME TO DISCOVER WHO YOU ARE
This begs introspection. Don’t skip this step by making easy assumptions. Instead, really give it a good look. Make sure your imagination is aligned with what’s actual, what’s visible to others and communicate-able. This will also help you to set new goals, convictions, determinations – to create a more purposeful chronicle.
Keep in mind, the DNA of your company is there at its inception and will remain in place into its future if you foster it. It begins with you, the founder. But that doesn’t mean it can’t move off center if lost sight of. Because, after all, a company is a living, breathing, ever evolving entity that isn’t static and can be influenced by internal or external forces. Your DNA is the core- your values, your why, the driver. And it’s where your narrative begins.
John Coleman, coauthor of the book, Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, describes the importance of introspection and its role, also, in the development of company culture well.
“I learned this lesson, most acutely, from Marshall Ganz, who teaches what he calls “public narrative” at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Ganz argues that for people to inspire others with the mission of their organization or cause, they must first link that mission to their own motivations, and then connect it through story to those of the people they are hoping to persuade. Ganz has developed a simple framework for those hoping to develop a narrative approach to their purpose-driven organizations: “Self, Us, Now.”
[…] Finding that story may require a leader to reflect deeply on her past and motivations, and communicate them honestly — even those parts that are embarrassing or imperfect.
The next step, “us,” aims to connect these values with broader shared values of the audience — clients or employees, for example. In this step, you weave your own personal narrative into the narratives of others through shared values, experiences, hopes, and aspirations. In doing so you create a common narrative for the group or organization.”
There may be some happy surprises, welcome realizations, evolution and evidence of a growth of depth. You also may find that you’ve drifted from who you set out to be.
WORKING DEFINITIONS OF STORY & NARRATIVE
People tend to use the words synonymously but it’s worthwhile to understand the difference in the context of marketing.
A story is generally something that has a beginning, a middle and an end which makes it finite and short term; a closed system of sorts. It’s usually based on a central character and the listener or reader can identify with that character. The intention of a story used for marketing is to inspire an emotional response that leads to action by customers.
On the other hand, a narrative is open-ended, has no resolution. It is continuing to unfold and invites us to participate in it and in that sense has infinite possibility. Using your company narrative in branding and marketing will illuminate your goals and beliefs- and the list of things I mentioned above. It will inspire your customers to join with you in your continuously developing portrait.
INSPIRATION FOR BUILDING A COMPANY NARRATIVE
The inspiration for this article and my interest in exploring the topic comes from a client we are currently working with. She is at the beginning stages of forming her company and also developing her inaugural narrative and identifying the stories that are part of that, the ones that serve as her catalysts and inspiration.
We are working with her on every aspect – brand development, product branding, web development and design, content – consulting and supporting each of her decisions along the way. We have been discussing motivation, intent and what’s at the heart of it all. Together, we have explored the pieces and knitted them into a fine tapestry that all makes sense but is not finished because it will continue to evolve as we get deeper and deeper into the process. And then will continue to take shape as her company evolves and the world is invited to participate in the narrative.
She is able to weave in her culture, family history, studies, passions, travels, locations and endeavors; every ingredient that is contributing to the greater whole. I’ve been impressed by how everything ties together in what she is doing and we can literally see and name each element. She tells us stories and together, we illuminate their importance, pull out the parts that matter most. We see the commonalities and relationships of the ingredients. The opportunity is simply ….thrilling.
Her natural ability to dig deep with us for the tone, direction, convictions and purpose all the way down into each small detail is inspiring. Nothing is without meaning. Click To TweetHer history and what drove her to create the company, the experiences she’s had leading up to this pivotal moment each have a role in the evolution. It’s breathtaking to sit together and perform the unraveling, look at the fragments and then tie them back to each other. All the way down to the individual words in the company name. This is narrative-building.
IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO REVISIT AND REFRESH YOUR NARRATIVE FROM TIME TO TIME.
Reaffirm. Things change and a strong narrative is fluid enough to accommodate changes. If you lose touch and drift off course it’s important to adapt to new circumstances and consider the potential of that fluidity.
IS YOUR NARRATIVE UNDEFINED, STALE OR OUTDATED?
It’s possible that you haven’t given it much thought until now. Maybe you’ve haven’t granted enough credit to the stitching together of the stories about how and why you came to be and the events that have taken place ever since and that define you. Instead, you did all the things people typically do when they start. You saw a need, you had an idea, a way to fulfill that need. You decided to go for it and form a company and things started to happen. Over time, the beginning fades and you are in the thick of it. And then, like so many, you’re busy with the details. It doesn’t take much to lose track of the encompassing bigger picture. In micromanagement it’s harder to perceive the larger, overarching narrative.
STALE OR OUTDATED
There’s another scenario that can separate you from the ultimate and current core picture. Let’s say you did pay attention and it meant something to you. You may be habituated to the original version yet it’s become stale, risks being outdated for who you are today. That may be because its unfolding nature is missing pieces such as connection, experience, your customers experience and their unavoidable contribution to who you are.
Maybe you haven’t been in business long enough to settle into a steady rhythm of purpose and action. Those things that confirm your hopes and dreams for a larger purpose haven’t quite gelled yet.
YOUR COMPANY NARRATIVE IS FED BY A NUMBER OF INTERLOCKING PARTS-
A SYSTEM OF STORIES, VISION, VALUE AND PURPOSE
YOUR COMPANY VISION
Every business needs a vision that will repeatedly coalesce into motivation, drive and action. Click To TweetA set of pledges or a concise statement that turns sentiment tangible and that projects into the future, keeps the business on course, acts as its North Star. It becomes the code of ethics, the moral or ideological compass that will be referred to over and over again. It will guide your arrival and departure through crossroads, choices and actions over time. It will connect you with the world. It will match you with your perfect customers.
A vision lends purpose to every moment. The daily grind, difficult decisions, company culture, behaviors, communication, customer interaction, employee relations. They are all affected by the company vision. The vision may change over time and it may need to be re-visioned from time to time. But it will always be the living receptacle for dreams and purpose. It communicates the heart and soul of an entity.
UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
What identifies you as singular in the line up next to your competition? Click To Tweet What’s the thing that you do differently, that makes you stand out? You’ll find it embedded in your brand DNA and it has been there from the start. Your UVP is the thing that happens over and over again in your relationships with your customers because of who you are, because of what they gain from doing business with you, buying your product, using your service.
It might be a kernel of desire. Or it could be the moment when you notice an empty space where your solution could be implanted to fill the void in a way only you could conceive and act upon. For some, it is a calling and the momentum of that is unstoppable.
SHARED PURPOSE WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS & YOUR COMPANY ‘WHY’
A little over a year ago I wrote an article that explored the importance of knowing your Company “Why”. I am thinking now, (after reading a recent article by Mark Boncheck and its confirmation of my own recent thoughts and sentiments about how important relationship is), not only about the ‘why’ (or the purpose) but the shared purpose companies/businesses have with their customers or clients. It fits nicely with what I call the “we’re in this together” point of view. It’s the culture of collaboration that is so necessary, that we may experience as implicit but it won’t be defined or explicitly expressed unless we put in the effort to do so.
I think about the amazing clients we’ve collaborated with over the years. They are as much a part of our narrative as we are. There simply isn’t a way to separate them out. Why would we even want to?
“The cornerstone of a strategic narrative is a shared purpose. This shared purpose is the outcome that you and your customer are working toward together. It’s more than a value proposition of what you deliver to them. Or a mission of what you do for the world. It’s the journey that you are on with them. By having a shared purpose, the relationship shifts from consumer to co-creator.” Mark Bonchek
TAKE A STEP BACK TO GET PERSPECTIVE
Having explored identity frequently over the years with our clients, I’ve noticed that often an organization’s most appealing and purposeful qualities, the ones especially worth talking about, fall to the wayside. They’re taken for granted and they become hidden within the flurry of everything else.
That includes who we are, what we do and why we do it in context of the larger world we are each a part of. Immediately, that points to relationships. Who we are in relation to our customers and clients. Who they are in relation to us.
Take the time to recognize what you’re doing, how and why and notice the outstanding qualities you feel most connected to. The ones that get you out of bed in the morning and give your life meaning. Think about elements that rise above the surface and illuminate those things. Incorporate them into your narrative as gems to not only behold but to nourish.
Always keeping in mind how it all intersects with those you serve. Invite those people into your orbit to take part in how you move forward and make your mark in the world. Co-create shared purpose. Maybe even shared narrative. Click To Tweet[clickToTweet tweet=”Co-create shared purpose. Maybe even shared narrative.” quote=”Co-create shared purpose. Maybe even shared narrative.”]
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Pre-remixed photo: Copyright Devonyu