Thanks to everyone who read my last piece that explained why investing in tactical marketing activities without first having a clear strategy in place is, at best, sub optimal and, at worst, a complete waste of money.
This time I want to look at a core pillar of how that marketing strategy is created - the brand narrative.
Whenever I am introduced to a new firm, I use the brand narrative construct as a lens to understand how well thought through their proposition is (and to assess their chances of success). Often, executives sometimes struggle to point me to a single such document, but the pieces of the story do usually exist. The problem is that they are scattered throughout the business often with different points of emphasis. So, today, I am going to explain why having a clear brand narrative is so vital for your firm, how to use one and then provide a few pointers for their construction.
I first came across the concept while at Fidessa where I spent a lot of time discussing and debating the strategy of our business with our CEO. One day he shared a document with me and asked me what I thought. I was gobsmacked - as it provided a two-page treatise on what our mission was, why it was important and why we were almost destined to be successful. After reading it, I was totally energised.
I think it began something like:
At Fidessa our mission is to make it easier for financial firms of all sizes to own and trade a broad range of financial instruments globally”.
The power in the statement above lies in its simplicity and purity. The rest of his document explained how the market had changed and so it needed to be made "easier" (faster, cheaper, more controllable, lower risk, pick your own sub adjective). Then he explained our unique attributes and capabilities and how they could be assembled to deliver powerful workflow solutions for our clients.
This document went on to become the core of Fidessa’s brand narrative which provided a powerful, easy to digest story aimed to resonate with all our stakeholders. So, not just investors at our regular briefings, but clients, prospects and let's not forget, our own staff too. In this way, it came to guide and control all our marketing messaging, sales decks and so on even through to our initiation programs for new starters. In short, it became the “thing” that bound us all together and provided a North Star to guide our continued success.
By the way, I have always maintained that all employees at a firm are at some level involved in marketing - being able to understand and communicate what their firm does (and why) to the outside world should be everyone's responsibility.
On this last point, I read a story a while back about how, during a walkabout at a Kevlar clothing factory, a local dignitary stopped to chat with machinists about their work. The first explained how they sewed strips of Kevlar into the fabric, the second said something similar but the third turned round and said, “I help save people’s lives”. Wow, so just imagine how much more effective that factory would be if everyone had the “we help save people’s lives” mantra embedded in their daily work mindset. Maybe this phrase should even have become the company's strapline (I don't know if it did).
So, hopefully you're convinced by now that a brand narrative is an essential component of your overall marcomms strategy. So, what does one look like and how do you construct one?
No two will be exactly alike but they nearly all start with some sort of diagnosis that explains the nature of the challenge. This then leads to a definition of your core purpose but at a deeper more substantial level than making money (just like our third machinist in the Kevlar factory). The description of your product/service comes next but with a clear focus on the benefits not the features. After this follows the development of the desired positioning /key messaging and even the personality and values of the brand.
The diagram below shows how this works. If you start with the far right - vision of the future and then work anticlockwise, the core elements of your brand narrative can be quickly uncovered. Then you can start to see how they interact and support each other as part of a holistic whole.
Vision57 - Constructing an Effective Brand Narrative
Maybe it’s a bit self-serving but I would always recommend getting some outside help to drive this process. This ensures that all views get equally heard and assumptions challenged where necessary. Nearly all my new projects start off in this way, even if it's reviewing what is there already or working with the exec team (and others) to create one.
It is here that firms can often make a core mistake. Having put all the effort into the creation of a brand narrative, it amazes me how many firms simply then just ignore it and carry on as they were (aimlessly sewing on Kevlar buttons).
Once completed and signed off, the hard work starts. Management should go on the road internally and externally with the brand narrative and be its biggest evangelists. When done right this can cascade down through the organisation and should become self-supporting.
When I was at Fidessa, I made sure that our brand narrative was understood by everyone and touched everything we did. This gets me to my final point in today’s post. Of course, the brand narrative needs to be a living document but if the vision and diagnosis are broadly correct then it should be able to support the business and marketing deliver better results over the long term.
Thanks for reading (especially if you read the first in this series too:)) - next time I will be talking about the evolution of the "4 Ps In Marketing" probably one of the most effective yet misused toolkits in the marketing armoury.
As always feel free to comment, share or message me directly.