Marketers once created brand value propositions that claimed the benefits of a particular brand. Advertising was then created to telegraph that brand position in the hopes that repeated exposures would establish that brand position in people’s minds. But times have changed. People are skeptical of and numb to the often hyperbolic claims of brands to be just the thing we are looking for. I imagine how the company who designed my 1970 home, The Acorn Deck House Company, would adapt to the new marketing world. If they embraced content marketing as an effective way to connect with new customers and builders and retain those they already have, they would do things differently.
In a recent interview, Robert McKee, father of storytelling and script writing education, traces this back to a form of bragging back in Benjamin Franklin's day.
"The classic advertising technique, that literally goes back to Benjamin Franklin, has been bragging and promising. What [successful companies] have smartly realized is that the Millennial generation and Generation Z coming up behind them have an adverse reaction to bragging. They’re annoyed by [assertions like] ‘We’re the biggest, we’re the best, we’re the shiniest, we’re the newest, we’re better than the competition.’ They find those claims doubtful at best."
Today, contemporary brand building programs focus on demonstrating the promise of a brand or company versus simply ‘claiming’ benefits or superiority. We understand a brand promise by what a brand actually does. Content from brands can play a dual role. It can actually be helpful to customers and become a living demonstration of how the brand can improve people's lives. At the same time, it becomes post-advertising brand currency. If it's genuinely relevant to people, content can create more moments of interaction and more possibilities to build consideration or loyalty.
Williams and Sonoma delivers valuable cooking tips on its blog. Lowes provides “how-to” instructions via Vine. Behr paint created a useful app that lets people capture colors and translate them into actual paint. Adobe collects insightful marketing content to equip today’s CMO.
Each of these brands made a choice about the role they can play in people’s lives. They defined the topical territories that mattered to their customers and then created content and tools that fit those territories. The narrative platform is a useful tool for brands to define the type of content they ought to create.
What is a Narrative Platform
A Narrative Platform is a message platform and a brand position rolled into one simple model. By focusing what a brand cares about and saying it consistently again and again, we can earn a position in customers’ minds. The Narrative Platform is built upon customer insight and reflects what customers would find compelling not just what our brand-building wizards think it should be. It's brand positioning just from the customers POV.
A Narrative Platform is different from a simple brand position. It defines what we will talk about that delivers value to our customers and demonstrates the brand value proposition. The Narrative Platform defines the territories and topics the brand can create content around. If you are planning on making content marketing a big part of your marketing strategy, the Narrative Platform helps align that content to the role your brand can play in your customers’ lives.
- 3-4 themes that articulate what is important to your brand. If prospects knew and believed these things about you, they would prefer your brand. These themes drive the development of all content in marketing and communications.
- A Key Narrative statement which summarizes what the brand believes in; what our POV is. It includes many of the supporting themes.
Here is a completely unsolicited example of a possible Narrative Platform for the Acorn Deck House Company:
How Do You Create One
In my experience, there may be many ways to get this done. Most of the time it really helps to run a collaborative workshop with people inside the company from across disciplines. This is a room of 8-10 people (bantam weight for a good workshop) that come from product or service development, marketing, sales and business leadership.
Not only do you get great and divergent points of view, you start the process of internal buy-in by creating stakeholders in the process.
You can set up the work session with a simplified “problem statement” – e.g. “how can we make the Deck House(company) synonymous with the best made house – from materials to design to construction – and a house designed to be a home – one that fits our lives and always gives us room to live, breathe and enjoy daily life.” (I live in a Deck House and feel it is a fantastic home. I made up the challenge statement and have no idea if this aligns to where they want to be in the market.)
You then remind people who your customers are, what they care about and some key insights about them that might be helpful. Then you run a moderated brainstorm and collect ideas, vote on them and refine if you have the time.
A writer takes all of this great raw material from the work session and crafts some prototype narratives. Rinse, repeat, iterate.
How Do You Put It into Practice
The whole point of the Narrative Platform is to have it drive all marketing and communications to gain the benefit of consistency and repetition in the marketplace. It is not the actual copy you use in any one communication. Rather it serves a foundation for all content and communications. Delivering to each marketing and communications practice such that they use it as a foundation is really up to what works best for your organization. Most groups welcome the focus.