Why do we love the brands that we do? Our loyalty to companies and products frequently controls our purchasing habits throughout our lifetime. This loyalty is often drawn from how we view a particular brand and the values it represents.
What we know from a brand usually comes from the company narratives they share. Whether it’s the guarantee of something that’s healthier, tastier, more durable, sustainable, or beautiful, we value what organizations stand for and what supporting them personally means to us.
In his popular TED Talk, author Simon Sinek demonstrates the importance of knowing the “why” of a company. In order to inspire consumers to choose their products, brands must determine what they believe in and the purpose they are striving towards. This “why” is not just the organization’s goals, but rather the fundamental narratives that drive your business.
We are raised to perceive our world through stories. Stories from the media, our childhood, relationships, and experiences all shape how we view the things we interact with and help create our biases and opinions.
In the same way, we perceive companies based on the narratives that they tell. The stories we believe shape a company can play a significant role in whether we choose to support them or not.
What is a Company Narrative?
Mark Bonchek, the founder and CEO of Shift Thinking, defines company narratives in an article published in the Harvard Business Review as concise but comprehensive stories that define the company’s vision, communicate the company’s strategy, and embody the company’s culture.
Strategic narratives say who you are as a company. These stories demonstrate the history of your business and give customers a glimpse into your future. Narratives present your organization’s values and what makes it unique.
According to John Hagel, author of The Power of Pull, a good company narrative fundamentally answers these three questions:
- Why are we here?
- What can we accomplish?
- How do we connect in order to achieve this?
Company Narratives Influence Both Customers and Employees
It’s not only consumers that are influenced by the stories, values, and purpose that a brand conveys. They also sway employees and other stakeholders. Today more than ever, employees want to work in companies that align with their values. Therefore, company narratives play a pivotal role in a brand’s overall positioning in the marketplace.
How Company Narratives Impact Customers
Television shows and movies have perfected the use of narrative through genres and stereotypes that allow our brains to make shortcuts to understand a concept quickly. For example, we can identify the villains in a story by their darker outfits without being explicitly told, while superheroes can be recognized through brighter and more colorful costumes.
Likewise, when we see a certain brand, our minds immediately jump to the various feelings, perceptions, and stories we associate with that organization. Whether those views are positive or negative, they do influence our behavior as consumers.
Patagonia is a great example of how stories influence consumers’ perceptions of a brand. To many, Patagonia is not merely a clothing label, but rather a company that works to save the planet and “limit ecological impacts with goods that last for generations or can be recycled, so the materials in them remain in use.” People are drawn to Patagonia by the business’ narrative and values that it represents.
Similarly, IKEA has a widespread following and consumer base through its company narrative of crafting well-made furniture while making great strides toward creating a more sustainable future.
Narratives impact customers by demonstrating what makes brands different. They also help form loyalty and connections by drawing in like-minded individuals who appreciate their values and goals.
How Company Narratives Impact Employees
Having a strong corporate narrative is not only important for the public image of your company. It is also vital in shaping how employees view the organization. Does your organization practice what it preaches?
A company is like a community in that it has its own environment, rules, communication, and shared stories. Anywhere people gather to work toward a set of common goals, their behavior affects — and is affected by — their work and the organization’s culture. A community and the practices within are created through shared narratives.
In a study from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, executives emphasized the importance of a strong corporate culture and how shared values and narratives can drive profitability, acquisition decisions, and even determine whether employees behave in ethical ways.
What narrative makes up your company’s culture? Does it have a healthy outlook on work and life? Are workers more driven by a desire to make money or to make a difference? Does it match your mission statement and what you say you believe in?
While narratives are usually directed more towards customers, they help employees better understand their expectations, values as a part of the organization and how they can have an impact beyond merely making a profit. Having a strong company narrative that is upheld can shape corporate culture and create a more positive and productive community.
How You Can Create a Strong Company Narrative
Creating a company narrative first requires going back to look at your “why.” It’s vital that you examine your company’s beliefs, vision, and values to determine why you do what you do and how you could see your business shaping around and working toward that purpose.
Answer the following three questions to create a strong company narrative:
- Why are we here?
- What can we accomplish?
- How do we connect in order to accomplish this?
Your narrative should have a human element within it. Relationships require trust and authenticity. Your connections with both your customers and employees need to be genuine and reflect your core values.
Narratives should say who you are as an organization, not just what you do. Your goal should be to find a mission and story for your company that inspires employees, excites partners, and draws in customers.
Once you have determined what you want your narrative to look like, put it into practice both inside and outside your organization. Powerful narratives are cemented by continuous actions that demonstrate the commitment of the company to act in ways that are consistent with the narrative. A genuinely successful narrative requires the understanding, commitment, and engagement of the entire leadership of a company to live out.
Take a few minutes today to consider your company narrative. As a leader, determine your purpose and story, know what you want your brand to promote, and put what you preach into practice.