SES: Creating Your Corporate Narrative
Everybody loves a good narrative. That’s not to say everybody loves the same type of narrative. Experts in the craft of writing, though, generally agree there is a "worst" kind of story, one they label the agenda story. That’s because the narrative is a thin veil for a thesis, one the author is trying to impose upon the reader; the reader would rather come to his own conclusions based on the narrative itself
Likewise, in marketing, for the corporate narrative that is told and spread among the intended audience, authenticity is crucial. "Tell an authentic story," says Expansion Plus Inc. president Sally Falkow, speaking from the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, in a session titled "How The Art of Storytelling Matches Up With the Business of Marketing." "Find a story that will resonate with the people you want to reach, because they are the people who will have to spread it."
And generally, those people are pretty adept at picking apart ingenuous ploys to manipulate their affection. "They should feel that there is a real experience that they want to talk about," said Falkow. "Empower your evangelists and they will spread the story for you."
Perhaps no company has been better with their own corporate narrative than Google. The Lego-genius garage operation of a pair of generally idealistic grad students loped along naturally at the heels of the fantastic and game-changing product they created, "Don’t be evil" a catchy subtext beneath the now iconic logo. Sergey and Larry’s story was enough to endear the company to the blogosphere, so long as their product was as good as the narrative.
The searching populace was ready for Cuil, too, mind you, which had not only the luster of Google and Stanford backgrounds, an off-beat name, and a fantastic Irish columnist blogging with rhythmical narrative precision, but also a market hungry for and willing to tell others about a competitor to the previous great success story. Alas, Cuil didn’t have the chops to back it up and the narrative was dead in the water, if you don’t mind me mixing my metaphors.
The narrative, pervasive in all cultures for thousands of years now, is an essential part of the human experience. People want to tell and hear stories; they love to tell and hear stories. The principle difference in the present culture from cultures past—where myth, legend, and moral were acceptable alternatives to truth—is that the present culture puts a premium on veracity. Your corporate narrative, whatever you decide that narrative is, should be in line with truth (data), and as far from agenda as possible.
This approach takes the art of the corporate narrative beyond advertising or public relations—where the audience expects and is at best nearly accepting and dismissive of a little creative coloring of truth—and places it squarely in the realm, as YourStorys.com founder and president Larry Lawfer describes, of engagement marketing. "’Advertising is when you say you are good date. Public relations is when your mom says you are a good date. Engagement marketing is when your data says you are a good date."
He makes it sound simple. It’s not. But neither is the concept that advertisers and PR reps are no longer in control of the corporate narrative. "Everybody is media now," says Lawfer.
So what do you do in a world where you don’t control your own narrative? Lawfer and Falkow both recommend the art of listening—kind of a new concept in the storytelling ideal—and addressing the concerns of the audience, who will be the ones deciding on the final version of the narrative. How you respond makes all the difference in how the story is written.
Where is it written? Well, Wikipedia is one place, among a million others, and a collective version of your story that can’t be controlled but can be influenced by the action of your corporate narrative. In this narrative diaspora the digital world has provided, suggests Lawfer, it’s important then to be proactive in organizing the good parts.
"It is important to gather stories, too, because we are not in the digital world. Stories spread in the analog world through advertising, but in the digital world we are creating a library of stories, accessible at any time."
Which versions of those stories rise to the top of Google, then, becomes suddenly very important for reasons too grand to get into here. Think of it in terms of how perception is an equal to (or facsimile of) truth, and the Googlized reality, a collection of perceptions in the search results, is the most likely place the most recent final version of your narrative appears.
Cindy Krum, Director of New Media Strategies at Blue Moon Works, Inc, contributed to this article. Blue Moon Works, Inc. is a new media marketing agency that specializes in Mobile SEO.