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How good is your organization's digital narrative?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher February 17, 2016
Summary:
We already made the case for the importance of narrative. But how do you embody that narrative in your corporate presence and your digital assets? Barb Mosher Zinck walks us through the process.

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Defining your organization’s narrative is necessary to ensure you understand what it is your company is all about, and how your products and services demonstrate that. It’s a way to get focused and organized.

You may think you have a good understanding of what your narrative is, but how well do you demonstrate that in your digital experience? I spoke with Deb Lavoy, CEO of Narrative Builders, about what a narrative is and why it’s so important. You can read that here. This time, I want to understand how you can tell if the narrative you have is strong enough to support your organization.

Lavoy spends a lot of her time looking at narratives and through her work, she’s defined an assessment process that enables an organization to understand if their narrative is clear.

The narrative strength assessment

There are five key areas you need to assess to know if the narrative you have defined is strong:

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Image from narrativebuilders.com

Lavoy explains that the assessment is somewhat subjective, but she also says it’s fairly easy to look at a website and tell if it has narrative strength or not. So let’s look at each of these areas in a little more detail and think about how to apply them to your website:

1.Organization - is your narrative clear to employees?

This one is hard to apply to a website review because you can’t look at it and tell what level of narrative organization you have, it’s an internally focused question. But you can ask yourself, do most of your employees understand and recognize your narrative? Is it formally documented and accessible? Do you review it on a regular basis - such as when you are rethinking business strategy?

2. Presentation - how well is your narrative presented?

The primary place your core narrative is displayed is usually your website. There are other places – your social media profiles, YouTube channel, your marketing campaigns, sales and so on. But your website is the place people go to learn more about your company and products or services.

Is your narrative presented in a clever and engaging way, is it easy to find and follow, is the presentation interesting? Also, is it connected to other digital assets you have, like your blog, your sales material, your social channels, and so on?

Look at your website and ask yourself, can my prospects and customers see quickly what I sell and how my product/service is different from all the rest?

3. Clarity - can people tell immediately what you are all about?

When people look at your website can they tell right from the home page - who you are and what you offer? Are there any significant gaps or does it answer most of the critical questions?

For example, look at the websites of each US presidential candidate. Does the website say who they are, what they stand for, what they think the key issues are and so on?

Does it flow naturally from one level or topic to the next? Are you representing the different levels of your hierarchy well and can a person move easily from one topic to next if you are telling multiple stories?

4. Resonance - does it evoke a response?

Lavoy says that resonance and shareability (next) are the most critical components of your narrative. There are two kinds of resonance you want to achieve - emotional and intellectual.

  • Emotional resonance - does it make you feel something? There are no great narratives that don’t have an emotional construct, says Lavoy.
  • Intellectual resonance - does it make sense? Can it be applied to many people and situations? Do you have the proof points?

5. Shareability - is your narrative memorable?

If someone was asked to explain what you do, could they do it? Have you described your narrative with such clarity that others understand it and can share it? If people can’t understand it and share it with someone else, Lavoy says you have a problem.

“You cannot scale unless your narrative is shareable.”

She also asks if you make your narrative shareable? Is it convenient to share it and engage with it further? So things like follow us; like it; for more information, etc.

Do you really need a defined narrative?

Lavoy believes you do. Narrative is an organizing principle, and she says that investing in a disciplined review of your narrative will change the effectiveness of your marketing, including your website. But just as importantly it will:

Bring into focus where your product roadmap needs to go, it helps make business decisions, creating criteria for decision making; you’re making decisions that align with the core idea of what your company and organization is.

If you do your narrative strength assessment, and you have all five of the strengths listed above, you have a strong narrative, or you will get a quick sense of where you need to work on things. Note that each of these components does not act on its own;  they are interrelated.

One point to make is that you don’t define a narrative and then create a checklist which you then use to ensure every story you create aligns perfectly with the narrative. Lavoy says that not every story you create has to cover every piece of the narrative, but you need to ask yourself which idea from the narrative are you fleshing out and for whom?

Each marketing asset you create - a new campaign, social post, blog post, whitepaper, talk or a something else - adds something to the narrative. The narrative is a skeleton, or a framework, for fleshing out all your content. She says your website should cover most of it, but other assets should point back to some part of the narrative.

Lavoy says the most marketers start from scratch each time they create new content. They don’t have a core set of building blocks to use. That’s what a narrative provides, the building blocks to get started. Everything you create refers to the others, building the overall narrative.

The last thing Lavoy pointed out is that your narrative is a living thing. It will change and grow with your organization. If you change direction, look at new approaches, create new products, you need to re-evaluate your narrative. Also, as different teams work, they learn new things, and they need to share those learnings with others - and that could potentially affect your narrative as well. Be prepared to do a checkpoint on your narrative at least a couple of times a year.

My take

When Lavoy walked me through the strength assessment process, she provided me examples based on the US presidential websites. It was interesting to see how the assessment can be applied. I could do a similar process for, say, web content management vendors, reviewing each website to see how they rated against the assessment, and it would be easy to see which ones get their narrative across better than the others.

The point is, every business sells something. Many sell the same things. What makes a person buy from one over the other is the narrative. It’s who the company is, why it’s different, why it’s products are different (not necessarily better, although they should be), and how well they get those differences across in their digital, and physical sales, marketing, and support.

Image credits - Feature image: What is Your Story Torn Paper © Ivelin Radkov - Fotolia.com. Slide from narrativebuilders.com.

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