The narrative instead of the story: Your marketing answer (if you are able to absorb the concept)

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Storytelling
The Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas, 1870. A seafarer tells the young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother the story of what happened out at sea (Wikipedia
Storytelling
The Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas, 1870.
A seafarer tells the young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother the story of what happened out at sea (Wikipedia

Some marketing insights are easy to grab. Others are more nuanced. This posting by Sanjay Dholakia, Engage or Die: John Hagel of Deloitte on The Next Era of Marketing, fits into the latter category. You’ll probably need to read it a couple of times, and then scratch your head about the implementation challenges.

Hagel suggests that marketers need to go beyond the “story” to the “narrative” — a higher level, client-centric engagement. Okay, that sounds nice, but how do you do it?

EIU: So when you make your pitch about the power of narrative, how narratives are more motivating and inspirational than stories, how do businesspeople react?

John Hagel: They say, “This is great. I’m going to call my PR department and my marketing people and get them to write me a narrative.”

Narratives don’t come from PR

But narratives don’t work that way. Your PR people may be able to come up with a good story. But with narratives you’ve got to demonstrate day-to-day your own commitment to that narrative. One of the things that made “Think different” so powerful was the examples of Wozniak and Jobs. Those two guys were the perfect examples of people thinking different and expressing their unique individuality. They lived the narrative. How is a big company going to live a narrative that will engage and motivate the audience they’re trying to reach?

EIU: One of the other challenges that marketers always face is getting people in the company to keep the focus on the customer–the outside-in perspective. You said that the narrative is about the listener, not the speaker. That has to be difficult for executives whose first impulse is to tell customers how great their company is.

John Hagel: I also see that when I speak to executives about narratives. They often have this reaction, “Oh, we have a narrative. We came from humble beginnings. We overcame incredible challenges. We did awesome things. And our story is open-ended, because who knows what kinds of awesome things are yet to come?” But the problem with that narrative, of course, is it’s not about the people you’re trying to reach.

EIU: You’re asking the audience to sit there in wonder and awe at all the amazing things you’ve done. And of course buy your products, which is the unstated goal here.

Do something extraordinary

John Hagel: The narrative is a call to action that says, “You have an opportunity to do something extraordinary in your life, but you’ve got to make choices and take action that go far beyond the purchase of anyone’s products.”

Okay, that sounds wonderful and religious (and in fact Hagel suggests religious leaders apply these concepts effectively in leading their faith) but it seems quite remote from drywall, foundations, and BIM.

Yet the point here, I think, relates to the relationship dynamic that successful businesses build with their clients — combining trust, reliability, and respect for their interests, values and (if you can) passions. Hegel’s argument — that marketing will be much more pull than push in the years ahead, reflects in social media, where you won’t get very far just plastering your own story in front of your “target audience” — instead, you need to bring them to a sharing experience.

Thanks to David Thorpe of London Drugs in Vancouver for introducing me to this article and thoughts.

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