Companies Are Investing in Narratives

A series of internal and external pressures (e.g., increased M&A, executive turnover, competition for audience attention) are making it harder for companies to portray themselves in a consistent and compelling way. Without a cohesive story, messaging to key audiences about the company’s identity and direction often comes across as disorganized or even disingenuous.

In response, Communications leaders are increasingly partnering with executives to craft, or update, their corporate narrative –a brief summary of the organization’s identity (e.g., mission, values, brand) and strategic direction, and how those pieces link together.

But even the most artfully crafted corporate narrative is only valuable to the company if everyone (not just Communications) is actively using it in their messaging to important audiences.

Unfortunately, CEB Global research reveals that simply having a narrative – even one that your executives are aligned on – hardly guarantees its use. Here are the three key findings from this research project:

Key Finding 1: Having a narrative does not guarantee its use.

It turns out, among potential “users” who are aware that their organization has a corporate narrative, 51% choose not to use it in their messages. A “user” is anyone who creates communication about the company’s identity and direction for internal or external purposes, regardless of function or seniority. It’s notable that the overwhelming number of non-narrative-compliant messages – 88% – come from mid-level managers and front-line employees. So, getting your executives to shake hands on a narrative is a good first step but will not guarantee its universal use.

corporate narrative messaging

Key Finding 2: A narrative is more likely to be used when it reflects the beliefs and jobs of the people who need to use it.

In order to increase adoption, it’s important for communicators to understand what makes users more or less likely to use the narrative you’ve worked so hard to build. Data analysis reveals two main factors – personal fit and job fit.

  • Personal fit – the narrative must reflect what people believe. If users think that the narrative emphasizes outcomes that they care about and personal values that they hold, they are 48% more likely to use it.
  • Job fit – the narrative must reflect what people do. If users think that the narrative is going to help them get their jobs done better and faster, they are 39% more likely to use it.

So the more the narrative feels like it reflects users’ beliefs and values, and can help people accomplish their tasks, the more likely it is to be used on a more consistent basis.

corporate narrative drivers

Key Finding 3: Stakeholders use the narrative for alignment, persuasion, and assimilation.

Users of the corporate narrative are diverse, both in terms of seniority within the company and functional areas. While this diversity might suggest an overwhelming number of potential use cases for the narrative, our analysis reveals that there are only three types.

  • Alignment(42% of uses) – connecting employee activities to organizational strategy and values (e.g., a leader using the narrative to help her department see how their priorities connect to the company’s).
  • Persuasion(33% of uses) – influencing stakeholders to make a decision in favor of the organization (e.g., a sales manager using the narrative to encourage a client to purchase the company’s services).
  • Assimilation(30% of uses) – educating new stakeholders about the organization (e.g., a manager onboarding a new hire to his team).

corporate narrative use cases

Implications for Communications

Rather than obsessing over the perfect articulation of the company story, leading communicators realize even the most polished narrative fails if it is not used. Therefore they invest in creating a narrative that supports what people believe and do, such that they are compelled to want to use it.

In order for Communications to drive use of the narrative, it must ensure that the narrative appeals to users’ personal and job fit. Doing so requires a shift in Communications’ approach to most aspects of narrative development and rollout. Specifically, Communications must put the user at the center when:

1. Building the narrative:the narrative must reflect the jobs and beliefs of the people who use it, not just the executives who develop it.

2. Supporting its use:the narrative shouldn’t exist as a single document but must be accompanied by a “system” of tools, templates, and examples to help with use.

3. Messaging using the narrative:Messaging must spark personal fit by focusing primarily on people, not on the company.

How far along are YOU in the corporate narrative journey? Take this quick quiz to find out!

You can find out more information at the CEB Communications website and in the CEB Comms Newsletter.