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3 Open Questions on the Corporate Narrative

What are the elements of a corporate narrative and what is the right balance between internal and external context?

CEB’s network of 400+ communicators have said that they are most interested in the understanding and using corporate narrative in 2016. Corporate communications teams take different approaches to corporate narrative, and CEB research is underway to find some common lessons about making the most of corporate narrative. Common questions we’ve hard so far are as follows.

  1. What’s better: consistency, or resonance? While some communicators hope to align audiences around a consistent corporate narrative, others are more focused on supporting locally resonant messaging, and sacrifice some consistency along with it. A lot of industry press around the topic reinforces the idea of the narrative as a messaging platform – a guiding framework from which individual stories are derived.

    But many communicators are flipping this approach to varying degrees, like the organization which is building an employee and customer story archive from the bottom up, and hoping to spread those stories across the company, instead of a narrative. One potential reason for the different approaches are different goals – avoiding a downside versus pursuing an upside: most of the communicators focused on consistency are trying to avoid audience confusion (or worse, mistrust) resulting from message variation; on the other hand, those prioritizing audience resonance are more interested in prompting supportive or desired behaviors.

  2. Should my narrative actually be a story? While some communicators capture their corporate narratives in straightforward text, looking like a story only in the most abstract way, others incorporate more easily recognizable story elements, like characters, setting, and plot.

    Those who prioritize more story elements usually do so to maximize the vividness and stickiness of the narrative. Those whose narratives look like stories only when you squint are often choosing that approach so that the narrative can be flexed (parts included or excluded) more easily.

  3. How much external context should I include? Some communicators view the narrative as a straightforward capture of the company’s identity and direction, and incorporate very little external perspective (most commonly, the external content is a description of the market or industry trends impacting the company strategy).

    However, other communicators are abandoning this more “inside-out” approach for an “outside-in” approach; they are including trends and issues that their audience is likely to be concerned with or interested in, as a “hook” to get them interested in what the company has to say. Those taking a more outside-in approach are updating their narratives much more frequently, as you can imagine.

We’ll be continuing to explore the corporate narrative and digging more into what the most innovative companies are doing in order to define good practice and find examples and practical advice on this important topic.

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