WTF Part 5: Corporate Narrative, Brand and Context

In part 1 of this five part series I plotted out what I’m calling the Seven Part Corporate Narrative –

Seven Part Corporate Narrative


You may notice that both ‘brand’ and ‘context’ are pointing outwards. This is deliberate.

I read an interesting article recently that said a person’s perception of time is a mailable thing. It had a good example to explain this: if someone turns up to a doctor’s surgery and is told the doctor is running 30 minutes behind they may be initially annoyed, but will then sit down and happily wait for 30 minutes. However if the person turns up and is told the doctor will be available soon, but then waits for 30 minutes they will become increasingly annoyed and agitated. Interesting? Rambling? Stick with me.

Interesting in the context of this model.

The model is saying there are two types of stakeholder. Either a) people who are pro-actively interacting with company, interested in an aspect of it (with a goal in mind) or b) the company’s activities enter into the life of the stakeholder and they are reacting in so manner.

Brand deals well with the group of stakeholders in bucket A – it helps them understand what the company can do for them and if the stakeholder wanted to dig deeper they can find out about the other aspects of the narrative. Brand connects with stakeholders who have an active interest in the company. They should be able to walk through the door a from that point be covered in brand.

But brand can come across as self-serving when it disturbs an individual’s life – brand tries to turn the disturbance into an opportunity for the company. Not really great behaviour that builds reputation with people who have nothing to gain from you and perhaps something to loose.

But there is another way – through sharing context. Context connects with stakeholders who have a passive interest in the company. A passive interest is perhaps a bit more difficult to grasp – it could be where an aspect of a company comes into contact with an individual’s life, instead of the stakeholders actively seeking it out.

Companies need to communicate the fact they share the same context as their stakeholders. Only from this point can there be common ground and a road to acceptance on both sides.

I’m aware this is a big ask – communicating context is difficult online – just read the pointless spats that take place in the comments section on the Daily Mail’s articles. When done well it should connect with the individual in a shared experience. On a basic level it needs to cover political dynamics, economic issues, social and technological change and environmental impacts (as you’d expect).

So that’s brand and context.

Corporate Narrative

WTF Part 4: The Corporate Narrative – Culture and Social Purpose

In part 1 of this five part series I plotted out what I’m calling the Seven Part Corporate Narrative –

Seven Part Corporate Narrative


I’ll go for culture first. “Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast,” a remark attributed to Peter Drucker makes sense to me.

If the strategy is in conflict with the culture of the company then for the strategy to be successful the behaviours and norms associated with the culture must be tackled first. After all, people in the company need to sustain their interest in the strategy over the medium to long term – indeed – they need to be gunning for the strategy, they need to be implementing it with pride. If the way the strategy is communicated does not fit the culture then it is likely to fail as no one will value it.

Culture is pretty hard to describe. In this model it has a couple of important features – accepted behaviours, cultural norms, values and heritage. Norms are difficult to pinpoint from within an organisation. They are almost subconscious. Behaviours though can be identified and therefore changed.

Heritage is history. Focus on the events that shaped the company and interpret as you see fit.

Values are also always thrown about when talking about culture. It’s tragic seeing a company trying to instil values using the same old tired means of communication – start with an awareness building campaign to promote five or so values to the point where adults can recite them parrot fashion. Simply: no. No. No. Values should be handled in a more implicit way, so the behaviours that identify them are promoted as valuable to the company. No one is going to get anywhere vomiting out company values.  Where’s the pride in that?

With pride comes with a sense of purpose.

Social purpose is fundamental for me – it is the reason why the business exists. I am aware this flies in the face of Milton Friedman’s view that the sole purpose of business is to maximize profits – for the benefit of its shareholders. We live in different times now and can see that this focus brings out negative behaviour and conflicts – are profits more important than the environment? Are profits more important than a host nation receiving the tax it is due? Are profits more important than the health of the people who consume your products and services? Companies exist within societies – not outside of them. They must have a largely positive role in the societies it operates in.

The risks of not communicating a clear social purpose are real – if there is a perception that a company does not have a positive role in society governments will sooner or later come knocking. Before that NGOs will.

It seems to me that corporate communications has got stuck in a defensive position. Social purpose is a means of being positive, being on the front foot – attacking critics before they have the chance to criticise. If nothing is said in this area stakeholders will only hear the negative stuff.

There are pitfalls – tokenism is the main one – a few posters and a press release social purpose make they do not.

It’s also a counterpoint to shareholder demands.


Corp comms is stuck in the defensive #justsayin

Is it me or is corp comms becoming more and more defensive?

It feels to me that confidence is at an all time low. Where has the energy and enthusiasm gone?

Yes a lot of corp comms is defensive in nature – and you could argue that all corp comms is essentially defensive. Words like transparency and disclosure belie a mind set on keeping the silent majority happy. 

But I was always taught that the best form of defense is attack. Where has the confidence gone? The new ideas?

Timidity in communication just frames your potential as deeply negative. 

Who can say they are making some real tangible progress in the job of corp comms? Anyone? 

Yes content strategy is allowing companies to communicate more directly, but how much of this content everyone is producing is actually interesting?

Corporate Narrative

WTF Part 3: The Corporate Narrative, the Business Model and Financial Stability

In part 1 of this five part series I plotted out what I’m calling the Seven Part Corporate Narrative –

Seven Part Corporate Narrative


I think this is the year of the Business Model. But it’s little brother Financial Stability is often over looked.

If there is no financial stability, you can say all you want about your business model but it will be baseless without clear financial reasoning that indicates stability (that is if it exists).

Financial stability is a funny one. What are the foundations of financial stability? It goes back to how you create value – how predictable and repeatable is it? What does the company do to keep on creating and preserve value – how does it manage debt? How does the company manage its risk?

All this questions are important and should answered clearly and succinctly.

Moving to the business model
One this is settled you can move on to talking about the business model.

Now this could be a real opportunity to show what makes you different, but it seems people are happy to rely on a circular diagram of some kind. It’s normally a circle or a flow chart. I think my problem is these diagrams are totally abstract, they appear theoretical so lack any kind of credibility.

Why not spend time thinking about how you make value in a way others don’t. Then use data to visualise and animate the flow of value – hover over the business either spacially, interactively or personally to make it clear where the dots join up.

Corporate Narrative

WTF Part 2: The Corporate Narrative & the Role of Strategy

In part 1 of this five part series I plotted out what I’m calling the seven part corporate narrative –

Seven Part Corporate Narrative


This post tackles the central element: Strategy. But what, in this model, is strategy? It is a ‘plan of action’. Not just a plan, not just a series of things happening but both.

For the ‘plan’ part it should include targets and how each target will be met.

The plan should also include some kind of vision – which needs to be simple and easy to communicate as it is at the apex of what the company actually does – the strategic vision. Its easy to get wrapped up with strategy. The thing is it won’t happen if the six other elements in the model are not clear.

It feels like almost every company today says something like  ‘we want to be the largest company in sector x’ as their strategic vision. This on it’s own is completely abstract – without taking into account culture, financial stability, business model and the company’s social purpose you have simply a theory that does not differentiate your plan (everyone wants to be the biggest and the best, but to what end? It begs the question why? if it is just to maximise shareholder return, IMHO your are not on a path to maximising shareholder return over the long-term). And of course, these four elements mean nothing without a brand and a clear context.

Strategy has an identity crisis mainly because it is the point where thinking turns into action. It encapsulates thinking.

But MORE IMPORTANTLY it needs to incite action – and by this I mean it needs to gain the attention and maintain the attention of the people who need to do something about it (and also those who need to see something happening). All ACTION should come from strategy.  The idea that strategy is fixed from the moment it is created and agreed is nuts. So I guess the challenge is to update on the progress of the strategy. And this is where the narrative over time comes in. Does the action meet the plan? (Hint: it never does) So, what is actually happening and how is the plan changing in light of real world application?

What else does strategy need to do?


Corporate Narrative

WTF?: The Corporate Narrative (Part 1)

Jargon in corporate communications is a constant source of frustration. The Corporate Narrative is the latest for me.

I do use it as a term. You may too. But I guess my gripe is – do we have a common view of what it is?

Probably not.

This post seeks to define it with a basic model. This post is also an unpacking of some thoughts that focus on the need for context, the role of brand and some other stuff like that.

First though, the model.

It seeks to identify the constituent parts of a corporate narrative.

The other key point for this model is each part should be thought of in relation to all the other parts, with an emphasis on how the narrative weaves around all parts to create one cohesive thread.

Here it is. If I can I’d like to call it the:

Seven Part Corporate Narrative


Here’s a quick run-down of what I think each of the parts mean –

The function of context is to establish common ground between the corporate and people who don’t have a clear position on the company. Its role is to communicate shared outlook and common human experience. It is the start of confidence.

Its role is to make a human connection between a corporate and an individual to the point where the individual builds a sense of trust and loyalty to what it wants to achieve.

Business model
Focusses on defining how a company generates, preserves and captures value and how the company differentiates itself from other businesses, especially its competitors.

Social purpose
Articulates an intangible or tangible value to society. At a basic level this is tax revenue. A more complex social purpose may focus on solving a societal ill.

Financial stability
Without ‘Financial stability’ the corporate will not be able to achieve its strategy – to take action that has a longterm benefit to shareholders.

In this context it’s how and when the CEO and the board plan to deliver value, from its business model, to its shareholders and society, within the context the company finds itself in.

Provides guidance when no other guidance exists. Inherently this is when the company needs to take a risk – when inaction is worse than action.

As an ending to this post I believe the corporate narrative should be encapsulated into one short statement – two words or a short pithy sentence that evokes something other than corporate speak.

What those words do is up for debate – its either the first few words of the narrative – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or an encapsulation of the overall gist.

BTW – this post is the first in a series of five that explores the Corporate Narrative, so keep an eye out for weekly updates. Subsequent posts will look at each part of this model in more detail.

What do you think?
What do you think should be in the corporate narrative? And is there any jargon that gets your goat?

Brand Debate

Shocking: what brands can learn from the Baroque

Is your brand baroque enoughI have a guilty secret to share. It’s the kind of secret my wife knows about, but doesn’t care to mention. In the Butler household as soon as a secret publicly acknowledged (even between the two of us) the secret is out and becomes ‘news’. News loses its currency with time, so she’s basically self-embargoing – biding her time – for the most opportune moment for release. So, I’m just going to come out with it: … … I WATCH LATE NIGHT ARTS PROGRAMMES. Pretentious Moi? Noo-sir-ie.

The most recent guilty pleasure was on the Baroque. At Art College my Bauhaus mind rejected the Baroque as nothing more than pointless window dressing, piffle, mere decoration for decoration’s sake. But this was a great series charting Baroque’s Italian beginnings through 16th and 17th Century Europe and finishing up with St Pauls Cathedral in London, and it made me rethink my view.

I had to watch the whole series for the clincher – the pearl of insight the Baroque has handed us down through the ages. And it was this: you have to grab people by the scruff of their neck before you can tell them anything. This is something we now utterly take for granted and therefore often forget.

So, step back and take a long hard look at your brand and ask yourself: is my brand being uniquely boring or grabbing attention?


Image credit via creative commons to susanneanette