Consider, if you will, the complexity and intricacy of human communication: a linear, symbolic, and digital representation of a 3D reality that doggedly attempts to capture the richness of the subjective and objective world. We're living in the golden age of communication, yet for all its convenience and speed, there's a trade-off.
Online, we're reduced to pixelated versions of ourselves. Our essence is distilled into succinct emails, our presence reduced to disembodied voices on a telephone line, our faces flattened into two-dimensional profile pictures on social media platforms.
Think of Vincent van Gogh, the renowned painter, whose personality and life were deeply enigmatic and complex. Now, reduce that to a single email thread, or a sequence of phone conversations.
Something is lost in translation, isn't it?
Our identities today are fragmented, like a shattered mirror, into myriad pieces of our persona: status updates, bios, profile pictures, tweets, and our internet history. These pieces are scattered, like breadcrumbs, across the digital landscape.
This isn't limited to individuals alone. Picture Coca-Cola: an iconic brand whose personality is sprinkled across Google Search, Facebook and Instagram ads, YouTube videos, and LinkedIn posts.
The challenge lies in creating a coherent narrative from these fragments when your signals are diffused across several channels, like light refracted through a prism.
That's why the art of narrative-building holds such sway in the world today. Constantly bombarded with contradicting information from different channels, our minds, like weary travelers seeking shelter, find solace in narratives.
Note the specific use of the phrase “narrative-building,” not “storytelling.”
There's a subtle yet crucial difference between the two.
A story is a self-contained artefact, like a vintage photograph or an old letter, that stands on its own. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can narrate a story through a conference presentation, a photograph, a status update. It's a single moment, an isolated incident, a standalone event.
Picture a single scene from the film The Godfather. It's compelling, certainly, but without the context of the entire narrative, it loses some of its power.
A narrative is an open-ended collection of stories, much like a tapestry being woven in real time, each thread adding to an unknown design. There is no resolution yet, only the anticipation of what might come next. Every decision you make, every story you tell, is a new stitch in that tapestry. It helps shape the narrative and determine its trajectory.
Imagine each digital piece of your identity as a story.
Every tweet you send fluttering into the digital ether, every ad you run, every meme you share; they all reflect back on you, revealing fragments of your personality and your mythos.
Stories are discrete, like the individual notes in a symphony. One essay, one event, one interaction, one advertisement, one customer experience.
A narrative, on the other hand, is akin to the symphony itself — an ever-evolving whole, made up of all these stories about you or your company.
Over time, this narrative solidifies, like a sculpture from molten metal, into what people believe and say about you or your company as a whole, and what they associate with you. The narrative becomes your brand.
And in a world where consumers are inundated with a deluge of products and brands, it's crucial to carefully craft this narrative with every piece of communication you put out. If your brand doesn't conjure up immediate imagery or associations, I can't categorize you. And if I can't quickly bucket you, you're likely to be lost in the recesses of my memory.
Herein lies the paradox of narrative-building and branding:
You have to be simultaneously categorizable and yet distinct enough to stand out in a crowd.
It may seem like an impossible tightrope to walk, but it's not as far-fetched as it sounds. In fact, it's what all movies do.
Think about the superhero genre. Every superhero movie is fundamentally the same: the Hero's Journey retold in different settings, with different characters, and varying worlds. And yet, we find ourselves on the edge of our seats, excitement coursing through us, even when we have a fair idea of how the plot will unfold and how the movie will conclude.
The same applies to brands today.
To quote Alex Danco:
“Sales isn't enough. You need to build worlds. That means telling multiple, related stories, and telling them over and over again. It means making your overarching story clear enough that others can repeat it themselves.”
Coherent narratives, where every individual digital artefact fits neatly into the larger jigsaw puzzle of your brand, not only enhance brand recall but also empower others to discuss your brand in the terms you'd want them to use.
Consider Apple, which has always presented itself as a company at the intersection of technology and creativity. Each product they release, every advertisement they make, reinforces this narrative, making it easy for consumers to describe Apple using these very terms.
In today's hyper-connected world, it's impossible to tell all your stories yourself. You have to equip people with the right words, associations, images, and signals to tell your stories for you.
That's how you build your narrative. That's how you build your lore.