I want you to think about communication: a digital, symbolic, and linear representation of a 3D reality that tries to abstract the richness of the subjective and objective world.
With emails that summarize us, phone conversations that reduce us to voices, and screens that flatten us into profiles, every technological advancement in communication comes at an expense of reducing us into a highly abstracted digital representation of ourselves.
Our identities today are fragmented into pieces of our persona like status updates, bios, profile pictures, tweets, and our internet history. This isn’t just true for individuals, but even for brands who have bits of their personality sprinkled over Google Search, Facebook and Instagram ads, YouTube videos, and LinkedIn posts.
And it is difficult to establish coherence when your signals are diffused across several channels.
That is why narrative-building is so important in the world today. Constantly inundated with contradicting information from different channels, our minds tend to seek refuge in narratives.
Notice that I used the phrase “narrative-building” and not “storytelling.”
There’s a difference between the two.
A story is a self-contained artefact that stands on its own. It has a beginning, middle and end. You can tell a story via a presentation, a photograph, a status update. And that's the end of it.
A narrative, on the other hand, is an open-ended collection of stories that is forever building up to a yet unknown conclusion. There is no resolution yet. It is evident that there will be big threats or opportunities out in the future but it's not yet clear how they will be addressed. Every choice you make and every story you tell will help reinforce or break that narrative and determine how it plays out.
Think about every digital piece of your identity as a story. Every tweet you put out, every ad you run, every meme you share; all reflect back on you and reveal a certain aspect of your personality and your mythos.
Stories are discrete. One essay, one event, one interaction, one advertisement, one customer experience.
A narrative is an ever-evolving whole — made up of all these stories about your company. Over time, this crystallizes into what people believe and say about your company as a whole and what they associate with you. The narrative becomes your brand.
And diligently working on establishing this narrative with every piece of communication you put out is imperative today, when people are flooded with thousands of other products and brands. If your brand doesn't evoke quick imagery or associations in my head, I can't bucket you. And if I can't quickly bucket you, I won't remember you well.
And herein lies the paradox of narrative-building and branding:
You have to be simultaneously categorizable and yet be very different.
If you think this sounds impossible to do, I would like to tell you that this is, in fact, what all movies do.
Every superhero movie is fundamentally the same movie: the Hero's Journey told over and over again in different worlds, different settings, and with different characters. And yet, we are excited all over again, even when we can roughly predict what is going to happen and how the movie is going to conclude.
The same applies to brands today.
"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."
— Alex Danco
Coherent narratives — where every individual digital artefact fits into the larger jigsaw puzzle — not only allows you to have better brand recall, but also allows others to talk about you using the words you would want them to use.
It's impossible to tell all your stories yourself. In today's connected world, you have to equip people with the right words, associations, images, and signals to tell your stories for you.
That's how you build a narrative. That's how you build your lore.