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Trend 26 March Mar 2021 1056 26 March 2021

Strategic narrative: companies seeking meaning

While competition used to be about quality and price, storytelling has emerged as the new battlefield: in a world in which infinite choices are available within a few clicks, meaning making is a new competitive frontier

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"In a world in which infinite choices are available within a few clicks, meaning making is a new competitive frontier". Strategic Narrative CEO Andrew Chakhoyan believes that it is therefore inevitable that meaning-making will confront the question of narrative.

Creating common sense

A narrative, Chakhoyan explains, is always about complex layers of meanings and emotions, rather than single goals to be shared or achieved. A company can achieve three objectives by structuring its strategic narrative:

  1. finding meaning beyond shareholder value creation
  2. lending authenticity to the message through action, since actions communicate instantly and 'speak' more than words
  3. ensuring value continuity whenever certain objectives require revision, something not altogether uncommon in times of crisis

Strategic narrative is not merely communication. It is not about sending a message to an end consumer. Rather, it is a process that involves both sender and receiver and, in this involvement, creates a framework of meaning.

Andrew Chakhoyan, CEO of Strategic Narrative

In a world in which infinite choices are available within a few clicks, meaning making is a new competitive frontier

Andrew Chakhoyan, CEO of Strategic Narrative

It is a complex factor that, as Mark Bonchek explains in the tone-setting piece published fifteen years ago in the Harvard Business Review, "defines the company's vision, communicates the strategy, and embodies the culture". The narrative becomes 'strategic' only after taking these three steps, concludes Bonchek, now a lecturer at Singularity University, and only then can begin dissemination.

Strategic narrative, Chakhoyan explains, is a "way for a business executive to explain why their company exists, what it stands for, and why anyone should care. This is how you get beyond the corporate speak and the language of dollars and cents, and into the vernacular of authenticity and human emotions".

While companies have traditionally competed solely on quality and price, today the arena of meaning has become the new testing ground. "In a world in which infinite choices are available within a few clicks, meaning making is a new competitive frontier".

The emotional connection

It is no longer a question of what companies do or even how they do it. The pressing questions now concern why they do it. Quality and meaning of actions become truly strategic assets, forming part of the company's narrative capital.

A strategic narrative endures as long as its coherence is intact, i.e. as long as every individual action can be interpreted within an overall view of things. Tesla is a case in point, as its strategic narrative features actions that are perfectly aligned with its core values.

Elon Musk, Tesla co-founder

Storytelling is a way to connect emotionally

Elon Musk, Tesla co-founder

Whether it's launching a prototype or a new electric car model, the coherence of the message, explains Andrew Chakhoyan, doesn't come from hindsight, it comes from within. The story they tell is much bigger than the their product, forging an emotional connection that earned Tesla the highest rating in last year's Consumer Report, with 99% satisfaction among Tesla Model S owners.

The Tesla case: "storytelling is connecting"

One reason for this is Tesla's strategic narrative of engaging their users by linking their product to a higher purpose: make them feel part of the likely solution to the planet's energy supply problem.

Tesla's strategic narrative has thus triggered what is now known in the industry as an emotional economy. Tesla's customers are not just customers: they are activists, fans, enthusiasts who create fandoms, i.e. communities, gatherings and meet-ups to connect with each other and thereby actively propagate the message, thus becoming an integrated part of the strategic narrative.

Meaning-making

The reason why Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, at a particularly critical time for corporate communications due to the failure to launch certain models, was able to call on communities of drivers and enthusiasts (popularly known as Tesla Communities) to expose the fake news assaulting the company's credibility is now seen as a consequence of the brand's overall strategic narrative and a sign of narrative leadership.

This is where a common saying in the world of strategic storytelling was coined: "Tesla fans are crazy advocates". Tesla fans are crazy, or rather they attach a deep emotional meaning to their car, treating it as a means to a greater end. They are an active part of a narrative of change.

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