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Why every B2B company needs a strategic narrative

The starting point for many of cylindr BBN’s engagements with its B2B clients is often the construction of a ‘strategic narrative’. And over the past year or two, it seems that these two words have become a hot topic – almost as much of a must-have as the better known concept of a ‘value proposition’. But what exactly is a strategic narrative? And why is it now perhaps the most important element of a B2B branding strategy?

What is a strategic narrative?

In my experience, few B2B companies have a strategic narrative – but they all need one! Essentially, it is the one place where all of your communication ideas come together. Released only internally, this is the space to articulate your messages, arranging them in order of importance and delivery, and making them work together.

You can think of a strategic narrative as a your company’s essential story. Its elements are typically (and in basic order of delivery) things like:

  • The main problem your company is able to or is attempting to solve – or the key opportunity it is helping its customers to address (meaningful purpose)
  • Why solving this problem or seizing this opportunity is so important
  • What the company does or is trying to do to toward the problem/opportunity
  • What makes the company particularly good at doing so – and unique in the marketplace
  • The central brand value proposition
  • Key messages that should be consistently delivered following communication of the brand value proposition
  • The creative Big Idea (expressed in words, not visuals or ad concepts) if you have an enduring one
  • Reasons to believe the company’s claims
  • Essential elements of the customer business case
  • Where things are going next – how the company is creating/influencing the future

Why is it needed?

Usually created as a basic Microsoft Word document, a strategic narrative clearly articulates the brand story and points of difference. It gets everyone on the same page (or pages, actually). It energizes the messaging. And it brings your brand personality to life.

You should refer back to your strategic narrative every time you create, for example, a new sales presentation, conference speech, marketing campaign or similar. Doing so will maximize the power in your brand and ensure consistency of messaging (a must for making a strong brand impression over time).

Use your strategic narrative to support other contexts, too, such as onboarding of new employees or new communication partners – acting as a key briefing element so they can understand your business and its function in the industry.

Success factors

How do you know when you have created a strong strategic narrative? Here’s a quick list to keep in mind:

  • It tells the company’s story with great clarity and storytelling ‘magic’
  • It makes the company’s people feel proud and motivated
  • Its key elements are easy to remember
  • It addresses stakeholder hot buttons
  • It’s believable
  • It’s unique to the company
  • It’s complete

What it takes

Constructing a powerful strategic narrative isn’t something that can be done by in-house resources. Instead, it requires a broad range of skills – and many of those skills need to be concentrated in the person writing the narrative itself.

A B2B-focused agency such as cylindr BBN, with years of experience in many different industrial markets, and our finger on the pulse of everything from supply chain issues to technologies to sustainability, is able to bring the necessary skills to the table in a workshop format.

But beware – not all agency facilitators will have the necessary skillset, which can be defined as:

  • The power of words (B2B storytelling is nothing without a good writer)
  • Technical understanding – not just understanding what you tell them, but a broader understanding of technology and the way it typically evolves
  • Lengthy B2B experience that enables them to bring examples and perspectives from similar and completely different industries into the picture
  • A proven track record of creating written strategic narratives

How it’s done

If the client believes it has sufficient in-house knowledge of the market to provide 90% of the storytelling building blocks, a good agency facilitator can likely add a little outside perspective and inspiration during a half-day workshop with management representatives – arriving at the basis for a written strategic narrative.

That’s a scenario that is likely to work well for a smaller company or where time is short, budget is tight, etc. but for larger companies it’s best if the narrative can be created via a process that ensures plenty of input is gathered both from outside and inside the company first. More information and more time tends to generate more perspectives and story angles – and may uncover a far more powerful narrative than might exist in the minds of management today.

Having created many such narratives, what would I recommend? Start with an agency-facilitated management workshop that introduces the concept of strategic narratives, discusses its elements and determines the best strategy and step-by-step process for arriving at your company’s own strategic narrative. Then get down to the details after the workshop.

So does your company have a strong strategic narrative? Or a strategic narrative at all? If not, it’s probably time to chat with your agency about getting the process underway.

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Jonathan Winch

I’m Jonathan Winch, partner at cylindr BBN and a B2B marketing enthusiast. I've participated as a strategic and creative resource in the marketing and communication sphere for over 25 years, making contributions to the strategies and communications of companies of all sizes, the best known of which include Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Danisco, GN ReSound, Hempel, Nokia Siemens Networks, LEGO, Coloplast, and Johnson & Johnson. My mission? To help B2B companies make the most of the value they create for the world. My hobby: Nutritional science, particularly sports nutrition.