“As soon as the strategy leaves the boardroom it needs to flow through the front end of the business and intersect with customers in a way that’s compelling.”
— Jamie Cleghorn, Senior Partner, Bain & Company
Strategy at most organizations follows a hierarchical pattern. The board and executive team define the vision, which they then hand down to the company’s teams to execute. Then product, marketing, and sales run the vision through their own distinct systems and processes until the buyer finally receives the message.
When those systems are aligned, the buyer hears the company’s vision and values crystal clear. When they’re siloed and disconnected, the message can feel lackluster at best, or be a turnoff at worst.
It’s difficult to create a coherent narrative that allows strategy and vision to resonate through every level of the organization. Many large companies have portfolios that are so complex that building a coherent platform is difficult. Or the vision and strategy have been developed at such an aspirational level that they don’t connect to buyers.
We recently met with the head of brand at an enterprise company that just launched a new campaign to share their narrative with the world. At the same time, they were repositioning the company and entering a new category. The narrative was focused on their high-level purpose as a company, but it didn’t connect in any way to what the business was selling. Their sales team was reaching out to prospects and the only thing they were equipped with was what their purpose was as a company. A purpose that didn’t sell anything.
To succeed at aligning everyone from the buyer to the boardroom, organizations first need a strong strategic narrative that is owned by the CEO, built around the customer, and which defines a shared future with customers, employees, suppliers, and partners. Second, the strategic narrative needs to be made actionable for every single business unit in the organization, while giving leadership, employees, customers, and partners the tools to share that vision in a way that resonates with their own audiences.
A strategic narrative is a framework that defines the highly-differentiated future that only your company can create, and which you can only create with your customers. Your strategic narrative should tap into the rational and emotional triggers of every one of your audiences, and it should become the guiding force for transforming your business’s processes, culture, operations, HR, content, brand, creative, sales, and every other part of the company.
To explore how companies can align every level of their organization around their strategic narrative, we recently invited Jamie Cleghorn and Rishi Dave from the global management consulting firm Bain & Company to The Storied Future Podcast. They gave their take on creating a powerful strategic narrative that resonates all the way from the boardroom to the buyer.
This post distills some of the best insights Jamie and Rishi shared; listen to the interview to hear valuable real-life examples of companies they’ve worked with, as well as to learn how their Sales Play System(SM) helps companies align their teams around their strategic narrative.
1. Start With The Customer
“Many times when companies say, ‘Oh, we have a messaging problem, or a narrative problem, etc.’, when we actually dig in, it’s a strategic issue. You haven’t really defined who you target and why you’re different.”
— Rishi Dave, Management Consultant, Bain & Company
Your company’s strategic narrative shouldn’t start with your product, services, or history. It starts with your customer. Jamie recommended beginning customer research with a simple question that unlocks a treasure trove of answers: “Why?”
Why did a customer buy your product? Why are they looking for a solution in the first place? Why did they pick one thing over another? Why, why, why?
Keep digging until you get the atomic stories at the core of your customer’s needs, wants, values, and drivers. “It’s actually not that hard,” Jamie said. “It’s just not convenient.”
Atomic Stories are what The Storied Future calls those moments of discovery and insight, frustration and delight, curiosity and transformation, that will fuel an organization’s journey to the future. To find them, we go to the source—your customers, employees, subject matter experts, and industry influencers. We take a blended approach that combines elements of human-centered design, anthropology, sleuthing, and journalism to uncover stories, energy, and matter that are critical to building a customer-centric narrative.
2. Get The Team Aligned
Aligning the team around a strategic narrative isn’t just mechanical; it’s emotional. People need to feel heard, understood, and included before they can become excited.
Jamie and Rishi said they tell companies to treat the creation of a strategic narrative as a change management initiative, with all the thoughtfulness that entails. As Rishi pointed out, “The only way to really get a game-changing narrative is to have a felt need across the company.”
As you build alignment, keep coming back to Step 1 and make sure the focus never leaves the customer. From marketing director to sales development rep to engineering to the customer service department, every member of the team needs to have a clear vision of how they’re serving the customer at their respective stage of the customer journey.
3. Create A Modular Messaging Toolkit
Once you’ve created a strategic narrative that laser-focuses your team on the customer’s needs — at all levels of the organization — it’s time to make it actionable.
Bain has developed a framework to help companies achieve this more easily, with a toolkit of modular messaging pieces powered by strategic narrative. Jamie and Rishi call this the “source code” of a company’s value messaging, which can be configured in different ways to speak to various needs while still presenting a unified message.
“The way to drive great messaging, what I’ve seen as effective from a practical standpoint, is to make it intuitive,” said Rishi. “Based on what we know the customer is saying, what the sales team is experiencing, here’s a message that we can use for a program. Get it out there, test it, see if it resonates or not. If it doesn’t, adjust it. And so keep testing, seeing what works, seeing what resonates, and then scaling what works.”
This helps build messaging that creates value for customers and resonates at every level of the organization, while being driven by your corporate strategy.
Aligning Around Strategic Narrative
Are you struggling to get a unified message out to your customers? Maybe…
- Your portfolio is so extensive that any narrative big enough to cover everything ends up too generic to be impactful at a product level.
- You’re still getting a handle on your product’s real value proposition. (Not the one you say it has, but the one your buyers think it has.)
- You’re in the midst of a pivot — whether reacting to challenges or taking advantage of opportunities — and you’re still getting caught up with the new reality.
Listen to the podcast episode with Jamie and Rishi to learn more about creating a narrative that flows seamlessly from the buyer to the boardroom.