Why narrative and your brand are inseparable

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Having worked in the social sector for more than two decades, there is one thing that continues to flabbergast me. When did being right ever empower others? When did being righteous ever engage others? When did thinking we have the answers ever effect social change? The answer is never. The answer is never because change pivots on engagement and engagement rotates on inclusiveness and collaboration. Our stories resonate when placed within the framework of making our work personally relevant to the lives of those we wish to engage.

One of the most thoughtful authors and speakers on narrative and social change is Annette Simmons. In her seminal work The Story Factor, she pinpoints how narrative can tap into wisdom rather than the absolutism of being right.

“Just as knowledge can become wisdom, so do facts become a story. A subtle yet powerful shift occurs when you seek to influence people to make wise decisions rather than ‘right’ decisions. When you decide to awaken sleeping wisdom rather than to convince others you are right, you will produce a much more powerful experience for both of you.”

So what does this have to do with creating engaging brands for nonprofit organizations? Well the short answer is...a lot. When we think about developing our brand, we can be led through many worthwhile and strategically important processes. Whether it is the brand pyramid, brand funnel, or 4-D branding process, to name just a few, in the end we seek to be clear about our brand positioning. In doing so, we excavate the essence of our brand, our brand promise, differentiation and personality. We paint a clear picture of ourselves in the world and why others should care.

But here's the hitch: you are still just one of countless voices vying for the emotional brand space in the minds of a public that is bombarded daily with brand promises. As Simmons notes in her new book, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins:

“In this ocean of choice, a meaningful story can feel like a life preserver that tethers us to something safe, important, or at the very least more solid than disembodied voices begging for our attention.”

Creating an engaging narrative means that you are connecting to your audience in a meaningful way that not only gets their attention in the moment, but is so powerful that it resonates long after you leave the room. Effective stories aren’t about manipulation; they are about influence because they help us interpret facts. Stories that influence create a new context into which the listener can slot your facts. This is when a shift can begin to take root over time. Organizations that ignore the power of narrative are marginalizing one of the most powerful tools to bring their brand to life and to provide the ground so it can take root.

Stop telling people how much you know and let them know how much you care. Stories can do this and they are fundamental to creating engaging brands for nonprofits. If your brand is to resonate with me I need to be able to see the world you want me to see. For nonprofits, brands that can not influence are one-dimensional and have a very limited shelf life.

Pattie LaCroix has provided strategic leadership in crafting integrated communications and fundraising strategies to nonprofits for more than a decade. As CEO of Catapult Media she is passionate about the power of storytelling in engaging your audience and building support for your work. You can reach Pattie at www.catapultmedia.ca.

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