If you are building out a digital experience, chances are you have two fat challenges. One is technology — a lot of technology that doesn’t always work together the way you think it should and hoped it would. The other is content. You need good quality content that is relevant. And you want a lot of that as well. 

This leaves you with lots and lots of moving pieces. Without some unifying principles, chaos often takes over, and the whole thing becomes a constant struggle to keep your head above water.

The beauty of narrative strategy is that it provides those unifying principles. It takes a fair bit of work, but by the time you are done, your entire team will be invested — and yes, unified — by them. Even better, you’ll be able to explain them to anyone who asks. Even the CEO and CFO.

Every interaction you have with a viewer should have two goals:

  1. To reveal a bit more of your story and value.
  2. To ensure another interaction. (In other words, to get them to come back).

Simple, right? 

Here’s what you need to meet those goals.

  1. A coherent digital flow and  
  2. A coherent narrative.

(Editor's Note: Deb Lavoy will be presenting a workshop on building better narratives on Nov. 2 at CMSWire's DX Summit 2015 in Chicago)

Digital Flow

A digital flow is how you connect your content, digital properties and functionality. The connections are mostly links presented in a variety of ways. Embedded urls, menu items, buttons, etc.

If I see a tweet and click on it, it should bring me to your blog, which should show me lots more great stuff, and very warmly invite me to subscribe. A newsletter in my inbox may encourage me to watch a demo, or view a website. It may encourage me to join a community. The point is that every point of entry to your world reveals that there is a lot more to see and invites you in.

A really good (read: coherent) digital flow will guide viewers to only one or two places — a home base — where your body of work is found. Most likely this will be your website and blog. You don’t want to shunt readers around from property to property. It encourages them to wander off and build a bigger relationship with, say, Slideshare, than with you. You want them to glide from an outreach — a social post, an email or other tidbit — to your home base. Once I’m intrigued by your stuff, I can eat my fill all in one place. 

You may guide me around the property. You may invite me to try something, or download something, or attend something. If I like your stuff, if I find it resonant and valuable, I’ll get excited about it and want to stay in touch. If I am already a customer, maybe you offer me services or other capabilities.

It may be that I eventually decide to buy what you’re selling. It may be that at some point later in my career I will need what you are selling. It may be that I talk to people who need what you sell. In any case, the longer I remain in your orbit, the more likely I am to either buy something, help build awareness in the market about you, or influence someone else’s decision to buy you. That’s the good stuff. 

You are building your ecosystem — the people in your orbit — person by person, interaction by interaction. You’re creating value from them by building a body of work that aggregates item by item, post by post, action by action, day by day into something bigger and more important and more valuable to people who care about what you care about. (Note that there are zero people who care about your business. People care about themselves. If you want to have things you care about in common, the best place to start is by caring about them.)

Narrative and digital flow

Coherent Narrative

Having the flow is critical. Equally critical is what drives people to go with your flow. That’s the narrative. You need a clear idea of what you want to say and to whom. This is not a tag line or a mission statement. It is a multi-layered, multi-faceted, but crystal clear and well organized flow of ideas. A great narrative will resonate both emotionally and intellectually with people and they will want to align with it.

Every narrative has its own facets and subtleties, but every great organizational or product narrative has these four components in common: 

  1. Aspiration — What is the ideal you are working toward? An easier day? A better world? Greater insight and learning? Some upleveling of human endeavor? 
  2. Approach — What is your philosophy? What is your insight into how to achieve that aspiration? This is generally your most compelling competative differentiation. You need to be able to deeply and clearly articulate this.
  3. Offer — This is what you are currently offering. It may be a product, a service, an event, an activity or a cause. This is what you want people to buy or buy into. 
  4. Proof — This is how you show people that your offer actually delivers on its promise. It might be data. It may be testimonials, analyst reports or awards. Whatever it is, it gives the rational justification for the emotional connection that the prior elements create.

These two basic ideas — narrative and digital flow — will help you get your thoughts and activities around your digital experience clear and organized. Simplicity and clarity of strategy and intention will help you create and sustain an effective and coherent digital strategy.

Simple to say, challenging to accomplish and maintain. The beauty of this strategy is that it not only will build your digital experience, and not only will it build your audience and your relationships, it will also build and solidify your team. When people have a shared understanding of what they’re working on, they naturally coorperate more easily, support each other more whole-heartedly, and know in their guts that they’re doing better work. 

The best is yet to come.

If you'd like to learn more about building narrative strength, Deb Lavoy will be leading a workshop on the topic on Nov. 2 at our DX Summit, which will be held at the W Hotel City Center in downtown Chicago. Find out more here.

Title image by Samuel Zeller