The best intentions about digital experience — and the desire to create stronger connections with customers — are destined to fall flat unless companies develop effective narratives for their marketing campaigns.

That's the message from Deb Lavoy, CEO and founder of Narrative Builders, who maintains companies need to step off the marketing treadmill and start with a good narrative.

While marketing and communications professionals in organizations all over the world cite good storytelling as a key element of marketing success, many organizations are finding it difficult to “build a good story.” 

But without a strong narrative, your brand story lacks coherence. You'll struggle — to align your teams around a common objective, attract and inspire investors, and craft a unified business strategy.

Ultimately, the whole effort will deteriorate into chaos — and the message you're trying to communicate to customers is likely to get lost.

A former product and marketing strategist for multiple technology companies including AOL, Adobe, OpenText and Jostle, Lavoy champions the idea of well-developed narrative strategies. She believes narratives are tangible things that can be evaluated, measured and intentionally strengthened, and that strong narratives explain why a product or service is important, trustworthy and relevant. 

Unfortunately, she said, too few organizations spend enough time thinking about their narratives. As a result, they can’t get their marketing campaign messaging organized. And every marketing message they create fades out quickly because it is not supported by a strong narrative.

Lavoy will explore the power of narratives and ways companies can develop them when she returns to CMSWire's DX Summit for the second consecutive year this Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

CMSWire talked with Lavoy recently to gain insight on strong narratives and find out how they help a company's messaging, build a coherent voice and drive measurable return on investment.

Nicastro: When should organizations be thinking about narratives?

Lavoy: Constantly. But especially at three points. First is when they want a new website, and realize they don’t know what they’re trying to say. The second is when a mid-sized company that’s been chugging along wants to scale. The third is when organizations are embarking on something new.

Nicastro: You’ve said that content strategy depends on narrative. Why?

Lavoy: A content or digital marketing program that isn’t connected to a core narrative is hard. Have you seen marketing programs where they reinvent everything every month or two? Everything gets sent out as a one-off? A strong content and digital marketing program is cohesive and adds up to be larger than the sum of its parts. Everything is focused on marrying the organization’s agenda and the customer’s agenda. Everything you add amplifies everything else, rather than just diluting the message. 

Nicastro: You’ve also said that narratives matter internally as much as externally. What do you mean by that?

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Lavoy: A business and a product strategy that’s not connected to a strong core narrative will constantly be struggling. It is really hard to make good decisions if you don’t know what your criteria are. It’s also hard to collaborate across companies when people don’t have a shared understanding of what it’s about. Narratives build teams as well as markets.

Nicastro: This sounds a lot like mission statement and vision territory. What's the distinction with those and a company narrative?

Lavoy: A narrative is a more complete set of ideas than your typical mission or vision statement. There’s a structure to a complete narrative. There are four core elements: 

  1. Your “Why," which is typically what vision statements cover
  2. “Approach,” which explains your point of view, or methodology
  3. "Offer and Ask." You’d be amazed at how many companies don’t ever say exactly what they sell
  4. Proof

We’ve found that explaining narratives to people is kind of hard, but measuring them is pretty easy. People really get that measurement. It gives organizations a focused way to understand their narrative strengths and weaknesses and do something about it. (You can check my website for more info on measuring narratives).

Nicastro: Tell us about a recent case study of success with narrative building.

Lavoy: We launched this agency in September, and one of our first customers was a law firm with about a dozen or so lawyers. They had a website that was very deep and technical. Their audience was not. We helped them get more focused and clear about what they were saying and to whom. We helped them see where there were narrative gaps. We also dramatically improved their presentation. The bounce rate on their home page went from 89 percent to 29 percent. That’s real. 

Another client, a mid-sized technology company, was struggling to differentiate itself in the marketplace, even though they had some pretty clear differences. Their narrative is still a work in progress, but their content team is already struggling much, much less with everything from whitepapers to new web content and e-books. Not only are those assets easier to create, they’re less bland, less sales-y and getting more follow-ups from their readers. 

Nicastro: Tell us something about Deb Lavoy we don't know.

Lavoy: I studied neurobiology and computer science in school. I’m still homesick for California after living near Washington, D.C. for nine years. My daughter said to tell you she’s awesome. 

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