How to Help Your Clients Expand Their Master Narrative — or Create One
During the Q&A I asked her what the main similarity is between traditional and digital marketing. Her answer: “We still ask ourselves, ‘What is the master narrative our clients need to communicate?’ We look for the essence of each client’s core story, so we can be smarter and more strategic when creating their content.”
I understood the master narrative concept in fiction writing, but this was not a concept any of my freelance clients had addressed during my career. However, now I realize I need to understand this concept to move forward in the new content marketing world.
What is a Master Narrative?
When I started researching the concept of master narrative in marketing, I found that last September Marketing magazine stated “Apple Has Lost its Narrative.”
The article went on to say: “Once ‘brand of the people,’ it’s now an entrenched power.” This, more than anything, could cause Apple to slip from the position it’s held for 30 years — the top of the marketing pedestal.
Arguably one of the best companies to leverage the art of storytelling, Apple has enjoyed a long history as a master of brand narrative — honing a powerful one — while other companies have struggled to identify theirs.
So, what exactly is a master narrative? Why is it important? And how you can help companies communicate theirs?
Simply stated, the master narrative is the primary story a company communicates, and around which all of its other stories are anchored.
Journalists and novelist have used master narratives for generations to communicate cohesive messages and simplify complex stories. But over the past few decades, companies have seen the value of this concept and embraced it in their marketing strategies.
Jay Rosen, professor of Journalism at New York University and author of the blog PressThink, defines master narratives this way:
“By master narrative I mean story that produces all the other stories; or, to put it another way, the Big Story that lends coherence and shape to all the little stories journalists tell. In the bible, the master narrative — the story that produces all the other stories — is the theme of creation and redemption, or the fall from grace and search for salvation. A master narrative is not a particular story journalists write; it is the story they are always writing when they tell the stories they typically tell.”
In an online essay, Silicon Valley consultant, John Hagel provided a definition that differentiates story from narratives:
“Stories and narratives are often used interchangeably, as synonyms. But here I will draw a crucial distinction between the two. Narratives, at least in the way I will be using them, are stories that do not end – they persist indefinitely. They invite, even demand, action by participants and they reach out to embrace as many participants as possible. They are continuously unfolding, being shaped and filled in by the participants. In this way, they amplify the dynamic component of stories, both in terms of time and scope of participation. Stories are about plots and action, while narratives are about people and potential.”
It’s especially critical in the new era of content marketing, for writers to understand how to identify, communication, and amplify their clients’ master narratives. Here’s how.
Examples of Companies With Well-Known Master Narratives
Chris Berger of Berger Brands, a brand marketing and PR firm, says this about master narratives: “The secret lies in finding your spark and then fanning it into a fire across everything you do.”
Here are examples of a few companies that are doing this well.
- Tom’s Shoes gives away a pair of shoes to the needy for every pair sold.
- Whole Foods is the empire of healthy food for people who like to eat clean.
- Staples is the one-stop shop for office supply needs.
- Dunkin’ Donuts keeps people running with America’s favorite all-day coffee and baked goods.
Writing Within the Framework of Companies’ Master Narratives
Braithwaite Communications created a proprietary process called Brandalytics™ to help companies create “a game-changing story that lifts and aligns your brand.”
It takes into consideration all of these elements — which provide a good place for freelance writers to begin understanding their clients’ master narratives:
- What does the company stand for? It’s reason for being and the emotional benefit it offers customers.
- What is the company’s mission? A simple statement of its ultimate goal that guides peoples’ daily actions.
- What are the company’s values? The best behaviors of its best employees on their best days.
- What is the company’s tagline? Its unique brand handle that highlights a key brand attribute or benefit.
- What customer experience does the company offer? Actions that touch audiences from inquiry through sale and beyond.
How to Help Companies Communicate Their Master Narratives
When developing marketing messaging for its clients, the marketing firm, Edelman, keeps four key points in mind throughout the project “to ensure the final narrative really captures the essence of the company and makes the most impact possible once it is communicated to stakeholders.”
1. Stay audience focused.
In today’s increasingly competitive world, the companies that connect with their stakeholders on a human level will break through the clutter, says Edelman. As such, the master narrative must address a human need, something that resounds with the audience and makes them see the company’s value.
2. Tell a story versus a corporate message.
Stories bring concepts to life and make them more memorable. They’ll come to life if they contain these five elements of the deeper story:
- Back Story. How does its past shape what it is today? Or what is the historical need it’s answering?
- Complications. What obstacles and challenges stand in the way of its success?
- Stakes. What’s at risk if it fails? In other words, why does it matter?
- Promise. What is the company doing that is important?
- Payoff. What benefits to the customers gain?
3. Find a niche to own and build on.
Many successful master narratives included a new concept that differentiates the company from its competitors.
4. Keep it short and sweet.
The master narrative should fit into an elevator pitch — a 30-second description that boils down the entire narrative to its essence. It is these 200 or so words that take the most time to create, but will deliver a bigger impact than 2,000 words.
Master the concept of creating and writing around a company’s master narrative and you’ll become an even more valuable content marketing writer than you are already.
(Note: The Content Marketing Writer Skill Builder workshop lesson on Master Narratives includes additional materials, including additional examples and worksheets.)
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