The Challenge of Aligning a Brand Narrative
13th September 2018
Jenny Witte
PR & Communication

Aligning a brand narrative to the business objectives of an organization can be a real struggle. In many cases, it is done intuitively and there is no measurement of success in place.  At Happy Folk, we wanted to investigate the practical implications of this process and understand how we can better help our clients to achieve this alignment.

Often such quests start with research, and we do value opportunities to be involved in meaningful research with clients. When we are able to, we facilitate research cooperation between interning graduates and one of our clients – if we see that something valuable can emerge from such collaborations.

The most recent research conducted here at Happy Folk was such a collaboration. Daniela, our former research intern, spent five months conducting hands-on research on the challenge of aligning the brand narrative of one of our biggest clients. Since her results raised an issue that many brands and corporations are facing, her findings serve as a starting point for writing this friendly reminder about what really matters for defining and implementing an aligned brand narrative.

aligning brand narrative

Ultimately, defining a brand’s narrative has a two-fold purpose: On the one hand, it offers those communicating the brand (internally and externally) guidance and coordination for making conscious decisions. On the other hand, a well-communicated brand narrative shapes the target audience’s beliefs and encourages to act and get engaged. A high degree of consistency hereby increases people’s ability to recognise and recall a brand.

Defining a Brand’s Expressions

Before a brand’s narrative can be aligned, the story that’s being told has to be defined as precisely as possible. Only once the brand narrative is clear, guidelines for a unified messaging system can be introduced. Aligning all communications to those guidelines will ultimately bring the brand to life in a consistent manner.

A helpful first step in the process of defining a brand’s overall narrative is to divide the brand into separate, more detailed brand expressions.

Generally, a brand’s expression consists of four dimensions, namely visual identity, brand purpose, brand personality, and brand communications.

The visual identity is shaped from logo designs, fonts, images and any other visuals that are used to communicate a brand. The brand purpose reflects an organisation’s unique capabilities and potential to make a difference, which should be particularly well reflected in a brand’s narrative. The brand personality can be translated into ‘human traits’ that can be assigned to an organisation.

Brand purpose and brand personality together with the visual identity reflect the intentional brand communications, and thus, constitute the brand narrative.

Mind the Gaps!

To clearly define all brand expressions, it is necessary to take a step back and get a good idea of all communications’ status quo. At the same time, it can hereby be uncovered how well the four expressions are integrated already. Questions to be raised include:

“Which contents are currently communicated on which channels?”

“Are there any messages or contents that clash with the defined brand expressions?”

and thus

“Where are the gaps in consistency?”

Thinking about these questions makes the brand narrative more tangible and provides an opportunity for critically reflecting on all communicated contents. The challenge, however, is to translate the answers into actionable recommendations for aligning communications.

A strategic approach to go about this is to break down each of the brand expressions into themes, meaning that if a brand’s personality is creative and innovative, messages have to get scanned for indicators that reflect these traits.

Apple’s brand purpose, for example, is “to empower creative exploration and self-expression”, but where and how exactly does this come across in their messaging? Which communicated contents reflect this and how?

Becoming aware and defining clear indicators that represent each brand expression, enables communicators to crosscheck whether outputs are on brand or not.

Along the process of scanning messages for the defined indicators, those contents that are highly on brand, so communicating the brand narrative well, should be collected as best-practice examples. The same should happen with rather negative and thus off-brand examples. This way, a set of clearly illustrated communication do’s and don’ts can be compiled.

Using the Right Tools

The goal of it all is to increase the representation of on brand contents and to make it a conscious decision whether off brand elements are communicated or not. Applying the following tools can help in facilitating an integrated communication of the brand narrative across various channels.

Framing

Framing is a form of agenda-setting and describes the process of giving attention to a topic in focus by placing it within a ‘field of meaning’. In other words, framing means that off-brand themes are communicated in a way that allows a connection to on-brand themes.

To illustrate this, here is an example. Imagine the owner of a Marketing Agency wants to share on social media that his employees have formed a company team and participated in the yearly city marathon (off-brand). He can frame the story in a way that links to the agency’s core values and competencies (on-brand) in stating something like “Check out these guys’ amazing achievement running this year’s Arnhem Marathon! At XYZ agency, our ambition is tremendous, and we constantly seek new challenges.”

In framing content this way, it can be ensured that even seemingly unrelated contents are aligned to the brand narrative.

Storytelling

Storytelling is a great way to engage an audience and communicate and align the brand narrative in a sustainable manner. Stories make people experience and thus process information rather than just consume them.

To stick to the Marketing Agency example, one way of applying storytelling could be for a sales manager to pitch the agency’s services to a potential client by relating the client’s problem to something they have experienced themselves. The three phases of describing the problem, the journey and the solution in a straightforward yet relatable manner can be extremely helpful in shaping a personal connection.

Brand-based editorial planning

Having an editorial calendar in place can help a ton in keeping track of important dates and deadlines. Such a calendar forces one to think ahead and consider all relevant upcoming (industry) events that can potentially be connected to a brand. It can be as simple as Mother’s Day approaching and a brand posting a related social media post stating that the day was a great opportunity for expressing why “CARE” is one of the brand’s core values. It could be taken even further by asking all followers to jump on the train and share what truly caring means to them or asking them to share their most caring experience or the like.

An editorial calendar should furthermore be used to ensure that all brand expressions are given equal focus and coverage and that all channels are fed regularly.

To summarise, the overall takeaway from this post needs to be that communicators should never just let their brand tell ‘whatever’. Instead, every press release, every post on Instagram should be used to tell a story that is in line with what the brand represents. Only then will the audience have a chance to understand what it is that’s trying to be said.

Should you need help with defining and strategically communicating your brand’s narrative, drop me a line at jenny@happy-folk.com and I’ll be happy to think along with you.