Popularised by a 2018 study by Kantar, the Narrative Gap refers to the disparity between the story businesses tell and the story which is heard by their customers (if any story is heard at all).
The subject resonates with some of our own clients’ experiences with content strategy and audience engagement, so we explored it with a presentation at Social Media Week in Bristol this summer.
Here are our three steps to help brands close the Narrative Gap and create better connections with their audiences:
Know What You Stand For
To forge a strong connection with your target audience, it’s crucial to know what your brand stands for. This doesn’t mean you have to align to a particular social cause or issue – it could be innovation, quality, reliability, or any other characteristic that sets your brand apart from the competition. The key is to ask why you do what you do, and what makes you different.
Few of us are in a position to build from scratch or completely reposition a brand, but working with what you have and building a clear consensus among internal stakeholders can go a long way to ensuring a brand communicates itself in a way that is consistent and achieves impact.
One exercise to help with consensus-building is a Brand Deck. Styled like a deck of playing cards and intended for use in a workshop environment, each card shows a brand characteristic. The objective of the game is to get to an agreed set of cards that all stakeholders believe fit with the brand. This exercise helps you work out what you are, but also what you are not. Are you idealistic or pragmatic? Experimental or traditional? Once agreement has been reached, your chosen characteristics can form the basis of your brand proposition.
Another exercise for further defining your brand is to use a value proposition pyramid.
Start at the bottom level, by summarising the challenge that your product or service helps customers solve. This ladders up to the distinct features of your offering. Next, ask what the benefits of those features are for your customers, and finally, try to encapsulate the value of all of this to your customers in a concise value proposition.
This is about getting to a single, clear articulation of the value you offer as a brand – something to underpin your brand communications and increase customer understanding. Without knowing how and why what your brand offers helps, customers will question your purpose.
Fully Know Your Audience
There is little value in having a well-articulated proposition if you don’t really know who you’re talking to. How do you get to the heart of your audience’s wants and needs? Research. We always recommend starting with secondary research – seeing what insight already exists in your sector.
Premium services like Mintel, Kantar, IPA Touchpoints, and Nielsen produce in-depth reports containing consumer and market insights in a wide range of sectors, and these can be well worth the investment.
There are also plenty of free or low-fee resources – Google Trends and Analytics are great places to start mining for insights on what your digitally active customers are doing and looking for. Smart Insights and Econsultancy, as well as your industry press, are also excellent places to explore.
Customer Facing Teams
Customer service teams hold the keys to some of the most valuable insight to your customers. They deal directly with your customers, day in, day out, and have a deep understanding of their pain points, motivations, and needs.
If knowing what separates you from the competition is key to overcoming The Narrative Gap, then it’s crucial to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing. Set up Google Alerts to notify you of campaigns or press releases featuring your competitors. Keep an eye on their social campaigns and the comments being left by their customers. Review their websites and identify their value proposition to understand how yours can differ.
Go in Search of New Data
Also known as primary research, gathering your own data can help you to really get to the heart of your customers.
These research projects don’t need to be expensive or lengthy. Customer and staff surveys and questionnaires can be conducted very cost effectively using tools like Google surveys, Toluna, or Survey Monkey. Better still, going out onto the street and talking to the public is a great approach to understanding general perceptions of your business or sector.
Communicate Clearly and Consistently
Once you have a clear brand proposition and strong understanding of your target audience, it’s everyone’s job to tell your brand story to the right people in a way that will resonate.
So how can you do this?
All levels of the business need to commit to your brand purpose – not just the marketing department!
L’Oreal and Starbucks lead the way in getting their employees on board and engaged with the brand story to unlock the power of their advocacy. The value of this shouldn’t be underestimated – research by Sprout Social found 45 per cent of people are more likely to research a product or service when employees post about it, compared with just 32 per cent for celebrity endorsements. Influencers, eat your heart out.
The key to successful employee advocacy is to make it easy for people. Share your newly articulated brand story with everyone in your business. Provide guidelines for sharing on social, including hashtags, channels, and dos and don’ts. Create pre-written content that employees can easily share via their own channels.
You need to give people a reason to care. Educate internal teams on the benefits of sharing, whether that means more sales for the business or helping employees build on their own professional profile.
Challenge the Authenticity of Your Message
In an era of fake news, murky rules around influencer endorsements, and increasingly suspicious consumer attitudes to brands and advertising, it’s more important than ever that brands show substance behind their promises.
Always keep in mind the question – do we do what we say we do?
Closing the Narrative Gap
If you can create and articulate a sharp brand proposition, know your audience inside out, and commit to consistently communicating your brand message, you will be well on your way to closing the narrative gap.
Each time you plan a campaign or communication, ask yourself the following questions:
Is it genuinely us?
Why should anyone care?
Can we deliver on the promise?