Brand messaging vs narrative


Hey there! Welcome to lab notes (formerly brand voice notes). If we haven't met before — my name is Felicity Wild, I'm the founder of the brand language lab and today I want to talk about brand messaging versus narrative.

  • What are the differences between the two?
  • What different purposes do they serve?
  • And why you need them both as part of a successful brand language strategy.

We'll start with messaging and if you're new here I'd recommend pausing now and going back to listen to the previous two episodes: What is messaging? And an introduction to messaging frameworks

These will add a bit of context and a bit of background information to help you understand what we're talking about today. But if you've been here for a while you're a pro and you know all of that already. 

Messaging answers questions. As we've talked about before, it's the information that moves your audience along on their journey with you. If it's the brand awareness stage, it will answer questions like: who are you? What do you do? How can you help these people? Are your services relevant to them? Are they better than the service they're currently using? 

If you don’t have a formal messaging strategy people will find the answers to their questions in what you've written anyway. But without a formal strategy the answers and the conclusions they reach are less likely to be desirable ones.

Instead of concluding that: “yes this service is relevant to me” or “no this service isn't relevant to me”. The conclusion might be: “oh, I'm not really sure if this is relevant to me and actually now I've lost interest and I don't care”. 

Obviously you don't really want that to happen. So having a formal messaging strategy and using it in your copy makes it more likely that people are going to reach the desired outcome and the desired conclusion that you're wanting them to reach when they read your copy.

The bullet points below, these apply if you have a formal strategy. If you don't have a formal strategy you won't have raw messaging as a collection of statements or standalone facts in your framework because you're just doing it kind of scattergun.

Raw messaging usually lives in a table or an Excel spreadsheet or as a series of bullet points; it's not the final copy that your audience sees. It acts as a building blocks for copy. It’s what you give to a copywriter and say okay here's the messaging build an argument around this or write a LinkedIn post around this messaging point. Something like that. 

And then they apply persuasion techniques, conversion techniques, narrative storytelling — which we're going to talk about in the next slide — to produce a final piece of copy that's ready for the reader. 

The reader never sees the raw messaging, there's always copywriting to be done, there's always work to be done, before it's ready to go live. Before it's ready for the reader.

Narrative on the other hand adds context, it adds colour and richness to these standalone messaging statements. It links them together and it tells the full story. It fleshes them.

Narrative obviously uses storytelling techniques, or when you're writing a narrative you use storytelling techniques. You have a narrative structure (which is something we're going to talk about in a future episode). Your narrative has a beginning and middle and an end, usually a hero and a villain. Think of the plots of fairytales, they usually have fairly like exaggerated and obvious narrative structures. 

As well as answering the questions that your audience has about what you do and who you are, a narrative explains your motivations. It demonstrates your values. It shows your world view and the “why” behind what you do. It's all of that context, and all of that colour. And it's informed by your messaging, or it should be informed by your messaging. But there's added emotive elements and context and lots of background information. 

I've included some examples so you can see what I consider a good, effective brand narrative in action:

- Our Place

- The Browser Company

- Brand Language Lab

I've included my own about page to show an alternative approach. You can see I've taken a creative writing approach to narrative. We're going to talk about that in a future episode — the decisions I've made, and the fact that it’s a bit of an experiment. I'm pushing the limits of the format.

I like this quote from Paul Zack to demonstrate the point that I'm trying to get at here:

“ social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain and thus are better remembered than simply stating a set of facts.” 

This set of facts is your messaging. And it's really really important to have these facts straight. But then the narrative builds the emotional connection. It makes what you say memorable and it makes it resonate with the person who's reading it.

You can have messaging by itself, but it doesn't really do much. It just sits there as a set of boring (but important) facts. And you could have a narrative that isn't informed by your messaging, but then it's just a nice story. It doesn't have a purpose in terms of answering your audience's questions — we're talking about a commercial purpose here rather than a nice little story, a nice little creative writing exercise. 

That's what I see as the difference between these two things. This is why I think they're both important, but they both serve different purposes. 

Thank you for listening! You have my email address there. I'd love to hear your thoughts, I'd love feedback, suggestions for things you'd like me to talk about in upcoming episodes and requests for things you want to know about. And you can connect with me on LinkedIn as well, that's the social media platform I'm most active on at the moment.

Join me next time where I'm going to talk about messaging mistakes and how to fix them. See you then!