Read This if You Want to Move People — A Brief Intro to Strategic Narratives

We get it, influencing people’s behavior is difficult, especially at scale…

October 4, 2019
Farina Situmorang

If you are a leader of an organization, a company, a team, a family.. you need and want to move people. And by moving people, I mean, if you’re a CEO you want your employees to rally behind your mission. If you’re selling something you want people to buy. If you’re a political leader you want people to vote for you. If you are a manager of a small team, you want your team members to complete their tasks effectively. If you are a parent, you want your toddler to eat. And so on. Moving people means influencing their behavior.

Busy. Busy. Busy.

Your Competition is Busyness

Moving people is not difficult if you know how to do it. However, the world is so busy these days, it’s difficult to even be heard. You are competing with every single app or medium out there. Just earlier this week, I was waiting to board on my plane and I noticed how minimal people’s attention span is. In every moment, I noticed that there is always someone or something trying to win people’s attention. The screaming child, the boarding announcement, the billboards, the duty-free shop assistant, the smartphone… Wow. No wonder my job gets more difficult each day. It’s almost impossible to move people when the noise is everywhere.

“Oh Look, This New Ad-tech is So Shiny!”

So, what do we leaders do? We ask our marketing team to find more channels to spread our message. We come up with ways to really win that person’s attention. “Oh, our consumer spends time on their phone? Great, let’s buy all mobile ads, Instagram ads, location-targeted SMS, and so on!”, said many of us. You name the medium and we can buy an ad spot there. Even the airport security’s x-ray machine is now completely branded, so you can always remember the name of a travel app as someone pats your body. Sigh.

You Can’t Compete with a Unicorn with Billions to Burn 🔥

Obviously, if moving people is only a matter of buying more ads and burning money on marketing dollars, well, then tough luck for most of us. It’s hard to out-buy the few big consumer companies or the big tech unicorns with hundreds of millions to burn each funding round. With so many people trying to win people’s attention in any given second, leaders are asking, “How can I actually influence people? Not just externally, but also internally within my own organization?”. Talking to employees is exactly the same thing, on top of all the social media apps on their phone, their day-to-day work, you want to get them super energized and rally behind your annual vision.

What can I do then?

Turns out, there is a timeless strategy in changing people’s behavior effectively. That strategy has not really changed for thousands of years. It’s called telling a story. Moving because of a story is wired in our brains and hard-coded in our DNA. Stories are part of our survival strategies. That’s how the human species has survived against lions and saber-tooth tigers in the past.

So, what kind of story moves people?

A genuine and compelling strategic narrative that tells the story of who you really are to the people you want to influence. A story to get them to be on your side. To get them to see your worldview. No amount of shiny new digital tools, A/B testing strategies, interactive ads, great TV commercials, promo codes will be effective enough to move people when the underlying narrative is not there. Without a strong narrative, you will have to use extremely high incentives to change people’s behavior, um, ever heard of unicorns subsidizing people to use their products?

Growth without a strong narrative is highly expensive.

What is a strategic narrative?

A strategic narrative is a story that drives the choices an organization makes. That narrative is the soul and personality of the organization that further translates into its culture, strategy, actions, brands, and products or services. It’s for both your internal stakeholders and external. A strategic narrative is beyond marketing campaigns or brand messaging. You will create marketing campaigns that will have to be aligned with your strategic narrative. You create employee manifesto also based on your strategic narrative.

Narratives get people to join movements.. and anarchic ones, too.

A strong strategic narrative will cut through the noise. It’ll get people to move behind you. You’ll see it at the heart of every successful large company transformation. A strong narrative is written all over movements like MeToo or even the protests that are happening in Jakarta the past few months. A strong narrative is what makes people slide through doors just to buy Uniqlo’s KAWS. A strong narrative is when employees voted for their company as the best workplace in the world because they truly believe in the company’s story.

Something worth doing may not be the easiest…

Creating a great strategic narrative that really moves people is not an easy task. It’s both science and art. You still have to analyze quantitatively and qualitatively what matters to your stakeholder, then creatively write a compelling message for them. All of that while staying true to your company’s values, the reason for being, vision for the future. It’s difficult, but you need to do it. Try it. How else would you move people?

Farina Situmorang is the CEO of Catalyst Strategy, a strategic narrative consulting firm based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Farina enjoys writing, meditating, and drinking coffee. Follow her Instagram here for the latest post updates. Do you like this writing? Follow for more articles on Medium here.

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