Narrative. Story. Backstory. Media jargon is now part of the lexicon of public life, drawn on daily by politicians, journalists, commentators, marketers and businesspeople to set the agenda, challenge, inspire, dramatise and bring meaning.
For Boris Johnson, ‘Brexit is going to happen… and when it does, we must finally begin the positive narrative of Brexit Britain: tackling crime, investing in our health service and our schools, and fixing the housing market to help young people own their own homes.’
An American CEO and entrepreneur with an unorthodox career says she wants ‘to share with you my backstory and hope it can encourage you’.
And here’s Allianz Global Investors CEO Andreas Utermann looking to persuade asset managers of the merits of active investing by changing its fee model:
As communicators working in a fast-paced visual age in which facts and rumour and misinformation constantly compete for attention and viewpoints chop and change at a moment’s notice, it makes much sense to think like journalists, producers and storytellers.
The customer is not a
Talk of stories, backstories, narratives and episodes may sound impressive and make sense to our clients and ecosystem partners and media targets. Yet is this how our wives and children and friends and next-door neighbours think?
Do they, like Boris Johnson (who must compete with multiple other narratives and has his own rather complex backstory to contend with), reckon the positive story of Brexit Britain can only start if and when the UK leaves the EU?
Or do they think the facts speak for themselves, from whichever side of the political spectrum they hail?
We are in danger of assuming the man on the street understands and relates to such language. We also risk sounding pretentious, confusing, and disingenuous.
Focus on the facts not the packaging
As communicators we are, or should be, in the business of honesty and clarity, of rigorously examining the underlying issue rather than revelling in its packaging, of reducing the gap between rhetoric and reality.
This means sticking to the facts, avoiding jargon and doublespeak, and using words and phrases everyone understands. And it means persuading our clients to do the same – especially in a consumer or general public context.
‘Active managers add long-term value cost-efficiently. Our new fees reinforce this.’ Allianz could have said.
Which would have been clearer.
Our American CEO might simply
have said she would like ‘to share with you my
unusual career path and hope it can encourage you’.
Which might have resulted in a few more clicks or likes.
Boris could have stated: Brexit is going to happen… and when it does, we can
finally begin the positive narrative of Brexit Britain start building a new
and better Britain.’
More people might then believe him.