Story at the Center

This blog delves into the intricacies of aligning the C-suite around compelling narratives to achieve unprecedented success.

  • May 14, 2024
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Think You Need a Rebrand? Think Again

Marcello Grande - Chief Strategy Officer/Executive Creative Director

Marcello Grande

Chief Strategy Officer/Executive Creative Director

Back in ’94, when flannels were more than a fashion statement and the Internet was still a fledgling marvel, Henry Mintzberg dropped a line that would reverberate through the halls of business schools and boardrooms for decades to come:

“The best strategies are visions, not plans.”
– Henry Mintzberg

Now, as we navigate a future where the only certainty is uncertainty, Mintzberg’s wisdom feels more like a prophecy.

Reflecting on this, I’m reminded of a lesson from a business book I really like, Doris Rothauer’s compelling insights in “Vision & Strategy: Strategic Thinking for Creative and Social Entrepreneurs,” where she explores the critical difference between planning and strategic thinking. Planning, rooted in analysis, is a confluence of numbers, forecasts, and market research. Strategic thinking, however, dances to the beat of a different drum, where intuition and creativity lead the charge.

So many companies believe that exceptional products alone will guarantee market success, undervaluing the importance of standing out. Frankly, whether we like it or not, in our data-driven age, while information is priceless, it doesn’t replace the need for distinctiveness. Having a great product is essential, but it’s only one part of the structure; without a solid foundation and a strategic framework, everything can crumble. This is where vision moves from a high ideal to the foundation of strategy, fundamentally reshaping and sometimes even reinventing a company from the ground up.

Fair warning: I have strong perspectives on traditional branding and marketing that some of you are going to disagree with. Pause for a moment and think critically about this next part.

I’ve seen many companies rush to rebrand, seeing it as a quick solution, but what they truly need is a radical transformation. This challenge is often compounded by a lack of synergy between branding and business strategy, where crucial growth drivers are ignored or obscured. A contributing factor is that branding agencies, while capable of creating stunning visual work, typically struggle with the strategic business challenges that are crucial for real change.

Additionally, the issue is not confined to agencies; it also lies with leadership. Leaders often view branding and positioning as isolated solutions, ignoring their need to be part of a cohesive strategy. Too frequently, strategy is developed separately from the company’s core story, overlooking essential details and resulting in branding and positioning being appended as afterthoughts rather than integrated elements.

This ongoing misalignment leads to a repetitive cycle: superficial celebrations and back-patting, sometimes even resulting in awards, yet without any significant improvement to the business. Leaders are frequently replaced, with new ones arriving to tackle the same old problems, often repeating past mistakes.

But here’s the kicker: we shouldn’t discard branding altogether. Instead, we need to integrate it into a cohesive strategy that’s rooted deeply in vision, category, and narrative. This redefined approach depends crucially on the active engagement of leaders and employees who are prepared to move away from the traditional playbooks and the errors that might have cost them their previous roles.

Mintzberg articulates strategy as more than a deliberate plan; it’s also a pattern that unfurls over time. I see a brand as a living, breathing entity—not an afterthought or a glossy coat of paint slapped on at the last minute. A brand should be woven into the very fabric of a business’s strategic journey.

A Powerful Story at the Center Drives Your Business

So how do you really win in the marketplace? It isn’t just branding, not in the traditional sense at least. It’s about cultivating a clear vision that guides every decision, every action. This is the vision that becomes the heartbeat of the story, breathing life and direction into it.

The next stage is to carve out a category—a niche in the marketplace that you can claim as your own kingdom. This is where you can cultivate sustainable growth, setting yourself apart from the pack. Mintzberg’s take on strategy as a distinct pattern in a company’s actions over time underlines the importance of creating your unique footprint in the market landscape.  

But look, category creation isn’t always possible. When that’s the case you must still absolutely identify and create a powerful POV that takes a stand setting you apart from the rest, and it’s got to explain why nobody else can do what you do. If you can’t do that, you might want to consider a career change.

Lastly you need a strategic narrative or what we call the Unified Narrative Framework®. The UNF is where it all comes together. Substantiated, structured, and actionable, it gives everyone in your organization the tools they need to mobilize quickly.

This is what placing Story at the Center is all about. It’s a holistic philosophy that encapsulates not just what your company does but its soul, its raison d’être. Your story isn’t just a fleeting campaign or ever-changing fluff in response to competitors. It’s a steadfast commitment, a continuous thread woven through the hearts and minds of your audience, perfectly aligned with your business strategy and market dynamics.

At the center of it all is your vision—your true north. It’s a killer category perspective and a rock-solid strategic narrative that holds firm no matter what.

To fuel lasting business growth, you need to flip your viewpoint and dive into the unknown. Ditch the old-school branding playbook; your real engine is the trio of vision, category, and narrative. This dynamite combo reimagines your brand’s core and locks it in step with your business strategy. If you want to crush the market, you’ve got to start by mastering your story.

And so, fellow leaders, if you’re aiming to dominate your category, it’s time to dive deep. Embracing Story at the Center means you’re not just crafting strategies—you’re scripting legacies. This is the art of business transformation.

<< The Atomic Structure of Story

The Story at the Center blog shares insights and strategies that have helped organizations—from startups to Fortune 100s—harness the power of storytelling to navigate complexities and dominate their markets.

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