Being Your Own Best Protagonist
When presenting an organizational narrative, there are many options for a narrative protagonist. Sometimes, it can be your customer. Or, it can be some wider cause that your organization is involved in. There are times, though, wherein an organization’s best narrative protagonist is its own self. When you find yourself making that decision, here are 3 points for consideration.
Keep to your own experiences. As with writers, so goes the same advice for organizations: stick with what you know. In forming your corporate self as the protagonist of your own narrative, it is best to use your own history and experiences. Not only does it reveal a more authentic picture of your organization, it also invites an audience to discover more about your organization within the context of the narrative. When it comes to being your own protagonist, your history and experiences will be your most important narrative assets. Build from these assets. Trying to go beyond them will result in a protagonist that feels manufactured and artificial.
Narrative Example: KFC, as embodied in founder Colonel Harlan Sanders, and the secret and hard-won 11 herbs and spices, go from serving his neighbors in rural Kentucky to serving the world.
Make your experiences heroic. One of the most charming lessons to come out of Japanese cinema is that all actions, no matter how mundane, can be heroic to someone. While the world may have seemingly gone cynical, it is in a cynical world that heroes become a welcome escape from all things grim. It is human to want to admire and love something beyond ourselves, and people are always looking for that one thing that they can let their guard down around and just love. That is why, for all our cultured cynicism and aloofness, we still have both celebrity culture and cat videos. Treat your core experiences, your history, your products, your services, whatever it is that defines your organization as a character, as something that is heroic, and it will be heroic to someone. Once you’ve identified that “someone”, you will have found your audience. It is these little love stories between hero and audience that grander narratives are built on.
Narrative Example: FedEx doesn’t just lug boxes to doorsteps, it is an engine upon which so many hopes and dreams move in a global economy.
Live out your character. Ultimately, ongoing narratives are living things and your protagonist is at the center of it. Do not be afraid to imagine what your organization as protagonist will do, and do not be afraid to act “in character”. The most visible use of this mindset is in communications. Since you’ve already done the work of imagining your protagonist into being, applying how that protagonist would communicate through the various channels used by your organization is the most visible way of living your own narrative. Living your narrative is one of the best ways of keeping control of it.
Narrative Example: The Wendy’s Twitter account has its unique personality in full display, with light-hearted trolling and fearless flashing of niche subculture interests to create the impression of a brand that embraces the non-mainstream facets of its personality and the non-mainstream facets of its audience.