Self-actualization: the Essential Story Process

Self-actualization: the Essential Story Process

Our Essential Story Process has been honed for over 15 years. It’s an inherently creative and collaborative process that brings a deep understanding of a brand and its story, allowing our clients to move forward with confidence, clarity, and purpose.

The concrete result of the Essential Story Process is a Corporate Phrasebook™. With their Phrasebooks in hand, we see our clients really live their Essential Stories. It’s a physical, branded book that captures the Essential Story – you can think of it as a song sheet that can become a common touchstone for everyone in an organization.

How the Essential Story Process and the Corporate Phrasebook™ came to be

After a varied 20-year career in marketing communications, I saw many different ways that companies create their key message documents (a.k.a. message architecture, messaging house, messaging hierarchy). Over time, being involved in using and/or creating countless such documents,, it became obvious that the common approach has significant limitations.

One problem I witnessed was the documents did not always work in complex industries and resulted in a lot of guesswork. A majority of my work was in the B2B industry, where target audiences are “deep and wide”, with many influencers and several levels of decision-making involved in any purchase process. I saw a great deal of guesswork occur around what a particular audience needed to hear and how they would respond to that messaging.

Another problem I noticed was that the key message document was stored on a server, usually in a “Marketing” folder, and the only people in the organization who would engage with it were the marketing and communications team.

I created the Essential Story Process primarily to address those two challenges: key messages lacking the customer’s voice and perspective; and, messaging documents hidden in mysterious “Marketing” folders. Over the past six years of delivering Essential Stories and Phrasebooks, I have been continuously delighted to witness the power of the process and its outcomes.

How an Essential Story gets lost

Today, I work primarily with established brands, so I believe that each client’s Essential Story already exists. It’s not my job to create the story, but rather to discover it.

I work with organizations whose vision, mission, differentiation, purpose, and values need to be unearthed, crystalized, and articulated. Because of the specific work I do, the organizations I work with typically have either lost sight of or become uncomfortable with some aspect of their vision, mission, differentiation, and/or overall expression of purpose and value-add.

If someone isn’t actively championing the brand’s story – or if the story isn’t quite right – one or both of these natural processes tend to occur overtime:

  • Erosion: When a word or phrase in an organization’s messages is not working, people in the organization start to avoid or change it. As soon as that becomes “okay” – if the core messages are not sacred – further erosion occurs all too readily. Soon, five or ten words or phrases change and over time, the story becomes muddled. Often, there are many inconsistent versions of the story.
  • Accumulation: This refers to what happens especially when an organization grows. For example, as new people come into an organization with new ideas, or as companies offer new products, or service organizations expand into other areas. These new facets need to be accommodated in the messaging, but they get “tacked on” rather than strategically integrated. In these cases, the core story becomes buried under new ideas.

Finally, a brand’s story may never have been well crystalized or articulated in the first place.

I think the real message here is that organizations need a fully discovered, well aligned, and perfectly articulated story – and they need to have processes in place to make sure it’s championed. The Essential Story Process takes care of the first part of that equation; the Phrasebook enables and supports the second part.

The power of the Corporate Phrasebook™

As mentioned earlier, at Phrase Strategy we deliver the final Essential Story in Corporate Phrasebook™ form – a beautifully designed, branded, physical booklet containing the Essential Story narrative.

The Corporate Phrasebook is not a brand guidelines document. It is alo definitely NOT a key message document. Rather, it shares an organization’s core messages in a narrative style that gives a deep and broad understanding of the brand. The Corporate Phrasebook™ is not meant to be operational (although we also work with clients to operationalize Essential Stories). Rather, Essential Stories are foundational.

Something about the physical nature of the Phrasebook is transformative. I witness the power of it again and again. I notice that my clients will have copies throughout their offices, on desks, in welcome areas. It is often used in staff meetings and referred to in discussions. It can anchor strategy sessions, and much more. The psychology seems similar to why people write mantras on sticky notes or intention cards – a physical reminder of our purpose and intentions, something that engages the senses is literally present and far more likely to be integrated than a “one-and-done” messaging document filed away. The presence of the Phrasebook, boosts engagement, awareness, and creates connection.

A recent case in point

For instance, I was working with a client to validate its Essential Story to accommodate new developments a year after initially creating it. This had me speaking with some new members of the company: some who worked in the office and others who worked remotely.

I noticed that those who were present in the office were familiar with the Phrasebook and were able to identify it. They were also more comfortable and aligned in how they spoke about the company compared to remotely located employees. The remote employees had not been provided with Phrasebooks and were noticeably less comfortable speaking about the brand and its story.

It was a really interesting contrast to witness.

I mean, who actually reads a key message document often enough or completely enough to comfortably speak to it? Typically very few in an organization. So, the difference I witnessed in my client’s employees who saw the Corporate Phrasebook™ on a day-to-day basis versus those who did not know of its existence did not surprise me – but it was a good reminder.

Previously, I wrote a blog about how clients leverage their Phrasebooks to live their Essential Stories, and I would add that being taken through the Phrasebook should be part of any onboarding package for new employees. Everyone involved in the organization should be aware of the Corporate Phrasebook™. I also encourage clients to be creative about incorporating it into conversations. Whether it’s highlighting it in weekly meetings, playing games with it, or having a copy in every room, office, and home office: make it part of the way you do everything!

Do you feel your brand’s or organization’s foundational story has been lost over time, or that existing key messages just aren’t working? That’s exactly when the team at Phrase Strategy shines brightest! We will help your business discover and articulate its Essential Story. Please reach out for a consultation – we’ll be happy to talk.