Thoughts on Creating a Strategic Narrative: Interview with Strategist Sara Gaviser Leslie

strategic narrative

At Emotive Brand, we’re blessed with an incredibly diverse pool of talented individuals. Our team comes from the management consulting world, branding agencies, technology industry, advertising and everything in between. Each of these viewpoints brings something new to the table. In this post, Sara Gaviser Leslie discusses how her background as an analyst makes her a better writer and the importance of creating a strategic narrative  for brands.

You’re a bestselling author, executive communications consultant, strategist, analyst, and storyteller all wrapped up in one. Can you walk us through that journey?

I started at a small consulting firm, where I’d go to companies and help them develop their business. It was right of college, and though I didn’t exactly love the work, I loved going to companies. Being able to observe different environments and see why people do what they do was fascinating.

I did that for a couple years before working with a venture fund in Tel Aviv. It was a busy time in the country when the technology center was exploding, and tons of businesses were based in little apartments and garages. Again, I loved discovering what people we’re doing and the energy of those early stages.

I got involved in finance and public equities in San Francisco. In managing portfolios for institutions, you start to become very good at selling the story of the company. You learn the difference between what makes a good company vs. a good stock. You get to go behind the curtain and see how they work.

Seeing so many different environments in a short amount of time, I just started asking tons of questions — Why are some successful? What makes a great management team? How do they make money? What contributes to their successes?

How does being an analyst help you be a better writer and strategist?

It was at Stanford that I started to connect these different fields in my head. It all comes down to how to structure a great story. I remember seeing a colleague who was supposed to give a 30-minute presentation and she had this 280-slide deck she wanted to run through. As an analyst, so much of your job is trying to figure out what’s happening in this big market and then distill that down in a way that resonates with an audience. It needs to be clear and memorable. Storytelling is the same thing.

For me, it boils down to three things:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What do they believe?
  3. What do you want them to believe?

Once you have that, you can start to create a strategic narrative.

What do you think the corporate strategic narrative today needs to address?

The big thing we always need to address is: Why should we care? It sounds simple but it’s easy to forget. You get so focused on your own company and messaging that you forget to create that emotional connection with the audience. People won’t buy if they’re not listening, and they won’t listen if they don’t care.

What are the most common problems businesses have in telling their story?

When beginning to develop a strategic narrative, I’d say the biggest problem is trying to appeal to everyone as opposed to saying, “This is a specific market we’re going after.” Don’t try to do everything, try to build out a small market. That type of thinking poses a risk that companies don’t want to take. There’s so much sameness out there: people have their brand and they think they are living the brand and that’s enough.

I believe in questioning assumptions. For instance, when State Street Global Advisors commissioned the “Fearless Girl” statue in front of the “Charging Bull” statue on Wall Street. That’s an amazing example of showing who you are that takes a risk.

Is there such a thing as story overload? Do even practical, utilitarian products need to tell a story?

We don’t have to know the full story behind everything, you only need to see the top of the iceberg. When you see a billboard for a product, you’re not seeing the internal messaging exercise, the brainstorming, the revisions, the creative tension — you just see the top. Every brand doesn’t need to have an exhaustive narrative, just some flavor or manifestation of their story to cut through the noise. Every company needs to have something they agree on, some reason for being. Your core values are your story.

Given your varied past, what’s your future look like?

I’m constantly reinventing myself — that’s what makes life interesting to me. I have a background in speechwriting. Once I needed to write a 20-minute eulogy for a partner to deliver about his late colleague. The process was fascinating and I enjoyed getting to know this person, what they cared about, the stories they told. In a way, It’s tied to everything else I’ve done as an analyst and storyteller. I love the process of capturing someone’s personality and sharing that in a meaningful way.

To learn more about developing a corporate strategic narrative, visit our client case studies.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.

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