Story vs. Narrative? And Why it Matters

by Story

For most of us, story and narrative are the same, interchangeable.

Pay attention to your next conversation and let me know if you notice that too.

In a way, it is correct. Collinsdictionary.com says the following:

  • Story: a story is a description of imaginary people and events.
  • Narrative: a story or an account of a series of events.

But lately, I started obsessing over the difference between those two words beyond their literal definition and the meaning created by that difference.

After all, if there are two different words for what seems to be the same thing, isn’t it for a reason?

Story versus narrative has generated quite some debate amongst experts. It’s not new. In researching and following that conversation, I ended up getting stuck and confused at some point.

I know, this sounds like the kind of technical stuff that only people with lots of time on their hands would care about. But I care enough about helping people build resilient businesses to see value in that stuff.

It turns out there is a nuance that should matter to you.

People will pay for a story, but people will die for a narrative.

Stories have the power to draw our attention. But when the story ends, it’s up to you to draw your own conclusion.

“Someone died” is a story.

A narrative makes people take extraordinary measures. It shifts the way we think, for good or for the worst. Notice how there is a narrative at the core of any significant movement, whether it is social, political, religious, economic or business-related.

“Someone died, and that was very wrong” starts a narrative that can turn into a revolution.

Framed like this, a narrative is a way of presenting or understanding a situation or a series of events that reflects and promotes a particular point of view or set of values. That’s from Merriam-Webster, by the way.

Here is why this matters in the context of business strategy.

You can have a great story about your business, and that’s nice. But who cares, really? Fine, put into on the about page of your website.

If you have a narrative, you make people do impossible things to get your product. They will “almost die” for it.

People camp in front of Apple stores the night before a new version of the iPhone is released not because Apple has a cool story, but because Apple is a narrative in itself.

When you have a narrative, and hopefully a strong one:

  • Your brand becomes magnetic.
  • Your employees know exactly what to do and stay.
  • Your team collaborates at their best.
  • Your investors believe in the long term success of your company.
  • You look and sound very different from your competitors.
  • Your customers see why it is urgent that they adopt your product.

Then come the stories of all the customers who believed in your narrative, and whose lives you changed thanks to your product.

For me, story and narrative will never be the same thing again.

How about you?

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