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Making Sense of It All: The Clear Performance Narrative

How many times has the boardroom or hallway conversation at your company contained a variation on the phrase “we are just not on the same page”. It could be referring to a difference of opinion or insight between marketing teams, or between marketing and the C suite. Or it could be a deep debate about strategy or overcoming challenges. The problem is, as one exec puts it, most marketers now enjoy (endure?) a glut of information. What is missing is a narrative that pulls the pieces together and makes sense of it all.


That’s why we set out to create the Clear Performance Narrative, one of the key deliverables we provide to Crater Lake & Co clients.


What we quickly discovered is that, occasionally, the problem with creating a Clear Narrative is that some pieces of crucial data/insight are missing, but you only discover that as you knit the story together. The story needs more signal, and less noise.


To qualify as “Clear” the narrative must not only answer why we are getting the performance we are, but also, what we can do next to improve the outlook for the business.


We must sort out cause and effect, and quantify the impact and economic value of all marketing activities.


We must be able to validate our analytics, to provide evidence to all marketing disciplines and the C suite that the narrative we build around our insights is reliable.


We must be able to quantify incremental lift in a holistic way, measuring advertising alongside other drivers of the business, whether those drivers are controlled by marketing or not.


We must be able to balance short term and long term, which also means balancing risk and reward. We have the tools (or some of us have), but applying them is challenging for leadership without context. As one wag put it “facts tell, stories sell”.


A clear performance narrative is one readable by any marketing discipline; indeed, every discipline should see themselves in it, and find and endorse their place in the story.


We must be able to build a clear picture of our customers and prospects in ways that are not just analytical, but empathetic. The narrative is not just dry numbers but human touch and feel.


Think of the narrative as the story of your brand in motion. When done right, we can clearly see where we have been, where we need to go, and how to get there. The very best stories invite the listener and reader to dig in, get invested in the outcome and root for the heroes. Only in this narrative, the heroes are not mythological beings, but our team members, their ideas, and their work.


The story is one of progress towards a goal, one that all marketers endorse and believe in. There are obstacles to be overcome, opposition to be defeated or outmaneuvered, challenges emerging that were previously unseen. How will the story turn out? It very much depends on the characters that write it.


So why the emphasis on story, or narrative? Aren’t we just talking about yet another 70 page powerpoint deck?


No, because this is NOT another 70 page powerpoint deck. We have enough of those.

As Jonathan Haidt (social psychologist and Professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business) put it “The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”


Not a surprise to advertisers, who of course do this every day in their creative work. So now we turn the techniques of story-telling to the task of synthesizing the work of advanced analytics, of research, and of marketing and business leadership.


Making sense of it all: it should be an exciting journey.

-The Partners of Crater Lake & Company


Photo: Zen Gateway


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