Art of narrative

Tom Brown, Senior Consultant, looks at why businesses are having to adopt a more grounded approach to messaging. 

Realism and Romanticism characterized the evolution of modern art. Realists rejected the approach of the Romantics – grandiose works that emphasized emotion – and instead drew inspiration from the realities of everyday life. Fast forward to today, and this creative contrast is presenting an interesting challenge for communicators. 

Empty words won’t wash 

Building more ‘meaningful’, emotive connections has always been a big part of the communications mantra. But, in recent years, some of these efforts have fallen flat – particularly with investors. The most obvious example is the current backlash against ESG, particularly in some parts of the US. Sustainability communications need to develop a new sense of maturity and specificity, in an environment where the naivety of overly positive narratives seems misguided at best and disingenuous at worst.  

But the same is true for communications across other disciplines too – from internal values to company valuations. Take the recent IPO of Birkenstock Holding PLC, missing its target valuation by close to $1bn. Analysts put this lacklustre performance down to a range of factors, but emphasized the change in investor sentiment towards heady valuations based (in part) on brand vision.   

Now vs later 

Businesses are recognising the need to recalibrate messaging, which often means focusing on the more fundamental, ‘less sexy’ parts of their story. The way that companies are evolving their narratives around AI is a good example. Discussions and hypotheses about the transformative power of this technology dominated large parts of the Davos agenda, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is mere months away from overhauling entire industries and social systems. 

The reality is that most of these fabulous futurist applications are still a long way off. Many experts think that 2024 will be an iterative year for AI – working to test, tinker and improve its current uses. It means companies are shifting the focus of their AI messaging from the technology’s potential to the more fundamental parts of how and where it is being used today in their operations. This is often a lot less glamorous, but audiences are responding well to a more measured view.  

Balance is key  

Of course, a preference for pragmatism doesn’t mean that people expect businesses to become stone-faced, robotic communicators. Having a longer-term vision for how a company can make a positive impact on society is still important for a lot of stakeholders. The key is finding the right balance. For example: Bladonmore is helping an industrial decarbonisation investor to refine its narrative and brand positioning. The firm’s mission is tied to tackling the climate challenge, which resonates with its stakeholders and underpins its positioning. It is emotive and aspirational. But, the credibility and strength of the story comes from focusing on how the businesses is decarbonising industry today – in real terms.   

Chop Suey, a painting by the American realist Edward Hopper, was sold at auction for $91.9m in 2018. Clearly, there is value in Realism. Businesses shouldn’t shy away from ambitious or aspirational messages, but in an environment where idealised narratives feel flimsy, they must credibly bridge the gap between the reality of where they are today and the Romanticism of the future.  

If you’re looking for advice on how your business can strike the right balance between Realist and Romanticist communications, get in touch. 


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Tom Brown

Senior Consultant

Tom produces a variety of strategic content, built around clear narrative and messaging.

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