The rise of “story sprawl” and what marketers can do about it

Feb 07, 2023 Jason Morris

Every marketer and communicator has been there. You spend weeks and months crystallizing a story that is simple, relevant and memorable. You get buy-in and, finally, you feel like everyone—the executive team, sales, business development, marketing, PR and all of your vendors—is on the same page.  

But then it happens. The product marketing team starts doing its own thing with the analysts. The executive team goes off on many tangents in media interviews and on stage. The social media team heads off in another direction with the content marketing team on a campaign that some parts of marketing didn’t know was happening. Soon you have dozens or scores of internal team members and the external partners they manage straying from the narrative and telling many stories to many people over many channels. 

It’s called “story sprawl” and it’s what dilutes great company stories—the kind of stories that resonate across key audiences because they hit emotionally at the highest level and ladder up to global megatrends being talked about every day in print, on broadcast and online. 

The past few years exacerbated story sprawl as companies hired quickly, embraced remote and hybrid work, outsourced more than ever due to a tight labor market, and finally understood that social media is not just a “nice to have.” Story sprawl is a marketing killer because if your brand is the umbrella under which everything in marketing falls, your story is the platform that holds it upright. 

But 2023 is going to change that. The new tech economy is forcing marketing teams to not just be more efficient, but also better aligned. It also comes at a time when many organizations are realizing that integrating strategic communication efforts like PR, social media and content marketing are core to telling a story that lands. 

Here are three ways you can create better alignment in 2023: 

#1: Bring consistency to your storytelling

This is the year marketing and communications will align much more closely on strategy and execution. Use this moment to crystallize your corporate narrative and scale it by integrating strategic marketing initiatives such as social media, digital content and PR. This strengthens your brand and you’ll see better engagement with your audiences. 

#2: Find new ways to be relevant

It was easy to tie into the trends of 2021 when the economy was booming and innovation was saving the world. Today’s headlines may not be as economically bright, but whether you’re communicating one-on-one with customers or to mass audiences, acknowledge the challenges of the day and let people know how you’re helping to solve them. Leading with your expertise is a key element of building true thought leadership. Finding relevancy is as important as finding consistency in your storytelling. 

#3: Create harmony between executive communications and brand values

There’s a massive opportunity to build your executive presence on social media, particularly on  LinkedIn. It’s one of the best ways to humanize your company, but it needs to be authentic and amplify core storytelling, not distract from it. We’ve seen plenty of examples of this backfiring, causing a preventable crisis. It’s always good to think twice before jumping on a viral trend or rapidly responding to a public issue. Check your state of mind and revisit your values—use them to guide your actions and words before you post. Does it serve your organization’s purpose, or your purpose, or neither? 

We’re in for a bumpy ride this year but there are many ways you can use your story to stay top-of-mind with current and prospective customers. Over the next few weeks, we’ll share some of the market trends we’re seeing and show examples of what’s working and what’s not. Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more. 

Topics: Brand, Storytelling, Integrated Strategies, Audiences, Marketing & Communications Alignment
Jason Morris

Jason is president of Inkhouse and spearheads agency growth from the San Francisco Bay Area. His singular mission is to debunk the myth that people can't be happy long term on the agency side of PR where he has spent more than 20 years working with companies in venture capital, technology and consumer.

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