The Power of a Narrative

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Imagine this:

As Richard Branson reveals in a film put together by HP Matter, his innovation came together after getting stuck in Puerto Rico while trying to get to the British Virgin Islands.
“They didn’t have enough passengers to warrant the flight, so they cancelled the flight” he explains.
His future wife, Joan, was waiting for him in the British Virgin Islands, so Branson picked up a phone and tracked down a chartered plane. He divided the cost of the plane by the number of seats, and charged the stranded passengers $39 to rebook their seats.
As a joke, he borrowed a blackboard, and wrote Virgin Airlines on the top of the blackboard with the $39 fare and offered it to all the people who had been bumped off as well. That is how he filled up his first plane
After that, Richard decided that he was fed up with airlines that didn’t care about their passengers and he wanted to do something about it. A phone call to Boeing to find out if they had any 747s for sale and an airline was born.

“We just made it that much more special than all the other airlines we were competing with,” Richard says.

A man named Richard Branson and his future wife, Joan, were traveling to Puerto Rico when their flight was canceled, leaving them and hundreds of other passengers stranded at a small island airport.
So Branson picked up a phone and tracked down a chartered plane. He divided the cost of the plane by the number of seats, and charged the stranded passengers $39 to rebook their seats.
When an acquaintance approached him months later with the idea for a transatlantic airline company, Branson seized the opportunity.”

This narrative, published in Business Insider, is the true story of who some people would call the greatest entrepreneur of all time.

The transatlantic airline he went to build is Virgin Airlines. Something as seemingly simple as being subject to a cancelled flight sparked something in him; he took action in the moment to solve his and dozens of other people’s problem, while using the experience – his own narrative – to want to solve a problem he knew he was not the only one experiencing.

This story has become a famous case study in entrepreneurship classes and businesses all over the world. The drive for innovation comes from stories and experiences.

Narratives are extremely powerful tools; it is not the product features that people are most interested in, rather they are drawn by the story that inspires.

Discovering the narratives that shed light on needs, wants, and ways people make decisions can help inspire your product or service, or make it better.

What Defines a Narrative?

In the general sense, a narrative is just like any story. It has a plot, a character, a climax, and a conclusion.

In the contextworld of innovation, these things do not change, but they are focused on helping you design your product or service so that it is more relevant and makes an better impact. If you share that narrative, it also leads people to identify with your story, and potential customers want to be a part of it.

In Branson’s narrative, he experienced a need that others identified with. He took that experience and builtbuild a company where poor customer service no longer had to be a reality. Those of us reading the story, and who have experienced the frustration of a cancelled flight, are now intrigued about what Branson did to make Virgin Airlines Different. He helped solved a problem for millions of people around the world using his experience as inspiration.

Narrative vs. Numbers

Traditional marketing and product design research focuses on the numbers; market potential, investments, number of people in the target market, competitor prices, and others.

While this research is important, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It is nearly impossible to tell how people make decisions when looking for a product or service, what is important to them when deciding between alternatives, and what they feel is missing from what is currently out there.

The numbers also don’t capture people’s reaction to products – confusion, excitement, frustration, relief…

All of these elements are essential to telling a story – a narrative – that will help you design a truly innovative product or servicean innovation with much greater chances of success; you understandknow how people are making decisions the underlying drivers, and it will lay the groundwork so that your product or serviceinnovation can respond to those needs and behaviors.

An Underused Tool for Shifting Modus Operandi

How do you collect narratives? While you can go out and hire an interview team to capture people’s stories, the design of the procedure, collection of data, and subsequent analysis and application is a long and time- consuming process using traditional methods.

The “official term” for the process of collecting narratives is qualitative research (or qual research, for short). If you ask any qualitative researcher, they will tell you that the result of dozens, or even hundreds of interviews and focus groups is incredibly enriching, but the process of recruiting participants, scheduling an interview, doing the transcription, and going through the analysis process, is very time consuming – so much so that sometimes the panorama changes by the time you have actual results.

However, innovative qual research tools, like Pliik, are being introduced into the market. These tools streamline the qual research process, providing you with essential information to build the narrative that will help you build or improve your innovation.

How You Can Use Narratives in Your Innovation

We’ve alluded to two main ways in which you can use narratives in your innovation:
· Use narratives to design or tweak your product innovation.
Whether it is in the design or application of your productinnovation, unveiling the narratives of potential customers will make all the difference. You will see what need needs to be filled, and you will be able to envision and design your product or service based on that.
· Use narratives to recruit users or customers.
Sharing the narrative of your business, or the narrative of those people who use your business, will help people identify with what you have to offer. Like Dana, the narrative helped to spark an emotional connection to the service through watching the video of the two girls. Not only did she identify with the need to connect, she also instantly became a promoter of the service as they were humanized by their positive action to connect the two girls.

Narratives are extremely powerful tools that will help you design a better, more effective innovation. They are underused because the traditional tools to collect narratives are expensive and time-consuming. However, there are ways you can unveil essential narratives with tools that facilitate the process.


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