by Alexandra Gordon, President
Systems change needs narrative change. Creative and communication professionals are often faced with the daunting task of crafting narratives that chart a new course for the future. No pressure. Not to mention a lack of philanthropic dollars focused on funding those narratives and an excessive emphasis on short-term KPI’s that ultimately distract from the long-term work that leads to true generational outcomes.
If that weren’t enough of a mountain to climb, consider this; the average person uses over 6 social media platforms every month. Here in the US, the average American consumes about 34 gigabytes of information every day, which equates to an estimated 100,000 words heard or read each day.
Connecting with communities on the issues that impact their daily lives and their futures has never been more vital or, perhaps, more challenging. With the threat of climate change and the road to racial justice and gender equity at critical junctures in history, our efforts must be guided by practices that champion inclusivity and progress.
To help your organization scale that mountain, we present Matter Unlimited’s 6 I’s for building effective Issue and Impact Narratives. Together, these building blocks ladder to a more effective narrative system that will help grant you the power to enact change systems.
Narratives that are grounded and created in collaboration with communities they seek to empower will have more authenticity and longevity.
When we worked with The Obama Foundation on My Brother’s Keeper the narrative idea was born from conversations about allyship with young men of color across the country. The word ‘allyship’ was given meaning and importance based on their shared experiences. This inspired us to launch The Keepers Code, a digital campaign providing a guide for allies to live by created by the young men of color with whom we engaged.
Knowledge is power, but equipping communities with the facts and resources crucial to them amid countless channels of misinformation is no easy feat. Finding ways to break through the clutter and disseminate key information by making it more memorable and easily digestible is critical to successful outreach.
In our work with Merck for Mothers, biopharmaceutical company Merck’s initiative to end maternal mortality, we have taken their annual report and created quarterly themed content leveraging audio, video, animation, and data visualization to transform vital information into digitally immersive and widely shareable content. This creates a consistent drumbeat throughout a variety of formats and channels working to empower audiences, drive credibility, and expand share of voice.
Who is delivering your message? The messenger is just as important as the message itself. The ‘who’ can be different people, organizations, brands, art, products or wearables. Seed your messages in the surrounding culture that your audiences organically embrace.
When we worked with the Rockefeller Foundation to help scandalize maternal mortality around Mother’s Day, our ‘Without Mom’ platform could only take flight with the participation of thought leaders from policy makers to celebrities across the realms of healthcare and pop culture. Their influence helped personalize and humanize the message, leading to what became a trending Mothers Day campaign with the promotional video being viewed over 15.7M times.
Responding to real time learnings is essential to maintaining momentum. Every issue is complex and there are a variety of ways to engage.
Having messages that can be in rotation pending relevance and timeliness allows for deeper engagement and effectiveness over time. Impact narratives aren’t just about telling, they must also be about deeply listening. Utilize all the data you have by allowing your audiences to have a voice. You won’t have all the answers right away, but if you listen you will find them faster.
Stories matter and they are necessary to unlock solutions, but don’t be afraid of leveraging creativity to dream up an action, product or service that can tangibly advance a mission. A product like The Finn could have been a print ad to support Veterans but became an amphibious prosthetic limb thanks to creativity, collaboration, and ingenuity. The traveling 12-foot puppet Amal has become more powerful than any traditional narrative asset could have been to highlight the plight of refugees. She is a global symbol that is borderless in appeal, relevance, and timeless in her ability to drive meaningful conversations and media coverage.
Gender equity could be a chapter within an ESG report or it can reinvent how data is collected and tested in order to save lives, such as the gender-inclusive vehicle safety procedures established by the E.V.A. Initiative. There is always a solution that hasn’t yet had the moment to shine, the right collaborators to launch it, or the right budget to bring it to fruition. You may have the idea we’ve been waiting for. Don’t wait to pilot it. Take ‘it’s never been done before’ as even more reason to figure out how.
We are all human. We all want to belong to something. We all want to contribute and feel our contributions matter. Inspiring action is not easy, but narratives that fuel inspiration and hope serve up the necessary memorability with a higher chance of driving action.
One of the earliest campaigns Matter Unlimited released into the world was for the rental housing crisis. It was a wonky hidden issue that had no public profile and yet at that time, affected 11 million every-day Americans. Our Make Room campaign did a series of ‘Concerts for the 1st’ across the country. Famous musicians would perform in the living rooms of families who were struggling to make rent. Music became the universal vehicle that opened doors and hearts. It shed light on a conversation that needed to be had with a series that was highly repeatable with universal appeal. In the first year of Make Room we reported a 36.4% lift in issue awareness, 22 million impressions, 54,000 pledges signed on Change.org.
These ingredients when paired with long term commitment and investment will yield positive outcomes across some of the most pressing issues of our time. We need creativity and craft on this journey to make systems change as much as we need strategic rigor and data. Let’s be bold in our work, but patient with success. Most importantly, let’s allow the power of narrative to do the impossible.