Narrative vs News: Creating Stories That Last

 In Counsel

It’s an exciting time to be a cannabis startup! Interest in cannabis has never been higher (ahem) as momentum has totally shifted behind legalization, and new investment capital is flooding the market. The opportunity sure seems immense, but the business landscape is becoming crowded and chaotic. Cannabis businesses are discovering the need to stand out from this gathering crowd.

What every ganjapreneur needs to understand is that this surge in entrepreneurship is producing more new companies every day than there are reporters covering the entire market. This lopsided market condition is driving reporters, editors and their publications away from covering news announcements, especially company- and product-launch news.

So how does a company stand out from the crowd if reporters won’t cover its news? With a good story.

Companies need to wrap their brand, reputation and product vision into compelling narratives that remain relevant over long stretches of time.

For instance, think about how many different types of cannabis growers there are: indoor, outdoor, greenhouse; using sunlight, HPS lamps and LED lights; using a cocoa grow medium, hydroponics or fog. Assuming price and THC/CBD potency are similar, what would drive consumer loyalty to a specific grower or its brand?

We know of a grower in central Oregon who is committed to a very simple product philosophy: grow the best possible bud with the lowest carbon footprint. Everything this grower does sprouts from this core philosophy. The method of growing, the grow medium and nutrients, the lights and HVAC, power sources – every choice is weighed against the positive impacts to both the grow operation’s carbon footprint and the quality of the harvested crop. And as they are achieving their mission, the press is embracing them.

This grower is relevant to every story being written about excessive power consumption; they are relevant to every story about water use and conservation; they are relevant to every story about a company that cultivates a local following; they are relevant to every story about boutique buds; and the list goes on.

The key to a successful narrative is the ability to be both relevant and unique. The only reason a reporter will feel compelled to write about a company is if that company’s story is relevant to the publication’s readers. But with so many companies offering so many similar products, relevance isn’t enough. A company’s story has to be unique, or failing that, has to be told first.

Story matrix

Story Lab news value matrix

To illustrate how to construct a compelling narrative, we have used this matrix that plots news value against two axes: human benefit and emotion. A simple tool like a screw driver has limited human benefit, and certainly little emotional appeal. Sports, while exciting, also has little broad-based human benefit, though it certainly stirs emotions. You get the idea. In our illustration, the example that gets the highest scores for both human benefit and emotion would be a cure for cancer.

The problem for the cannabis market is that a very large segment of new businesses starts in this upper right-hand square. Countless cannabis entrepreneurs begin explaining their company’s history with an emotional and heartfelt anecdote about how medical marijuana helped someone close to them get through a chronic condition, reduce tremendous pain, or yes, beat cancer. These are great stories, have tremendous emotional appeal, and if they were applied to almost any other market other than cannabis, would be among the most sought after and successful of company narratives. But because there are so many of these kinds of stories, their lack of uniqueness makes them (frustratingly) dull and of diminished editorial value.

But take heart – every company has a story to tell. Uncovering and framing the perfect company narrative is the foundation of The Cannabis Story Lab – it’s specifically implied in our name! Using techniques developed after many years working both sides of the client/media relationship, counseling clients, and developing a keen understanding of what works and what is more challenging in the cannabis market, The Cannabis Story Lab discovers and develops a company narrative that becomes the foundation for all brand, product/service and reputation communications. Woven together with a company’s strengths and capable of withstanding market threats, this narrative is at the core of media relations activities, blog and social media messaging, speaking engagements, award entries, web content and all the many other places and ways a company speaks to its audiences.

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