I’ve been seeing more and thinking more about the idea of “narrative” as it relates to a brand.

The notion is that a brand is perceived over time not by what it says but by what it does. And those acts form a spine of a narrative that invites consumers in to participate.

An example might be Target. Target has grown a narrative of a big box retailer that delivers quality, well-designed goods for competitive prices. Over the years Target has invited us to a large number of events around the launch of designer lines—Massoni, Michael Graves, Issac Mizrahi. In between we have the store experience–it’s more brightly lit with wider aisles than other retailers and of course, bathed in vivid red. The narrative of Target is all about “cheap chic,” making well designed goods affordable.

Wal-Mart is about paying less, but “living better,” the words that evoke parents doing better by their kids. Wal-Mart can deliver on this narrative because it operates the worlds largest and most efficient supply chain.

Narrative as platform for a brand provides a frame that’s bigger than (in fact will contain) story-telling. The buzz-kill of “story-telling” is that it’s still fundementally about the brand telling the consumer something, albeit more engaging. Narrative invites people in to make it part of their own narrative.

I gave a presentation last week for the Minnebar* Conference held at Best Buy headquarters in Minneapolis.

Here’s my deck, which includes both narrative blurbs on each slide that summarize my “talk track,” as well as links to several sources that I found especially helpful. John Hagel of Deloitte is the latest person I’ve heard speak with clarity about the idea. Dr. David Boje at the University of New Mexico School of Business is also doing a lot of writing and research. There’s more to be found on the notion of narrative of brands on Slideshare as well: