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Using Metaphors to Decipher Corporate Strategy.

Why do even the most astute C-suite leaders often struggle to articulate their company’s strategy and its significance to various audiences? This post explores how the use of metaphors, whether visual or literal, can transform and clarify corporate communication, rendering intricate concepts and questions more accessible and emotionally resonant.

My recent interviews with the board and leadership of a notable corporation, aimed at shaping the brand’s direction, revealed intriguing insights. These discussions were crucial to refining the company’s messaging strategy, guiding the development of a new website and possibly rejuvenating the logo. Surprisingly, when probed about the brand’s perception and core values, the responses from many of the leaders reverted to frequently using words like “innovation” or “quality” as part of their descriptions. While these responses accurately reflect the company’s ethos, they lacked depth and specificity.

“Visual metaphors can serve as a powerful tool for leaders to convey the essence of their company’s vision and values, transcending the limitations of conventional corporate language.”

A pivotal moment occurred when I shifted the approach, introducing questions framed in a more tangible, visually-oriented context. This method elicited far more nuanced and articulate responses, particularly from leaders whose expertise lies in finance or science and who traditionally find it challenging to express concepts related to brand strategy, messaging and the symbolism behind the company’s branding and color palette.

This experience underscores the profound impact of visual metaphors in facilitating a clearer articulation of complex corporate strategies. It reveals how imagery can serve as a powerful tool for leaders to convey the essence of their company’s vision and values, transcending the limitations of conventional corporate language.

Reframing Questions with Metaphors

Metaphors, whether referenced in a description or visualized, serve a dual purpose in our communication. Firstly, they provide a framework for understanding complex issues, offering a familiar reference point that makes abstract concepts more accessible. By comparing a multifaceted corporate strategy to something as tangible and relatable as a specific object, we can more easily grasp its unique characteristics and underlying philosophy.

“Metaphors go beyond just comprehension and demonstration—they actually change the way we think of a concept on an unconscious level.”

Secondly, metaphors strip away the layers of complexity that often shroud corporate discussions. They distill intricate ideas into simpler, more digestible elements, allowing for clearer thinking and more effective problem-solving. This simplification is not about reducing the intellectual rigor of the conversation; rather, it’s about enhancing clarity and engagement, enabling a more profound and nuanced understanding of the subject at hand.

“I asked participants to identify a car—specifying the brand, model and color—that they believed best aligned with their company’s personality, and to explain their choice.”

Psychology Today explained it another way: “Metaphors go beyond just comprehension and demonstration—they actually change the way we think of a concept on an unconscious level. To demonstrate this, consider a study where half of the participants read about a crime-ridden city where the criminal element was described as a beast preying upon innocent citizens (an animal metaphor). A separate group read essentially the same description of the city, only it described the criminal element as a disease that plagued the town (a disease metaphor). Later, when asked how to solve the crime issue, those who read the animal metaphor suggested control strategies (increasing police presence, imposing stricter penalties). Those who read the disease metaphor instead suggested diagnostic or treatment strategies (seeking out the primary cause of the crime wave, bolstering the economy).

Visual vs. Descriptive Metaphors

As a psychological technique, metaphors can be either a literal description or presented as a visual reference. As described here, “Metaphors function like mental maps that help people interpret and draw new inferences about the complex idea that is being communicated, but in a way that is easier to grasp.”

Metaphors enhance the memorability of your message, expedite the conveyance of your core points, facilitate improved comprehension among audiences and tap into emotional depths that might otherwise remain elusive.

Questions? Feel free to email me here. As always, thank you for reading.

Photo by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash