Learn To Tell Stories III

Continuing this series, here are a couple of my favorites from the world of corporate storytelling. (Here are Parts I and II of this series.)

Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” – 2013

In 2004, Ogilvy & Mather and Dove put together an exhibition known as “Beyond Compare: Women Photographers on Real Beauty,” featuring famous Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz, among 66 others. This created a conversation on beauty that would inspire further research, ultimately leading to a campaign. This campaign launched a brand overhaul for the “Made with one quarter moisturizing cream” soap company, as I always remembered Dove from their TV commercials when I was growing up. Put aside any opinions about motive and focus on the emotive.

CarMax – 2017

Whereas Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign was an intentionally planned, longterm PR and marketing effort, this bit of brilliance from CarMax was a bit more impromptu.

It all began with a lovely satirical commercial from a filmmaker in L.A. helping his girlfriend sell her 1996 Honda Accord.

Someone from CarMax took notice, saw a golden PR opportunity, and voilà:

PR or Marketing?

I view Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign as a marketing/advertising/PR hybrid, although heavier on the marketing/advertising because of its primary distribution channel being paid media.

But, this is the classic question in today’s digital landscape. There is a tremendous amount of crossover which blurs traditional boundaries from the days of yore when social media and the like/share/tweet landscape didn’t exist. While I’d argue that public relations has always been a part of marketing, there needs to be even more cross-pollination with PR and marketing teams today, working together to create cohesive brand communications.

In my opinion, CarMax is pure PR for one primary reason.

Owned Media

This was distributed entirely on its social media channel, no paid media was used, which in turn earned other unpaid media coverage. Equally important, while there was clearly a production budget for the videos, the purpose was always a conversation with the public rather than producing an ad.

The Effect

This was not a “campaign” in an advertising or marketing sense of the word. This was essentially a response that spurred a conversation. An elaborately planned and high-budget Twitter conversation, but a conversation nonetheless. And its effect was that the public felt as though they were being let in on this ridiculous transaction, and became privy to the interaction between the parties.

The result was a win that went beyond a “lol,” a like, or a share: it served to personalize and humanize a corporation. CarMax put a likeable, self-deprecating face and some emotion to its company. People are interacting with their brand as they would a friend. You don’t get that from a “CarMax buys 1994 Honda Accord for $20K” press release.

It’s fun to see people who are good at their jobs get wins in the socialsphere.

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On Music and Life

Throughout the course of my life I have consistently found that few people possess the level of deep, emotional love for music that I do. That’s not a slight. It’s simply factual. While most people have some type of relationship with music, there is a spectrum of commitment to musical admiration. I happen to be at the intensely committed end of this spectrum.

I am consistently astounded at how quickly and seamlessly I can brought back to certain periods of my life, simply by hearing a few notes of a particular song. What’s more, there are certain songs that can evoke certain feelings or emotions in me that are related to certain periods of my life, even though those songs didn’t exist during that particular period. It’s this evocation of emotion and nostalgia that

This evening I am sitting at a semi-local coffee shop which also happens to serve craft beer on tap. I am working on a job application – well, obviously I’m not working on it right now – and sipping an assorted “pick four” of craft beer from across the United States.

Pick 4
Unedited (or SOOC, for photography nerds), courtesy of iPhone’s Portrait Mode.

As I do so, I’m listening to this version of “So Beautiful,” performed by Robert Glasper. I’ve included a link to a video of the recording below, because it’s that fantastic. Hopefully someone will find this as moving as I do.

Cheers.

Focus: An Ode To Single-Tasking

Not too long ago, I published a post about time and how we use it, (Part II is here) in which I referenced three components I’ve come to see in my own life as being essential to getting the most out of my time: focus, effectiveness, and choice.

Mostly, these bits o’ wisdom have come to me the hard way: experience. I’ve made a boat load of mistakes over the course of my life, often doing things badly first, in order to ultimately learn how to do them well. I’ll offer my perspective with a personal anecdote thrown in, and I’ll include information from some older and wiser folks for anyone who may stumble upon this post. Off we go…

Focus

How distracted are you? One approach to answering this is to ask how much you accomplish over the course of a day.  But, this can be a trap. “Accomplish” can conjure up images of checklists, marking off task after task so that at the end of the day you can look back and see three, four, or nine items crossed through. The trap is that it feels like something’s been accomplished, when nothing important actually has.

So, let’s re-frame the question: How much quality work do you get done each day?  How much do you achieve toward what matters – toward being able to spend more quality time doing quality things?

So often this comes down to fighting distractions. Personally, throughout my life I’ve battled distraction like Leonidas battled the Persians in 300. Well, sometimes. Other times I’d actually invite it in, pour it a glass of wine, and we’d sit together for hours.

What I’ve come to understand is this: Whether I was fighting or courting distraction depended upon whether I recognized it as a distraction, or whether I thought I was actually working on something important.

Michael Hyatt addresses getting work done in a way that seems incredibly simple, but is actually quite profound and necessary. He schedules time to actually do work.

There are a whole host of obvious distractions to avoid while working on important things. You know, text messages, news feeds, phone calls, Spider Solitaire. But, there are also the sneaky distractions masquerading as real work. This is something Jason Fried digs into in this awesome TED talk. These are things like work-related email notifications popping in every few minutes, employee/co-worker visits, meetings, and so forth.

But for me, there were times when I thought I’d recognized and eliminated distractions, I’d identified important work, and I even felt focused, but I just wasn’t getting as much quality work done as I wanted to be, and knew I was capable of, doing.

This was when I had to learn how to focus more effectively. That “how” was elusive and seemingly counter-intuitive, but has been so critical.

The How

Single-tasking is, you guessed it, the opposite of multi-tasking. If you get paid to chew gum for a living, multi-tasking while you work is a fine option. However, if your role involves even a modicum of brain function, you need to have blocks of undistracted time to devote intellectual and creative energy to it.

This means freedom from the obvious distractions mentioned above. It also means freedom from our own self-imposed distractions of thinking about other things we have to do, even other work-related things. I’ve had to give myself permission to just dig deeply into one, single, solitary important thing at a time. And focus!

Madeline art fs wm
My daughter, single-tasking. One pencil, one sketch pad, and oodles of focus.

Anyone who has to manage multiple projects at a time, or who wears multiple hats and must compartmentalize responsibilities should understand and practice this. Being an entrepreneur or business owner does not somehow make us able to use our brains differently. Trying to multi-task is simply a recipe for anxiety and stress.

Anecdote

I learned this lesson early in my career while working with a great guy who managed our company’s sales team. He was as nice as can be, super high energy, and talked at a breakneck pace. We were a fully distributed team and whenever I would jump on the phone with him, I’d hear him typing away as I spoke to him. He would jovially boast, “I’m just multi-tasking!” And, everyone always talked about the volume of sales he produced.

One day, I got the call that he was abruptly no longer a part of the team, and our CEO asked me to temporarily assume his role. Of course, I agreed, but I was scared to death. “How can I possibly produce the way he does?” I thought.

Upon diving into account details, email history, and doing some good old fashioned statistical analysis, a pattern began to emerge. Rushed communication, underdeveloped clients, and poor attention to detail characterized his work. Ill-conceived campaigns with mediocre results were common. The speed and multi-tasking had taken its toll. Sales volume was high, but sales quality was decidedly low. More importantly, customers weren’t being served well, which meant return customers were very low as well.

Some clients he’d taken on should’ve been turned away for a variety of reasons, and others had been dropped into a particular campaign cycle that didn’t fit. Sometimes creative details had been overlooked. But most importantly, I found email threads that were sometimes 10 or 20 emails long that could have been accomplished in just a few emails had a bit more thought been put into the original. Client’s noticed, too, and were frustrated by it.

So, we developed a system for communicating with clients, worked on more effectively assessing prospective client needs, and on developing campaign strategy. Over the course of the next 12 months, this helped triple gross monthly sales across the team, primarily through more effective and efficient communication which created more time to focus on creative development, A/B testing, and so forth.

Unconventional Wisdom

The idea of slowing down, being thoughtful and meticulous, and even walling oneself off from the world for blocks of time in order to focus seems to go against the grain in many companies. Everyone needs to “be available” for urgent matters. Poppycock.

Single-tasking works. We’re not computers, and we weren’t meant to do more than one thing at once. Our ability to singularly focus drastically changes the quality of work we can accomplish, which should be what it’s all about: doing the best work possible.

“You’re not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn’t work that way.” Instead, “you’re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go.” (from the NPR article above)

Paul Graham’s essay on what he calls the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule addresses this in interesting fashion. To summarize, he makes the case that while managers’ days are broken into the typical Outlook calendar increments, those who make things (programmers and writers are his examples) need large blocks of uninterrupted time in order to create.

Here’s an interesting quote for the managers of makers to consider:

Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet. Since most powerful people operate on the manager’s schedule, they’re in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency if they want to. But the smarter ones restrain themselves, if they know that some of the people working for them need long chunks of time to work in.

Be Makers of Time

The vast majority of us are makers in our work roles. And when we do our best work, not only do we fulfill ourselves and those whom we serve, we actually create time for what’s important by reducing wasted hours.

When we single-task, we allow our brains to function optimally which creates higher quality time later to devote to what should matter most in our lives: family, friends, volunteer work, hobbies, and so forth. We’re not leaving our work day and going into these activities depleted of energy and brain power, incapable of being intellectually and emotionally present for them.

We should all strive to be makers of time in this sense.

Yes, I mean in the metaphorical sense. Unless you’re God – which, of course, you’re not. Or Aaron. You know, Shane Carruth’s character from Primer? But, he was really just screwing with time, not actually creating it. Never mind.

At some point, I’ll get around to effectiveness and choice. Until then, remember this: multi-tasking is a fool’s errand.

Fin.

Making The Case That Normal Is Extraordinary

I recently posted about an episode of This American Life I heard back in 2007. I’ve remembered it periodically over the years, and it came back to mind again several weeks ago as I was pondering this topic of normal vs. extraordinary, particularly within the context of how I personally measure success.

What originally struck me about that NPR broadcast was that I was hearing an enthralling story about someone’s “normal” life, and that everyone mentioned peripherally in that story isn’t just a fictional character; each is a real person living a normal life. They had no idea that they would be featured on NPR someday. But, they were involved in this story along with countless others that have never been preserved in the annuls of time.

Real life is interesting, and true success is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve “known” this for years, intellectually. What I am finally becoming comfortable with is the process of applying it to my own life.

A normal life crop

I can’t remember where I first saw this photograph, but it made a big enough impression on me that I took a screenshot. It’s been sitting on my desktop since Tuesday, January 25, 2016, serving as a reminder to consider how I define words like “normal” and “extraordinary,” and more importantly for me, how I define success. This will all make sense at the bottom of the post, but first a bit of background.

Earlier. . .

I’ve had a bit of a volatile relationship with achievement. Growing up, discussions in our family surrounding what epitomized success left very little room for anything less than perfection, whether academically or in the general sphere of life and career. Discussion often revolved around a few, let’s call them overachievers, on either side of our recent family tree, their accolades, stories of renown, and so forth. While there was never an explicit expectation communicated, the underlying tone was there… and received.

Consequently, for years I battled career inertia. Eventually that inertia gave way to perpetual motion in pursuit of this unhealthy idea of achievement and success that I’d internalized early in my life. It pushed and drove me, constantly leaving me with the feeling that I wasn’t measuring up, wasn’t good enough. Never content, I had a sense of emptiness regardless of how satisfied my bosses or clients were with my work. It was never enough; I always needed to do more.

Back To Our Photo

It caused me to stop and ask, “What does it mean to have success in my life? In my career? Who defines that? And, why?”

You might be wondering how that photo could bring those specific questions to mind and cause me so much introspection. Well, it’s because it originally came with a caption.

A normal life

I’d never heard of Jimmie Nicol. It turns out most people haven’t. It appears that Tom Hanks doesn’t know him well either, even though he based a character from his film That Thing You Do on him. In his appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air, he calls him Jimmie Nicols.

Well, here’s the deal. Jimmie Nicols was, you know, a hired-hand drummer in the British music scene. And when The Beatles did their Asian and Australian tour, Ringo Starr got sick – tonsillitis or something – and he could not make a certain number of dates in Australia and Japan. So he became the drummer of The Beatles for a section of their tour. Jimmie Nicols, live from the Budokan with The Beatles.And I saw photographs of him, and I saw a little bit of footage of this guy picked out of total obscurity to play drums between three of the most famous musicians in the world at the time. John, Paul and George were up front, and Jimmie was playing the drums. And I just thought, what did that guy experience for a few months? You know, he was put in the same clothes, he rode in the same cars, he was on the back of the same trucks – he was treated like one of The Beatles.

I’m not a huge Beatles fan. What struck me about this photo, besides the composition and emotion, was the last line of the caption. His “bland, normal life?” Says who? Well, the world, the internet, the media, to name a few.

According to this quote, says Jimmie too, apparently:

Standing in for Ringo was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Until then I was quite happy earning £30 or £40 a week. After the headlines died, I began dying too.

Yet, in his book, The Beatles: Off The Record, author Keith Badman records one of Jimmie’s comments on life on the road as a Beatle:

“During the tour, which took me to Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, and Australia, I often went out alone. Hardly anybody recognised me and I was able to wander around. In Hong Kong, I went to see the thousands of people who live on little boats in the harbour. I saw the refugees in Kowloon, and I visited a nightclub. I like to see life. A Beatle could never really do that.” (emphasis mine)

I can’t find the original source for the “I began dying too” quote above. I hope it’s not true. I see perspective in the second quote – the recognition that there’s a heck of a lot more freedom in his “bland, normal life.”

I love stories, but this highlights the dark side of internet storytelling. This depressing narrative being retold ad nauseam as “Jimmie’s sad story” in myriad articles out there underscores a version of the problem I dealt with growing up. Why isn’t this a happy story of a talented drummer who got to sit in for Ringo Starr, see amazing parts of the world, make some good money, return to a successful session music career, and now has a a BAFTA award-winning son who is a sound engineer?

Instead, the message is that anything short of the lavish excesses of fame and fortune is tantamount to failure. Wrong!

I’m learning to deprogram myself from this toxic way of looking at life. We all should. Hopefully, Jimmie has, too.

 

 

Ira Glass and Rent Control

Back in early 2007, I was in the throes of trying to finish undergrad. Married and with a new little baby girl, I was working two jobs while attempting a full course load. For the first time in my life, I was really working.

My early morning job was driving a route for a friend’s father who owned a local franchise of Rug Doctor. You’ve probably seen them in your local grocery store or Lowe’s. My territory covered a good portion of East Tennessee, from Gatlinburg to Athens, so I spent quite a bit of time in the van. I passed much of that time listening to NPR as my shift ran from roughly 4:30am to 9:30am. I primarily listened to Morning Edition, which kept me alert through 9:00am every day.

This was my routine. So, when I found myself playing catch-up one cold Saturday from missed workdays earlier in the week, I naturally turned to NPR. I was actually ecstatic because it gave me the opportunity to listen to Car Talk. I grew up listening to Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s NPR show while driving around with my parents. If you can listen to them without laughing check your pulse. Come to think of it, Ray and Tom (R.I.P.) Magliozzi deserve their own post. I’ll have to do that soon.

Anyway, that particular Saturday was a long one. There had been inclement weather earlier in the week (anywhere south of Cincinnati if there’s snow forecasted people panic, all the stores close, and everyone stays home), so I wasn’t able to run the route for two days. My shift ran long past Car Talk, much to my chagrin but I plowed ahead making all my stops.

Around noon I finished my last store located about an hour south of Knoxville. I loaded up machines and climbed into the van, ready to begin the trek back. Upon turning the key in the ignition, the voice of Ira Glass cut through the engine as he set up that morning’s edition of This American Life on… wait for it, building superintendants.

“Awesome,” I thought. “Does NPR not have anything more interesting to discuss?”

Red Door

I’d never even heard of the show, and this was my introduction to it. I promptly reached for the volume knob to put it out of my misery just as Ira compares the episode to “an epic novel.” I paused. And with that, he passed it off to Jack Hitt, who launched into the first act. I was all in right from the start.

It’s difficult to say why certain things resonate so deeply, but I think it’s because I was listening to someone’s life. This was a regular person, just like me, only living in New York City. And yes, some crazy things happened, but it struck me that it could’ve been anyone. Real life is interesting. Ordinary life is still interesting. Whatever it was, it grabbed a hold of me for that drive home, and I didn’t forget about it.

I thought of it again the other day, out of the blue, and I decided to track it down. I’ve yet to listen to it again, but I plan to soon. Here it is, for anyone who happens by. I hope you enjoy it.

The Super Always Rings Twice

Much Ado About… Soccer

With much sadness that the 2018 World Cup came and went so quickly I thought I’d vent bit. In general, the American sports media seem to arrogantly malign soccer while clearly displaying their ignorance of it. I’ll leave that as an unsubstantiated hypothesis for the moment, but I’ll definitely come back to it in a future post.

For now, I’m going to address the most common objection I hear people voice when it comes to watching soccer.

“There’s not enough action / nothing happens / it’s not fast-paced enough.”

This one is laughable. Interestingly, the people who most often utter these phrases are enamored with baseball and American football, both games with far less continuous action than soccer.

Let’s break this thing down a bit.

The Action Factor

For brevity’s sake, I’m going to give you a one-stop shop for the numbers below, because it does a good job of aggregating the data from places like WSJ.

  1. Baseball – The average game is just under three hours, roughly 18 minutes of which baseball is actually being played. The rest of the time the pitcher is trying to choose a pitch, the batter is trying to choose a bat, and the umpire is trying to choose the ball, all interspersed among an unhealthy dose of advertising.
  2. American football – With the longest game time but shortest in play, football games run in excess of three hours with football happening for about 11 minutes. That’s six percent. Let me drive that home: 6%. Out of 100%. Wow.
  3. Soccer – It’s 90 minutes of nearly continuous play, stopped only for injuries, free kicks, or penalty kicks. On average, the ball is “in play” for between 56 minutes and 65 minutes, roughly, depending on your source. Looking pretty continuous by comparison, eh? Here’s a little table.

Soccer FTW
The defense rests. Actually, in soccer the defense doesn’t rest until after the game. In baseball the defense rests for most of the game, and football… at least half.

If the above isn’t compelling enough, consider this: the majority of play stoppages in soccer generally consist of corner kicks and free kicks which happen during the “run of play,” as there are no commercial breaks until halftime.

In other words, when you’re waiting for the action to restart in soccer, you’re watching the ensuing action being set up – players getting set up on a corner kick, for example. There’s still anticipation of play, and the restarts are generally very fast.

Contrast this with baseball and football, in which the stoppages of play generally result in Doritos and Geico trying to sell you something. On the occasions that a break is too short for commercials (a huddle or batting change, for instance), you’re watching the short stop spit or a 300 pound linemen adjust his Yoga pants. Yikes.

A Caveat

The diving is abysmal. I hate it.

Does Any of This Matter?

Probably not. People like what they like. My opinion is that if people would take the time to learn the game, they’d enjoy it more. But, you know what they say about opinions.

The Amazing Power of “More”

Thus far, this little blog has almost no followers and zero comments. I’ve done no promotion. And all of that is fine. It’s just sort of sitting in the shadows of the interwebs.

Houdini

Yes, I just posted a shadowy cat photo and a cheesy allusion to it. Or is the photo an allusion to the statement?

Anyway, the purpose of abhor mediocrity (as I stated in this post) was simply to rediscover joy in writing, and in the process hopefully help anyone who stumbles upon it.

Yet, as I’ve written and pondered topics for other posts, I continually find myself measuring against what readers might think. Rather than simply writing for the joy of it, I feel the need to tailor it to address topics I’m reading about elsewhere, “trending” stories, and being concerned with an imaginary audience.

So, why am I feeling this pressure? The answer is twofold:

  1. I feel some unwritten pressure to be “strategic” about the content of the posts, and that if I’m not strategically planning each post, I’m wasting my time.
  2. Because I’m not strategically working toward something (in this case, building an audience), I don’t “feel successful” even though I’ve made no effort to promote.

Jason Fried addressed this in a Rework podcast episode called “Sell Your By-products” when he said, “Take all the fun out of it, wouldn’t you? Just wring it all out and get rid of it all… if I’m going to write, it’s because I’ve got something to say.” The context is blogging as part of a content strategy as opposed to blogging for fun, because you have something to say.

It’s true. The purpose of this blog is to write. That’s it. No strings attached creative writing of whatever tickles my fancy. Here’s to reaffirmation of that “goal.”

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Learn To Tell Stories II

Last time I wrote the following:

Over the years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the best marketing and advertising focuses on evocative storytelling. If done well it not only makes the product appealing, it makes the brand compelling, which can mean the difference between a customer and a lifelong customer – someone who becomes your brand advocate and who helps build you a tribe.

It’s my intention to periodically add to this series, as the mood strikes me, by diving into ad campaigns amazing storytelling, at least in my opinion. The very strategic schedule for these series updates is based on Tim Urban’s new post model. I’ve arrived at this through meticulous testing, as I’m sure Tim did. I’m sure Tim Ferriss would be proud of me. So many Tims, but on with the post.

One Company Who Gets It

Let’s take, The Skimm, for instance.  Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin started their community in 2012 after leaving their dream jobs at NBC. Targeting millennials, women in particular, who are hoping to remain or become politically astute, Zakin and Weisberg are building a media empire around the idea of delivering concise political news via email and podcast in the millennial vernacular. The brand’s ambassador is the “Skimm Girl,” a character who has her own style, down to a favorite drink. New Skimm employees are required to learn all about her, because she’s part of the brand – part of the story.

Here’s Zakin’s take on who they are:

To this day we’ve never even thought about ourselves as a content company. We call ourselves a membership company, but that’s like our buzz word. But, I think what we’re really about is storytelling.

The clip above picks up with Zakin’s response to the interviewer referencing “content” companies. In particular, she mentions AOL becoming a content company at a time when “no one wants content,” and then goes on to praise them for being ahead of the curve in terms of determining what their audience wanted.

How do the scrupulous editors of Wikipedia describe The Skimm?

The Skimm (styled theSkimm) is an American media company, founded in 2012 by Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, providing a subscription-only newsletter. The newsletter is a digest of news stories intended to be simple and easy to read.

So, why? Why is a company predicated upon being a daily news digest for millennial women all about storytelling?

For one thing, they’re called “news stories.” If you Google the term… well, see for yourself.

News Stories

Secondly, Zakin and Weisberg understand their audience, because they are their audience. This allows them to tell news stories in a more entertaining and relational way that resonates. But, let’s not mistake what they do for reporting the news. There is most certainly a voice. From start to finish, The Skimm brand is telling one big story, one little story at a time.

I don’t subscribe to The Skimm. I did at one time. I genuinely tried to like it, too, because I’d heard in an interview that they had assembled a panel to discuss politics in a non-partisan way. I respected that. However, I’m not a millennial. As clever as I think the idea is I just couldn’t get into delivery, which comes off as condescending to me. Chacun à son goût. It’s clearly tremendously successful.

What I do see though, is an understanding that the storytelling aspect is absolutely essential to developing an audience, tribe, or whatever marketing buzzword you want to use. At some point I’ll probably dig into the science behind storytelling and why it’s so powerful. But for now, I’ll close with a quote from Stewart Butterfield from his Masters of Scale interview with Reid Hoffman.

If there was one piece of advice I wish I could phone back and give to myself, was just concentrate on that storytelling part, on the convincing people. Because if you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how good the product is, it doesn’t matter how good the idea was for the market, or what happens in the external factors, if you don’t have the people believing. (emphasis mine)

Sales as storytelling? Sounds like material for another storytelling post.

Cheers.

Learn To Tell Stories

I have a friend whose father tells jokes and funny stories that never end… literally. There is supposed to be an actual punchline somewhere, but as the storytelling progresses his initially mild chuckling gradually builds to utter delirium. By the time the end rolls around he’s completely unintelligible. But, here’s the kicker: it’s okay, because you’re laughing so hard at his contagious laughter that the missing punchline becomes irrelevant.

One of the reasons I’m so enamored with photography is its storytelling potential. The photo series below of my daughter and Hank was entirely spontaneous. We were having a deep discussion (my daughter and I, although Hank is quite the conversationalist when he’s hungry, wants to go out, etc…). As I sat in my chair, our discussion winding down, I noticed her position was remarkably similar to his. She noticed, too, so I grabbed my camera and the silliness ensued.

Hank & Girl ii
Hey… why don’t you lick on someone your own size?

I love stories; I always have. Back in 2011, I left my position at a marketing firm and embarked upon an entrepreneurial journey to start a business on the basis of storytelling. Sketch video was our primary creative medium, although we did other content development, branding, and design as well. I called it InkBlot and premised the company on distilling our clients’ vision/mission/goals, concisely and compellingly telling that story to their audience, thereby creating brand advocates. We focused on local businesses and non-profits for clientele, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had in my professional career.

Over the years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the best marketing and advertising focuses on evocative storytelling. If done well it not only makes the product appealing, it makes the brand appealing, which can mean the difference between a customer and a lifelong customer – someone who becomes your brand advocate and who helps build you a tribe.

If you’ve followed other posts of mine, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of the Harvard Business Review. Check out this 2014 HBR article touching on oxytocin release and the neurobiology of storytelling. Just in case you promptly decided to skip the article as soon as you read “oxytocin” and “neurobiology,” I’ll leave you with this quote from the author, Paul J. Zak:

My research has also shown that stories are useful inside organizations. We know that people are substantially more motivated by their organization’s transcendent purpose (how it improves lives) than by its transactional purpose (how it sells goods and services). Transcendent purpose is effectively communicated through stories – for example, by describing the pitiable situations of actual, named customers and how their problems were solved by your efforts. (Emphasis mine)

There’s a word for the italicized portion from the above quote: testimonial. A testimonial should be brief, compelling narrative of how one person (who could be any person reading it) was positively impacted by said company.

This is a topic that is in my blood. Storytelling in general, but particularly its role in business, entrepreneurship, public speaking, branding, marketing, and advertising I find to be endlessly fascinating. If it holds the same luster for you, please join me in the coming posts for a deep dive into some brilliant stories and the companies, people, and campaigns behind them.

To close out the series, we’ll dig into how we can learn to tell more compelling stories. Why? If you learn to tell stories, you will always have an audience.

Until next time!