storytelling

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I took a part time job a couple of years ago doing something I’ve never done before. Sales. Belly-to-belly sales, to be more specific. Quite a departure getting paid to look the consuming public in the eye and pitch.  

“Story” had always been an important part of my marketing life but in this new position, after product knowledge, it became a very close second in terms of my sales effectiveness.

There are two basic kind of stories a salesperson can tell: product-based stories focusing of features, functions and outcomes and entertaining stories tangential to the product. Everyone needs the first to move the merch, but for me the entertaining, humanizing stories were the difference maker. They kept me on my toes and helped engage consumers.

The last two days I was working side-by-side at a trade show with our territory’s best sales person. He is brilliant with customers, performing straight from the sale manual and beyond. At his best he’s jovial, informative, a locomotive of product fact. His stories are all about product. I, on the other hand, used personal stories to pepper my sales. Some self-deprecating, some shared interest, some environmental – the whole gamut.

Turns out, mixing in some entertainment with sales haymakers was a winning combination. Not everyone is an entertainer. I’m no Sebastian Maniscalco.   As Jimmy Breslin taught us, the best way to tell the news is to get out of the building. In sales, the best way to sell product is to get out of the building…and the product is the building.      

Peace.                     

 

 

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Rootable Proof.

Great journalists can write a story about a person and make you root for them. The short TV vignettes produced for the Olympics about athletes you never heard of is a great example of the craft. When a cauliflower eared, over-muscled Syrian weightlifter can be turned into a “rooted for” softy you have created the right back story. The parts of the back story that make you root for the athlete are the realities of hardship, underdog-ness, and courage. Not platitudes, proofs.    

This is a craft people in the ad biz don’t get. Ads are created using an opposite strategy. Rather than find a rootable quality for a product or service, we trot out its riches. “Best this, first that, only this.…”

At What’s The Idea? the brand strategy framework identifies “a claim and 3 proof planks” for a brand. This organizing principle — developed to build a simple array of memorable values that influence preference – focuses on rational and emotional proofs.

(Rootable proofs are often conveyed in story form. This is where the power of storytelling lies in branding and advertising.)

Peace.

 

 

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storytelling

From the big consumer package goods marketers to the mid-size boutiques to one-man PR shops, “storytelling” is the communications art form of the day. A well-worn pop marketing tactic.

The stories to which most refer are content stories, spun by marketers to get customers to buy. Today, content is a by-the-pound business. Stories are, in fact, buildables — production buildables. Storytelling fills the revenue void of the once lofty high margin TV spot.

I’ll trade you 25 stories, 50 stories, for one powerful brand idea. In terms of value.

That’s what brand planners do.  We create big, honkin’, motivating brand ideas. And for brand planners “story listening” is way better than “storytelling.” Sure, I prime the pump by telling consumers a story. The more personal the better. I’m trying to get them to free up insights. Even strangers free up when you are real with them. I’ll show you mine… You’ve got to give to get. Brand planners are good at quant but great at hearing stories fertile with brand meaning. Consumer stories that set off alarms in planners’ heads.

All you storytellers out there – you creative, biz/dev. and agency positioning types – go on and do your storytelling thing, but remember how you get the strategy for those stories. By listening.

Peace.

 

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Storytelling in advertising and marketing is the haps. The narrative. The customer journey. These approaches refer to getting consumers onboard without direct selling. Direct selling being “me, me, me” advertising versus storytelling which is you, you, you — always a more thoughtful approach. An approach much harder to get funded by marketing officers.

Agencies like storytelling because it creates buildables. Video is big. A friend of mine with a women’s sneaker company tells me “everyone keeps calling trying to sell me video.” BBDO has a Lowes Vines story on its website, boasting of effective 6 second Vines videos that only cost Lowes $5,000.

I’m down with storytelling. And video. And the digital journey through an assortment of buildables. But I’m more down with strategy. Or moving consumers to the moral of the story –what one feels about a brand as a result of all the work. And it’s not just a click or a product purchase, it’s the why. I bought a Coke because I wanted refreshment. I bought a Krispy Kreme donut because I deserved a treat.

Story telling is good but branding is more like crescendo building. Moving custies closer to full on purposeful love. Geico, could take a note or two here. Peace.

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Sean Boyle, a really smart Publicis brand planner, once told me good brand strategies offer a poetic appeal. To understand his point, I suspect it is much easier to look at a brand strategy and notice a lack of poetry than is to articulate  a poetic frame.  I’ve tried poetry. When my pops died, I wrote one. Following powerful relationships, others. They weren’t “There once was a man from Nantucket” ditties, they were home-grown and from the heart. Without rhyme or perfect tempo.  They were my tempo.    

Poetry and what is poetic is in the eyes of the beholder I reckon, so Sean’s notion about good strategy will be different to each planner. But let’s agree to say poetic ideas are pregnant ideas. And dimensional. Ideas that strike up emotion. Certainly they can provide rational context — it is the real world after all. Perhaps this is why “storytelling” is such a pop marketing topic of the day. But storytelling and the journey and all that other brand-speak, is only as good at the strategy that gave it birth. Only as good as the morals of those stories.  “A closer shave” is not poetic, “a softer rough” just might be. Peace.    

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I went off a little yesterday on Twitter about all the crazy titles people are putting on their business cards in the marketing services world. Here’s one: Chief Storyteller, Apprentice Zen Teacher.  Come se what?

Storytelling is big business today.  Why?  Because video is such an important communications device – and it’s billable. But before everybody and her brother could make a crappy video and tell a crappy narrative, the art of storytelling required discipline – the thoughtfulness and restraint to tell stories with fewer pictures and words.  

Now digital and ad agencies talk about story telling all the time.  First we must understand the brand story.  Then we must be able to translate the brand story and articulate into business strategy for management.  Only then can we tell the story to consumers.  And now, pray tell, thanks to social media, the story goes both ways now.  Around the brand campfire we listen to consumers tell our story… and we encourage them to tell it to others.

The real story on story.

Sorry to go all geeze on you but I saw a wonderful print ad in The New York Times paper paper today.  It wasn’t anything X 768 — it was two honking color half pages by L.L. Bean at opposite corners of a spread folio.  The headline was “gear that stands the test of time” (left) “now ships free all the time” (right).  The left page showed a close up of the heels of two Bean boots.  Since the story was about product durability and free shipping, the picture of the boots was amazingly rich. Shot by the Annie Leibovitz of boot photographers, the color, patina, texture and composition of the boots said “wear.” The shot also said tear, but not too much.  The heels weren’t too worn, the settle of the leather not too weighted.    The cant of one boot to the other, like a kiss.

The picture reminded me on a pair of my father’s L.L. Bean boots. It captured me. It helped me tell my own story. Sometimes the best storytelling in marketing communications is not explicit.  It’s provocative. In this “fast twitch media” world, I don’t have time to sit through a mini-movie on the durability of a boot, made by an NYU film student at $35 an hour. Don’t tell me the story, remind me, incite me, coddle me into my own story. Bravo L.L. Bean.  Ship me a pair of my daddy’s boots.  (Actually, I think I still have them.  Maybe I’ll just put ‘em bad boys on.) Peace!

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Dan Pink is an author with a great thesis for today’s marketers. It’s his contention that right-brainers will soon rule the marketing world. I fancy myself a right-brainer and am, therefore, quite happy.

 
Here’s a quote from Mr. Pink’s book “A whole new mind.”
 
“In the age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logical and functional needs is woefully insufficient. Engineers must figure out how to get things to work. But if those things are not also pleasing to the eye or compelling to the soul, few will buy them. There are too many options. Mastery of design, empathy, play and other seemingly “soft” aptitudes is now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.”
 
I’m a particularly big fan of Dan’s notion that the best way to sell is to do so through storytelling. Today some really smart larges corporations are teaching employees not through manuals and rote memorization, but through storytelling. The best ads communicate using stories…and the best brands build relevance through the same mechanism. Don’t recite product function or benefit, embed it in a story.
 

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