storytelling in marketing

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I’m not against storytelling. It’s an important part of my business. When collecting information to build brand strategy I hunt for stories and often tell stories to get others to open up. But in and of itself, a story won’t do shit for a brand. Especially, if it’s off-piste.

Storytelling is a pop marketing topic many brand consultants rest upon.  My “brand-ar” goes off when I hear someone use the term; it suggests they’re blowing marko-babble smoke.

Think of storytelling as the code and brand strategy as the app. The app being the meaningful, useful tool.

Brand strategy done right is about claim and proof — packaged into a discrete organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

Stories and storytelling are communications tools, not strategy tools.

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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Here’s a branding fundamental. If you make a claim, invest in proving it. With all deference to the new school of marketing and advertising storytellers, marketing isn’t a story. It’s selling. Preselling. And post selling.

Stories as inputs fuel the claim. Stories may actually deliver the proof, but if consumers remember the story and not the claim you’re off track.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is a genius organization. While I sell strategies that redistribute marketing wealth, they save lives. MSKCC’s ad agency Pereira O’Dell helped find a brilliant, real, and differentiated branding idea “More Science. Less Fear.” Great claim. But I read a print ad by MSKCC this weekend and it contained no proof of claim. So I went to the website set to see the promised video story. The URL ended in /more science. I found the story I was after on Danny. It was a :30 video – no science. Undeterred, I followed another link provided at the end of the short video for a longer form Danny story. Lots of fireman, beautiful film. No science.

MSKCC deals with more science in one day than Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. They got the claim right but seem afraid of the proof. Come on ya’ll!

Peace.     

 

 

 

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I have mad respect for Seth Godin. He’s a hero. And he’s great for the economy. Anyone who can help marketers focus — and improve product and product delivery is someone worth paying attention to. That’s what Seth does. So you can imagine my dismay this weekend when reading this quote from him in an article about Coca-Cola: “Coke is not in the sugary water business, they are in the storytelling business.”

Coke is in the Coke business. The business of product. Every marketer is in the business of product. It’s ground zero for marketers. Storytellers are in the storytelling business. Creative people are in the story telling business.

It’s not a story hurting Coke sales, it’s high fructose corn syrup. As our brains continue to get bigger (according to evolutionary physical anthropologists) we will continue to learn how to prolong our lives – through better living. Products that get in the way of this will wane. The craft economy is taking hold.

Anyone who suggests stories not products are shaping the marketing future, is spending too much time in tactics land. Mr. Godin gets a mulligan; his product is too strong. Peace.

 

 

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Bob’s Discount Furniture just received a cash infusion from Bain Capital. In other words, Bain now owns a big chunk of the company. If you were Bob, or any other  underperforming company looking to fix their business what would you do?  Before you sold out to a big fixer company like Bain, that is? Many go the root of hiring big business consulting companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting or Booz. Pricey choices. Especially for a company under duress. You certainly wouldn’t hire a brand consultant.

But should you?

If you were to go to Landor, Interbrand, Wolff Olins or Siegel+Gale, you’d get some really smart people supervising your business, a lot of smart designers and brand planner worker bees, resulting in a new logo, style book, positioning statement, some lessons in voice and, maybe, if they were feeling a bit feisty culture. Probably not going to fix the business.

Were you to come to What’s the Idea?, a different kind of brand consultancy, you would get some of these things, but only after signing onto a brand plan — the foundation of which is built upon business metrics.  Business fundies. Economic success measures.

A brand plan built upon anything else is simply storytelling. (And storytelling is the pop marketing object of the day.)  Am I suggesting an engagement with What’s The Idea? is superior to a big city business consultancy or brand consultancy?  Perhaps I am. As someone schooled in both disciplines, who works within the company to determine issues and answers, this approach is a “heal thyself” approach. It’s a learning model rather than a teaching model. 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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When first working on the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System business I thought I was going to dislike the category. Now I’m a fan.  Perhaps I was conditioned to think healthcare was bad and unexciting because the ads were so bad.   My agency,  Welch Nehlen Groome, made recommendations to North Shore to manage the brand as if a consumer packaged good: land on a strategic idea, organized it, stick to it and use the it to manage the client. The approach paid off. In our market “Setting new standards in healthcare”- a promise every healthcare provide would aspire to – was better known than “the best cancer care anywhere” the promise of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

What turned me around on healthcare was the depth and complexity of the sell. It offered very fertile ground for connecting with consumers.  If you did your homework, you could hear great stories about the human condition. Talk about finding the pain?  Stories about relationships, e.g., caregiver, doctor patient, etc. Even stories about heroism.  Then there was the science side of the storytelling.  What the docs did. The role of diagnosis, R&D, the team.  Suffice it to say a lot of info could go into the making of an ad.

The Hospital For Special Surgery ran an ad in the NY Times today that is half brilliant. The headline is “Our doctors work hard to perfect joint replacement. Our scientists work hard to prevent them.” Buried in the copy are no less than 5 awesome stories waiting to be told —  waiting to convince people to jump in their cars to go to HSS. But the stories won’t be read; the headline was either written by a tyro or a beat down writer too busy to connect. Too busy to change or save a life.  When we get advertising right in the digital age, those five stories will be linked web videos. In print, they will be underlined and printed in blue to let readers know there is multimedia attached. When we get advertising right in the digital age, we will write headlines that jab us like a needle. Peace!

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