5 posts categorized "Storytelling"

09/06/2011 Ideas are not enough

We’ve all had this happen: we have (what we think) is a great idea. It’s based on a combination of customer insight, business, actual behavior and a bolt from the blue. It makes so much sense you’re amazed no one has done it quite like you’re thinking. You can see both the path and the success.

Most of the time, though, it doesn’t end that way. Here are some of the reasons why that idea never quite made it to reality. 

  1. It’s not just your story. An idea needs a story around it. Most of the time, you’ve constructed one that you tell to your team or your boss; that’s how you’ve sold it. If it’s a good story, it moves ahead.

    The problem is that too often the idea and story initiator is the only person who can tell it correctly. If you want your story to live and succeed, you need to make sure that others can tell the same story, with the same enthusiasm and belief.

    One of the ways I can tell when I have a good idea is when I see my teammates tell the story as if it were their own. When you can hear it with someone else’s voice and words, your chances of success have increased dramatically.

    When you see that your team still has problems articulating your story even when everyone is deep into the project, you’re in trouble. Make sure you take the time, early on, to ask people to tell you the story back or even to embellish it. It’s amazing to see how people can reinterpret the idea into different stories over time, even ones that are diametrically opposed to what you initially thought.

  2. Face it, when we have good ideas, we fall in love with them. Usually, though, most other people don’t. In fact, some people don’t really care that much about them at all.

    Projects and ideas move ahead for a variety of reasons. But not all projects and ideas are created equal. While your idea may be brilliant, a game changer even, you might only have limited support and resources to move it along. An even stranger combination is when you have resources but not the attention of key stakeholders to succeed.

    One way to get around this is to understand where your idea fits into the overall scheme of things. You can do that through a simple step: Ask! Take time with your key decision maker(s) and see how they prioritize your idea and where it fits in the grand scheme of things.

    It may turn out that people you expect contributions and support from are just too busy to do so. This can result in a slow, painful death to your idea at worst, or just lousy execution at best.

    If you can find the sweet spot for your idea and story, you have a better chance of bringing it to life.

  3. What or who are the potential roadblocks? It’s better to spend some time finding this out at the very beginning rather than the very end. There are lots of horror stories of great ideas and projects dying at the finish line because a final roadblock (legal, brand, accounting) decides that something is not quite right.

    It’s better to figure out who will say No early on, so you can start telling them your story. If you can understand their resistance, you might be able to figure out a way around it with their help. Again, the story is the key here.

    You may end up discovering that the people who you expected to say No actually provide you with some even better ideas and insights than you originally had. They can make your story better and you can give them ownership.


There are a number of books, like Buy In, that help you sell your idea into a group of skeptical people. But once you’ve gone past that, there’s no guarantee that your idea will happen. 

If you can make others love it even half as much as you do, you’ve got a pretty good chance of succeeding.

(Image from the brilliant Tom Fishburne's Marketoonist Blog)

06/06/2011 A Good Story

It was great to see and hear C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley talk about their book “Content Rules” at our #BTVSMB lunch last Thursday. I love how they blend in interesting stories and anecdotes to make their main points come to life. They clearly modeled what they want people to do, rather than just telling them what to do.

One of the most interesting examples happened in the Q+A. One of the attendees was asking advice about something that happened at his company. His boss had rewarded the employees by treating everyone to a Kentucky Fried Chicken lunch at the office. One of the employees asked if they could take pictures or videotape the lunch and use the content online. The boss said no, that it would only be interesting if they had a bunch of models eating KFC for lunch. 

Both C.C. and Ann responded that the boss was wrong, that they should have used it. But the person asking the question proved himself why it was wrong.

When he told the story, he included some details that got everyone in the room thinking. As soon as he mentioned KFC, we all had pictures in our heads of what was happening at that lunch. When he mentioned his boss’ response about models eating KFC, those pictures in our heads went into overdrive.

A good story, or good social content, includes pieces that allow each reader or viewer to make strong, individual connections to it. The book “Brain Rules” makes the point that in order for us to remember stories like this, it’s critical to include items in the story that we already have relationships with.

The story from that business IS interesting because it not only gives us an insider’s view (which we all want) but it connects to things on the outside that we already know and have relationships with. More importantly, it’s an interesting story because it humanizes the business. And that’s one of the main advantages social marketing has over other channels.

I guess another lesson is: Don’t censor too much. Put your stories out there and let your audience help you determine what works and what doesn’t.


01/05/2011 We need more Chief Story Tellers

Face it we love C-Titles. Like most titles, they do little to explain what people actually do, but a lot to define position in the company. So even though I’m not a big fan of C-Titles, I’d like to suggest a new one for 2011. It’s Chief Story Teller (the CST).

When you look at your company or organization, what person is your chief story teller? Which raises the question: what should a chief story teller do, and why do brands need them?

We’re human (most of us, anyway) and humans crave stories. They thrive on them. Stories are what make us human. Brands have always used stories and consumers have needed them to differentiate between brands.


Our social/digital age has put a premium on story telling. Media fragmentation has made it harder to tell stories to many people at one time, but made it a lot easier to tell better, richer and more personal stories. Just look at all of the trend predictions for 2011: almost every one contains a reference to stories.

Which raises the question: who’s the person or group responsible for telling your story? In the past ad agencies filled that role, especially when they told the story in epic (30 second) proportions. But today we crave reality over grandeur, speed over high production value, and personality over polish.

Companies and organizations teem with personal, human stories. Some stories reflect the trials of the founders, others tell how you do your work, others revolve around the lives of employees, and still others describe the experiences of the customers. The only thing getting in the way of telling all of these stories is that almost no one is taking the time to ask the right questions and to listen to the answers. Story telling is the un-tapped gold mine of marketing.

Enter the Chief Story Teller. I envision this position filled by someone who loves hearing stories and retelling them. This person has to have a grand inquisitiveness and desire to connect to other people (both inside and outside of the organization). The role of the Chief Story Teller isn’t to only tell stories about themselves (or the impersonal brand). It’s to become the brand chronicler. The CST has to spend time digging up the stories, and then ensuring that they’re told, and spread, in the right way. 

Without a doubt, the CST has to be a good writer, but you can learn how to do that. The job is part journalist, part historian, with a dash of psychotherapy thrown in for good measure. The CST by nature is a cross-disciplinary position, since stories reside in all nooks and crannies of a brand.

And the CST needs to deliver, through social, earned and even paid media. The CST needs to understand which stories resonate and deliver more of those.

Brands have tiptoed around this, allowing their best social media guru to mantle the role, which usually results in one person telling their story. We need to broaden our vision of the role story plays in an organization. It’s too important to leave to outside consultants.

05/27/2010 Lessons from Cap'n Crunch: Tell a great story

I've been fascinated by the stories about the cereal Cap'n Crunch. It shows the impact of a powerful story and narrative.

Quaker Oats had done market research in the early 1960's and found that kids wanted a cereal that would stay crunchy rather than getting mushy in milk. They developed a material that they could safely add to cereal to keep it crunchy.

Then they went to Jay Ward, who had created the brilliant Rocky & Bullwinkle (one of my all time favorite shows) and asked him to develop a marketing campaign to sell the product. Ward and his team came up with the character of Cap'n Crunch, his crew of four kids (Alfie, Brunhilde, Carlyle and Dave) and a dog (Seadog). He also had an archenemy, Jean LaFoot the Pirate.

Captain Crunch art
Once Quaker Oats saw the first commercials, they fell in love with Cap'n Crunch and only then started producing Cap'n Crunch cereal. The kids fell in love with it too, because it flew off the shelf once it launched.

I used to look at this story as an example of the Mad Men era to show the power of the ad industry. I thought it showed that you didn't need a product to be successful; all you needed was a good commercial.

Well, I think I had it wrong. The Cap'n Crunch history shows something different:

If you create a compelling story, people will buy your product. If you intricately link your story and your product more people will get behind both the story and your brand.

I was one of those kids in the 60s who loved, I mean loved, Cap'n Crunch. It was like an extra dose of Saturday cartoons interspersed throughout the day. I loved the characters and their adventures and I couldn't wait to see the commercials. Of course, I forced my Mom to buy me the cereal, even though she wanted to buy me something healthier. The stories in those commercials, and the characters that played in them, were some of the best TV around, I thought.

Today, we don't need to hire an expensive studio, or rely on geniuses like Jay Ward to create our stories, although it helps. We have the means to produce our stories at our fingertips.

What we don't always have is the imagination, creativity, whimsy and focus to create compelling stories around our brands, products and organization. Many marketers are still stuck trying to spin stories around products, stories that feel contrived or disconnected. Imagine instead creating you story beforehand and building your product or service afterward. What an amazing world of marketing we'd have.

What story do you want to tell? How would you make your story fun, engaging and worthy of following?

There are a couple of key points, for me, in the Cap'n Crunch saga:
  • The initial impetus behind the project was to solve a problem or need: soggy cereal. That input came from actual customers.
  • Once Quaker Oats knew they could solve the problem, they took the most far-out gamble they could - asking Jay Ward to come up with a creative narrative. It was a solution that was way out of the box.
  • The narrative then informed product development. By building that into the product, Quaker Oats ensured that they could build an ongoing story and adventure.
It may feel frivolous, but a great task for your marketing group or agency would be to come up with your own Cap'n Crunch story for your next product or service. Talk about injecting energy into your day-to-day. The question is: are you ready to take a risk and create your story?
08/26/2009 Wanted: Digital Storytellers

There's a superb scene in one of my all time favorites, the English TV series "The Singing Detective" written by the brilliant Dennis Potter and starring the great Michael Gambon. Sexy nurse Mills is greasing the skin challenged Marlowe and has to attend to his "private parts." To keep himself from getting overly aroused, Marlowe tries to focus on something boring and finally zeroes in on: The Story (his book).

When it comes to online marketing (and offline as well) it seems like we've lost track of the importance of the story. There's no doubt of the importance of storytelling with social media (like here, here, and here) but there are far too few examples of great online storytelling. Just like in the film, we have a hard time taking our mind off of the sexiness and glitz, on Web sites, in online advertising, on Twitter, and focusing on the hard stuff: crafting the story.

Recently I saw a great example from Johnny Walker online: a one-take story of the walker. While it was fun that it went out online, it still used a traditional, proven media: film. We're still looking for the great online storytellers who use the new medium, with all of its non-linear and two-way power to tell stories in such compelling way.

Burma_shave_sign Nowhere is this more evident than in online advertising. Web sites have done a better job but still are in its infancy as it relates to storytelling. I've always been impressed by the old Burma Shave billboard campaign of putting up its jingles along the highway at different intervals. Yes, they had a captive audience, but I bet that after the first two, people were dying to see how the story continued.

Wanting to know how a story ends (or even what happens in the next chapter) is the sign of a good story. Ever seen an online promotion or Web site where you couldn't wait to come back to see what happens next?  I haven't. If you have, please comment below!

One challenge for marketers is that we don't do sequential well. We get something up, and let it run. An ongoing content strategy for a Web site and social media is crucial yet sometimes marketers cut this first, due to budget requirements. An ongoing content strategy for online advertising is almost non-existent.

Not to mention that marketers often confuse talking about promotions with telling stories. You can do the former in the latter, but seldom vice versa. The more we can get marketers to speak like human beings, the better the chance of telling good stories.

How are you telling your story online? Is it worth listening to? Will anyone really care how it continues or how it ends?

Remember The Singing Detective and stop concentrating on greasing your private parts and focus on your story!

[For those of you who only know of the bastardization of The Singing Detective through the Robert Downey movie, here's a clip from the real deal].

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