Telling Stories

When I sit with a potential client for the first time, I do my best to help them understand what it is I do. I help them understand that designing is secondary and so is their logo, their website and all the print collateral they will likely want to create. I help them understand the art of storytelling. What is their brand’s story? What will woo the masses to fall in love with them? It’s always an interesting conversation. I told one client, you pay me to give you permission to be yourself and to tell your story the way it was meant to be shared. They agreed.

Here is a great little article from Prashant Pinge from Media Panther about storytelling…enjoy.

Stories take people away from the vagaries of life, from the harsh reality that they find themselves trapped in. Stories allow a person to suspend disbelief, to believe in fantasies, to visit different worlds. Stories give people the opportunity to live those few moments vicariously, to experience what they otherwise never would. Stories inspire people to pursue lofty goals, to hope that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Stories do all this, provided they are told well.

Branding is also about storytelling. But brands are very real. However, it is through their stories that people can really connect with them. A plain product remains functional. It performs its duties and is relegated back to anonymity. A brand on the other hand performs the function of the product. It also provides an escape of sorts to the consumer, creating an emotional connect to form a long-lasting relationship. And if its story is a truly gripping one, it also allows the consumer to express themselves through its use. That is the hallmark of a story truly well told. For instance, Apple’s story provides all three benefits.

When telling a story, it is important to keep in mind the audience. The story is not about the storyteller, it is about what pulls the audience in. A great brand does exactly that. It intrigues the mind, it appeals to the heart, and it engages the senses until the experience is a truly unique and memorable one, one that the consumer can keep going back to again and again. A stellar example is the Harley Davidson story. The consumer becomes willing to suspend any doubt, to step into the fantasy, to truly enjoy the experience, to be inspired and ultimately, to become one with the brand.

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Getting confused about causation and correlation

Seth Godin’s post this morning hit the nail on the head.

Have you noticed that in most cities, every time there are lots of umbrellas, it’s raining?

From this analysis, the obvious way to make it rain is to be sure that everyone has an umbrella, preferably a black one, since that seems to be the kind that’s most visible during big storms.

The trappings of successful marketing (or successful anything for that matter) aren’t always the causes. Sometimes they are the caused. Just because Apple did something doesn’t mean that it was responsible for Apple’s success. It may be that they were successful despite some of the things they did, not because of them.

I see a lot of individuals and brands struggle with this concept. We seem to forget sometimes all that goes into success. Being open to visualize success as the result of controllable AND uncontrollable causes is key. Sometimes there are things we can proactively do to aid in success, but sometimes is it as simple as getting out of the way of what is already taking place.

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Steve Jobs & Entrepreneurial Rifting

Seth Godin describes “Entrepreneurial Rifting” as the process of fixing problems…of leaping from one broken market to another. It’s a big tear in the fabric of the rules that we live by. It’s a fundamental change in the game, one that creates a bunch of new losers — and a handful of new winners. He is a rifter in his own rite. Another famous rifter was Walt Disney, who managed to successfully find a rift in the continuum of life, to bet everything on it, and to make a profit by doing so.

Steve Jobs was a extraordinary rifter, filling a need that our culture didn’t even know we needed. He continued to push the envelope of accepted wisdom. He didn’t care about his legacy or making more money, he was addicted to rifting. Godin said it this way:

First, he realized that personal computers could serve as a tool in the home as well as in business, and he was smart enough to find the right people to build the Apple I and II. At the time, there were no headlines about how brilliant Jobs was, but he paved the way for every single desktop computer in existence today.

Jobs’s second rift was actually more difficult to seize, because it wasn’t an obvious rift. Realizing that the graphical user interface that was developed for the Xerox Star could permanently change the way that computers worked, Jobs took a huge risk and came up with the Mac. Most entrepreneurs and virtually every large company would have laughed at the sheer hubris of it: to get lucky once and then to risk it all on a rift as narrow as this! Of course, we know what happened with the graphical user interface.

Jobs’s third rift was, in fact, reminiscent of one that Disney would have jumped on. Jobs saw that computers would forever change the way that animated movies are made. And Pixar, the production company behind “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life,” was his bet on that rift. Having just taken my family to see “Toy Story 2,” I can tell you that Jobs is on his way to a payoff of Disney-like proportions.

The surprising thing is that just about anyone could have seized any of those rifts and built hugely successful companies out of them. Jobs didn’t know anyone in Hollywood — and he didn’t need to. His success wasn’t about connections or reputation or access to capital. In fact, being part of the company that sold the Apple II actually hindered his ability to launch the Mac, because his shareholders and employees fought the idea for years. No, Jobs succeeded because, like all rifters, when he saw an opportunity, he was single-minded in his focus and in his desire to take advantage of it.

The question arises…will you be a rifter, an innovator, a creator or will you continue to be a worker ant, a follower accepting status quo and conventional wisdom? Will your brand leave a dent in the universe or is it merely another look-alike company trying so hard to repackage what someone else has already presented?

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Think Different, narrated by Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011)


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