One of the best talks I’ve ever heard on how to tell a great story, by screenwriter Andrew Stanton. Have a look:
Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category
Jeff Sexton wrote a long blog post earlier this week on his dislike of the term, “personal branding”. He doesn’t disagree with branding on a personal level, mostly he dislikes the term. As part of that post (read it here), Jeff scanned and posted a short essay by The Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams. I think it makes a great point about telling your brand story in a way that makes people care about what you do. So, I lifted it, and reposted it here as this week’s Friday Inspiration:
He shares a few of the things he has learned over his career and what he learned in business school that has no application in the business world. The first 20 minutes or so is David’s presentation, followed by about 30 minutes of Q & A.
Worth a listen if you have about an hour.
I recently wrote a short article on branding—what it is and why it matters—for the Logoworks Newletter.
It’s pretty basic stuff, written mostly for new business owners, who have heard about branding but may not know how to do it.
If you are inclined, you can read it over at the Logoworks Newsletter Blog.
It’s a question many marketers face: what do you do when your product isn’t perfect? Even worse, what do you do when your product has characteristics that make people turn up their noses? Or opt for a competitor?
Answer: Use a story that turns the negative into a positive.
I’ve written before about Buckley’s Cough Syrup. It has a nasty taste that consumers don’t like. Once you’ve tried it, it’s hard to want to use it again. And that drives down repeat purchases. So Buckley’s story is that something that tastes this bad, must work. Read more here. It’s a great story and it works.
Legendary adman James Webb Young, who started selling fruit by mail around the same time that Harry & David did, tells the story of an apple-growing season where he was nearly ruined.
Violent hail storms bombarded his apple trees with ice pellets, causing bruising and pock marks.
He feared massive complaints and returns if he shipped the bruised fruit to his mail order apple buyers. But if he didn’t ship the damaged apples, he would have to refund all the orders, and his mail order business would be ruined.
The apples were damaged only cosmetically. The hail had pockmarked the skin, but this did not affect the flavor or freshness.
Young went ahead and filled his orders with the pockmarked apples, and in each box shipped, enclosed a preprinted card that read as follows (I am paraphrasing):
“Note the pockmarks on some of these apples. This is proof that they are grown at a high mountain altitude, where the same extreme cold that causes sudden hailstorms also firms the flesh and increases the natural sugars, making the apples even sweeter.”
According to Young, not a single order was returned. In fact, when orders came in for next year, many order forms had handwritten notes that said, “Pockmarked apples if available; otherwise, the regular kind.”
Young’s story proves what experienced marketers know: Often, by being truthful about your weaknesses and flaws, you can gain substantial credibility with your buyer, increasing loyalty, sales, and customer satisfaction.
Do you have a product weakness that can be turned into a positive with the right story?
Groupon is a great idea and a very successful company. In a little more than a year, it has grown to more than $400 million in revenues. It has local websites offering deals in more than 100 U.S. cities from Akron to Winnipeg and more than 20 other countries. Hundreds of thousands of customers subscribe to their daily email. Thousands more check their website every day. And the daily deals often sell out. 35,000 businesses are on the waiting list to be featured.
So what’s the secret to Groupon’s success?
In an interview this week, CEO Andrew Mason says it is “good writing.”
Uh, not so much.
Despite the fact that the company employs 70 writers, I am seriously underwhelmed with the quality of the writing. There is no consistency from day to day. No “brand voice”. And the copy is often trite or down right silly.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Groupon. I’ve discovered a delicious new pizza place in my neighborhood and saved hundreds of dollars on photography thanks to them. I just can’t get worked up about such mediocre copy. Here are a couple of examples:
Today’s Deal in Las Vegas (for a hair salon) reads:
“If hair could talk, it would have a mouth, transforming stylish head wraps into cruel mufflers and skinny headbands into orthodontia. Today’s Groupon gives hair a voice without the expensive dental upkeep…”
If hair could talk, it would have a mouth? That’s good writing? Someone call the good folks at Bulwer-Lytton.
Here’s today’s deal in Vancouver for a Chinese restaurant:
“At some point, every country builds a Great Wall to keep the secret of their cuisine from spreading to foreign nations, only to find that the real wall lies in their heart. Tear down the Great Wall of painful secrets with today’s Groupon…”
Huh? How many countries have built a wall only to find the real wall in their heart? To protect their cuisine? And what in the world does that have to do with Szechuan noodles?
Here’s a Groupon offer, I received the other day:
“When applied correctly, cosmetics can enhance the beauty of one’s natural features and advertise one’s crush when written in lipstick on one’s forehead…”
And here’s the first line of today’s deal in San Diego:
“Until the personal watercraft was invented, mankind’s only hope for outdoor fun involved hitting candied hams with tree branches.”
Is this something people do? What does that even mean?
I could go on.
Sorry to break it to you Andrew, but this writing is just not good. It’s trying too hard to be clever. Most of it just sounds lame. Or confusing. Or worse.
If you want to see how good copy is done, check out Woot!
Woot! has a consistent, often literary, brand voice. It doesn’t matter what day you check in, you get the feeling one person is writing for the brand. The writing is always entertaining, sometimes silly, often funny, and very, very consistent.
While Groupon’s writing is mediocre at best, it does other things phenomenally well.
Their headlines are simple and brilliant. Each day’s deal is spelled out so clearly, the customer knows exactly what they’ll get and what they will save. Some examples:
Today’s Deal: $50 for $125 worth of Designer Denim and Apparel at National Jean Company.
Today’s Deal: $89 for Two-hour Jet-Ski Rental from Action Sports.
Today’s Deal: $10 for $20 Worth of Tasty Comfort Food and Authentic New Orleans Fare at Magnolia Grill.
The “Time Left to Buy” counter on each page is genius. It creates urgency and demands you make your purchase decision right now. If you forget to come back later, you miss out on the deal, so you better buy now.
The requirement for a minimum number of buyers does the same thing. It forces customers to opt in early to ensure enough people get in on the deal for it to be “on”.
The stock photography is almost always good: delicious food, relaxing spas, attractive models. It’s hard not to want what Groupon is selling.
And once you decide to buy, Groupon makes it easy with a huge Buy! button you simply can’t miss.
There are a lot of reasons Groupon has been a phenomenal success. But let’s be honest. Good writing, at least so far, isn’t one of them.
Then, she helped us measure about eight inches and place a second mark on the right side of the paper. She then asked us to close our right eyes and focus our left eyes on the mark on the right side of the paper.
By moving the paper closer or farther away, the mark on the left would disappear.
I had discovered my blind spot.
The mark was still on the paper, but I couldn’t see it—even though it was right in front of my eyes.
At the right distance, the mark on the left moves into a space that your eye isn’t able to see.
Blind spots are everywhere.
Michael Lewis’ fantastic book, The Big Short, tells the story of bond traders who created credit default swaps out of incredibly risky mortgage holdings and yet almost no one could see the risks.
It was right there in front of everyone, but everyone was making so much money that almost no one saw what was really going on. This blind spot cost financial companies trillions of dollars and took the American economy to the brink.
(Another of Lewis’ books, Money Ball, is about blind spots in baseball management—also an excellent read).
Blind spots hold us back.
They keep us from seeing vital information.
Even though it’s right in front of us.
I like this example of a blind spot shared by Roy Williams in his Monday Morning Memo a few months ago:
My partner Peter Nevland recently bumped into the owner of a bottled water service who asked him for some free advice.
Peter asked, “Why should the customer of another water service switch to yours?”
“We’re locally owned.” “Ten percent of our profits go to charity,” blah, blah, blah.
Peter was unimpressed. Exasperated and grasping at straws, the man mentioned his water had recently been voted “Best Tasting” by the readers of an obscure, local business journal.
“Why do you think you won?”
The man hung his head, “We cheat.”
“Our water is saturated with dissolved oxygen, twice the amount found in regular water.”
“What does that do?”
“Dissolved oxygen is what makes water taste good. It’s why cold water tastes better than warm water. Cold water contains more dissolved oxygen.”
“You’re saying your room temperature water tastes like cold water?”
The man nodded his head.
“Do you always saturate your water with dissolved oxygen?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
SAD ENDING: Peter was unable to convince the man to promote his better tasting water with dissolved oxygen. I swear I’m not making this up. The man remained convinced his ads needed to say, “We’re locally owned and give ten percent of our profits to charity.”
Blind spots can keep us from telling the right story about our brands. They keep us from seeing things from our customer’s perspective. Or from our employee’s point of view. Instead, we think we need to be like everyone else.
What are you doing to identify your blind spots?
One of my favorite paintings hangs in a plain white wood frame at the Art Institute of Chicago. Chances are you’ve seen it—if not the actual painting, you’ve no doubt seen a print or mural based on the painting (there’s one a the Mall of America) or in any of these movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Wall-E, or Barbarella.
It’s called Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
And it’s one of the first, maybe best, examples of a style called pointillism.
The artist who painted it, neo-impressionist Georges Seurat, was heavily influenced by scientists of his day who write about color and how two colors placed side by side, create a third color at the edges when viewed from a distance.
Rather than blend the pigments on a pallet then spread them on the canvas, Seurat painstakingly placed tiny dots of paint close together. This technique allows the viewer’s eye to blend the colors optically. The effect is more brilliant and richer colors than standard brush strokes create.
It took Seurat two years to paint it.
His planning was meticulous. He created roughly 60 different studies to guide his final work.
Take a closer look at Seurat’s work. What do you see?
People relaxing on the banks of the Siene. If asked, we could count the number of boats on the water or people lounging on the grass—and we would come up with the same number. We would likely agree on the color parasol held by the woman in the middle of the painting or color of the dress worn by the little girl next to her.
But Seurat didn’t paint any parasols or little girls or even people in a park. He painted thousands of small dots of paint on a canvas.
The images we see when we look at the painting are created by our minds as they combine the different dots into shapes and colors.
Seurat’s careful planning insures we all see similar things when we view the painting.
Do you brand like Georges Seurat paints?
Do you carefully plan each customer experience, every communication, and each interaction your customers have with your brand? Do your customers see all the ways your brand communicates and walk away with the same larger picture in their minds? Do you take the time necessary to bring it all together?
Or do you brand like Jackson Pollock painted (see yesterday’s post)?
It took Seurat two years to create his masterpiece… carefully planning every dot of paint.
Don’t expect to create yours with a few weeks or with any less effort.
Posted by Rob Marsh.
Time magazine called him Jack the Dripper.
And that’s a pretty good description for the best known abstract impressionist, the artist who created dozens of paintings that made people in museums around the world say, “My seven-year-old could have painted that.”
He painted the most expensive painting ever sold at auction—a work of art titled #5, valued at $140 million in 2006 (pictured to the left).
Jackson Pollock painted by dripping, flipping, and throwing paint onto the canvas. At one point, he numbered his paintings, rather than naming them, to keep viewers from reading any unintended meaning into his work.
Pollock’s technique makes for some beautiful paintings, but others are messy and intentionally confusing. Of his work, Mr. Pollock said,
“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”
Today, many brand owners take a “Jackson Pollock Approach” to managing their brands. They drip, flip, and throw different ideas, strategies, and messages at the canvas and go with whatever sticks.
They are inconsistent in using colors and design. They speak with more than one voice. They change experiences and products on a whim.
Like Pollock, the are unaware of what they are doing in the moment.
The result is something like abstract impressionism. There’s no clear idea to understand or remember. No take away for the consumer.
This is the path to brand failure.
Unfortunately, in order to succeed in a crowded marketplace, there is no ‘get acquainted period’ where a brand can find its voice.
All of the individual pieces of your brand (product design, business card, pricing strategy, website, invoice, user experience, customer service, email, packaging, etc.) must work to produce a consistent message— a recognizable, memorable, and likeable story for your brand. From the beginning.
Jackson Pollock was a brilliant artist. His approach worked well for painting, but is a disaster for creating a brand.
The painting above is untitled, painted in 1949. Jackson Pollock died on this day, 54 years ago.
Posted by Rob Marsh.
Just a short TED video to give you something to think about. This one is from Rory Sutherland (yes, I know it’s been available for quite a while and you have probably already seen it, but just in case you haven’t, it’s today’s Friday Inspiration).
Mr. Sutherland talks about how changing perceptions is a critical part of creating value. He cites the brilliant Diamond Shreddies campaign as proof (among other things). Enjoy…
Posted by Rob Marsh.