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 ‘Story Telling’ 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:
This brand story from Google is so good, it doesn’t need an introduction…
Not only is it a fun story to watch, it’s a pitch perfect demonstration of how Google products can make life better.
Very few brand stories are told as well as this one.
H/T: American Copywriter.
Tom Fishburne perfectly captures the state of about 95% of story-telling by brands today. As he says, “it doesn’t pass the bed time story test.”
From time to time, I receive books from authors who are hoping I’ll like the book enough to write about it. This is one of those times.
I write (and read) a lot about brands, story, marketing, and strategy, so when I get a book on one of those topics, I’m generally inclined to read it.
Such is the case with Peter Guber’s upcoming book, Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.
Mr. Guber has worked as a high-powered movie executive, political fundraiser, and a university professor, and he shares personal experiences from his life to show how stories sell ideas and move people to action.
The book isn’t about marketing (at least not outwardly). Or how companies can use stories to move the customers to action. But after reading it, the reader will have plenty of ideas that apply directly to telling any narrative, including brand stories.
Why do stories convey information more effectively than a recitation of facts, numbers, or other figures? Guber quotes Robert Rosen, the former dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television:
“Stories put all the key facts into an emotional context. The information in a story doesn’t just sit there as it would in a logical proposition. Instead, it’s built to create suspense.”
Among the many stories Guber shares is one about how Lynda and Stewart Resnick (owners of Teleflora, FIJA Water, and POMWonderful) spent more than $200,000 for a string of imitation pearls worn by Jackie Kennedy. So why did they do it?
“…owning them gave Lynda the right and ability to analyze and copy them, right down to ‘the sterling silver clasp and the three little cubic zirconiums and the silk cord and the seventeen coats of lacquer.’ More than 130,000 of these exact replicas sold at $200 apiece, for a net profit of more than $26 million—all of it told and sold through story… ‘The promise of the story has got to deliver. If it doesn’t deliver, who would care?’”
Lynda tells Guber: “I don’t do companies that don’t have a story, because if they don’t have a story, they don’t have a business.”
Tell to Win is jammed with stories from and about Bill Clinton, Deepak Chopra, Steven Speilberg, Pat Riley and many others—all to illustrate how stories work to motivate, inspire, and sell. In fact, there are so many interesting stories in the book that sometimes it feels a little disjointed as you jump from one to the next. But all in all, it still makes a pretty good read.
One more quote from the book (from Steve Denning) that relates to telling stories in a marketing environment:
“The goal of story telling is to get the listener to take over your story. You want your story to become their story. Then they’re going to create a new story from your story. It’s going to to be adapted, changed, adjusted.”
The real power of a good brand story is that it communicates an idea in an emotional way. Listeners immediately get your message and if the story is good, they internalize it and may even share it with others.
For example, you can tell your customers that you provide outstanding customer service. In fact, many brands say exactly that in their advertising, mission statements and their web sites. And it’s all completely forgettable.
Or you can “show” your customers a story.
No doubt you’ve heard about the woman who returned a set of snow tires to Nordstrom (or maybe it was a toaster). The salesperson gladly refunded her money and took the tires off her hands. The hook is that Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires. But they did what it took to make a valued customer happy.
That story is almost certainly an urban legend. But it is told and retold by Nordstrom customers to illustrate how great the customer service is at Nordstrom. It feels true.
Another example is the pizza story told by Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh.
This story has become a part of the Zappos narrative. This story has been told by Tony hundreds of times. It brilliantly demonstrates to what lengths Zappos will go to serve their cusotmers. And each time he tells it, Tony says that he hesitates to share it because he doesn’t want people to call his company to order pizza. (Given that Tony has shared this story over and over, we can assume that he isn’t hesitant to tell it in the least, and this is just part of his approachable delivery.)
I’m reminded of a time when I was in Santa Monica, California, a few years ago at a Skechers sales conference. After a long night of bar-hopping, a small group of us headed up to someone’s hotel room to order some food. My friend from Skechers tried to order a pepperoni pizza from the room-service menu, but was disappointed to learn that the hotel we were staying at did not deliver hot food after 11:00pm. We had missed the deadline by several hours.
In our inebriated state, a few of us cajoled her into calling Zappos to try to order a pizza. She took us up on our dare, turned on the speakerphone, and explained to the (very) patient Zappos rep that she was staying in a Santa Monica hotel and really craving a pepperoni pizza, that room service was no longer delivering hot food, and that she wanted to know if there was anything Zappos could do to help.
The Zappos rep was initially a bit confused by the request, but she quickly recovered and put us on hold. She returned two minutes later, listing the five closest places in the Santa Monica area that were still open and delivering pizzas at that time.
Now, truth be told, I was a little hesitant to include this story because I don’t actually want everyone who reads this book to start calling Zappos and ordering pizza. But I just think it’s a fun story to illustrate the power of not having scripts in your call center and empowering your employees to do what’s right for your brand, no matter how unusual or bizarre the situation.
As for my friend from Skechers? After that phone call, she’s now a customer for life.
Tony could have said, “Our service is the best,” or “We’ll do anything for our customers.” But by telling this story he doesn’t have to. Instead, he shares an experience that a listener can relate to. And we draw our own conclusions.
What stories are you giving your customers to tell?
In case you’re interested, here’s a longer version of Tony talking about Zappos (and the pizza story) from the Business Innovation Factory:
When it comes to telling a compelling brand story, nothing is more powerful (or more effective) than letting your customers do the talking.
That’s exactly what Patagonia has been doing for three decades.
Every year, customers send more than 80,000 photographs of themselves doing the things they love—wearing Patagonia gear.
And the results are stunning.
Rock climbers. Tree sitters. Alpine skiers. Hikers. Wild-life.
Thousands of photos taken in places with crazy names like: Suicide Rock, The Thrill is Gone, and The Asylum.
A recent issue of the catalog featured stories of failure—written by climbers who got tantalizingly close to a summit, only to have to quit climbing before reaching the top. Sometimes it really is about the journey (though not always by choice).
And between the customer stories are photos and descriptions of the gear that makes it all possible.
Visit Patagonia.com and you’ll see more of the same.
Customer photos and stories featured on the home page and blog.
And a microsite called the Tin Shed (harking back to the shed in which Patagonia first opened) where you can see even more photos, watch video, and hear audio from customers like Maxime Turgeon who rode his bike 770 miles around the Alps looking for new climbing routes to try.
Or check out the story of Fletcher Chouinard and several others who visit the Mentawai Islands off the coast of Sumatra to test their new surf boards.
There’s some really good stuff here.
Patagonia gets bonus points for its “Spread the Shed” feature which makes it easy to tweet, email, dig, and otherwise share these incredible stories.
Or check out Patagonia’s Youtube channel where you’ll find more of the same…
The most important part of these stories is that they aren’t about Patagonia at all. No talk about the triple stitching or waterproofing of the jacket a person is wearing. Or the unique cut of a fleece liner.
Just aspirational images and stories about what their customers love to do.
And by retelling these stories in their marketing materials, Patagonia shows their customers that they get it.
They are a natural part of their customer’s world. A brand they can trust.
The reality is that customers often tell the story better than the marketing department. So why not let them?
A short excerpt from Baked In by Alex Bogusky and John Winsor:
“Marketing people like to say that product is more than a physical object. As in a cup of coffee is more than a cup of coffee. A pair of sunglasses is more than a pair of sunglasses. A car is more than a car. There’s a story that the car represents. A promise. And that’s what we’re really selling. That’s what the brand is made of.
“Sometimes this story is true, and sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not. Sometimes a car really is just a car. So the process of marketing is to uncover, coax out, and tell a story that is buried inside the product. Most of the time a story can be found, but too often the story is only tenuously connected to the product, and in some cases the story is just wishful thinking on the part of all the marketers around the table. Perhaps the product was created without a clear narrative and audience in mind or is just another me-too product with nothing new to offer. What happens next is too often the sad state of affairs that passes for marketing. A battery of focus groups, ethnographies, brain scans, and more are arranged to go forth and uncover what the consumer wishes the product really was. Then the marketing budget is spent telling lies about the product.”
I think we can all agree, there’s a better way.
It’s a little pricey for its length, but it’s a quick, worth-while read.
You can buy Baked In here.
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?
In his excellent book, Predictably Irrational, author Dan Ariely writes about how people interact in two different ways, socially and commercially. Social exchanges are freely given, without an expectation of repayment—helping a neighbor move a sofa, helping a coworker jump start a dead battery, or opening a door for someone. These are the every day kindnesses that make life civil. On the other hand, Market exchanges depend on money changing hands in return for a product or service—commerce.
Trouble sets in when these behavioral norms collide, introducing market conditions into a social situation. Placing an economic price on a social exchange affects how each party behaves, often negatively. Ariely uses the example of a man offering a few hundred dollars to “even up” on his mother-in-law’s love. It simply isn’t possible, so the idea is almost offensive. He also offers the example of a day care center that introduced fees for picking up a child late, hoping to discourage this behavior, only to see late pick-ups increase. Ariely writes:
“So we live in two worlds: one characterized by social exchanges and the other characterized by market exchanges. And we apply different norms to these two kinds of relationships. Moreover, introducing market norms into social exchanges… violates the social norms and hurts the relationships. Once this type of mistake has been committed, recovering a social relationship is difficult.”
Consumers aren’t the only ones that make this mistake. Brands do it too.
Think of a brand with a market position that says, “We’re your friend” or “We’re on your side.” A few examples that come to mind:
Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Zion’s Bank. We haven’t forgotten who keeps us in business.
Verizon. We never stop working for you.
This is great brand positioning: brand as friend, helper, or care giver.
Until the brand introduces a market exchange into the story.
If Zion’s Bank charges a overdraft fee, or eliminates free checking for students because it isn’t profitable, the market exchange collides with the social norm and consumers question whether they really do remember who keeps them in business.
If State Farm cancels a 20-year-old policy because the home owner makes her first claim, or refuses to pay a claim that the customer feels entitles to, the consumer might feel that State Farm wasn’t there.
If Verizon’s network drops calls or customer service is less than helpful, the niceties of the social exchange run headlong into the market exchange reality.
The result? The positive social norm goes away. As Ariely writes, “Once the bloom is off the rose—once a social norm is trumped by a market norm—it will rarely return.” Then your brand story is worthless.
If your brand depends a market position characterized by social exchanges, it is important to manage the brand experience to ensure market exchanges don’t interfere and destroy the social relationship.