The Storytelling Playbook for Marketers (The Sequel)
Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.
Episode 21. The Storytelling Playbook for Marketers (The Sequel)
We’re going to continue with the storytelling theme that we talked about last week. That was a show that really got into the background of what storytelling is, we added on three key takeaways at the end of it. It was about the importance of listening out for stories and actually asking for them, crafting your own thirty minute and three thousand word version of your brand's story and then actually being able to listen with empathy. Truly hearing what the other person has to say, and not just listening to respond but actually listening to hear them and then, responding in the right way.
I think it’s now a good opportunity in this show to start to break down what actually makes a great story. And without doubt I truly believe a great story comes from conflict. Every engaging story is built around conflict. So, it could be a story with a protagonist and some object or desired outcome that they’re trying to get to, or purpose, which is going to restore some sort of balance or some sort of equilibrium. They could be doing it for themselves, or the community, or for the world, but there are quests, there are obstacles, there are challenges that throw this protagonist, this character, off course and they falter but often they make it to the end.
Have you got a good example of that Sam?
Good Vs. Evil
Well, I’ll come to an example in a minute, but every engaging story, as I said, is based on conflict, so you’re not thinking of conflict as good versus bad. Think of it as creating a meaning, creating that emotional bond.
There’s a branding and design agency called Character and they’ve got some framework, but I think a lot of other organisations have similar frameworks but there are these conflicts, which are quite common. For example - romantic versus reserved, you have passion and the counter to that is control, you have dignity versus playful, you have safe versus special, individual versus connected.
An example that comes to mind is the work that Twix has recently done and it’s actually better to keep conflict alive than to try and resolve it. So, what Twix has done - a really nice job, is creating some conflict. They’ve created this almost fake story of the difference and the conflict between the left and the right Twix. Left Twix users are this type of person, and most types of people choose the right Twix and fifty percent of right Twix choosers. They’re playing off the fact that there is a difference between the left and the right Twix, do they come as a pair or is there a conflict? But actually, they found a way to appeal to consumers who perhaps weren’t even thinking about Twix in the first place, and their conflict is really about is this an individual thing or is this a connected thing? So, they’ve made Twix a protagonist, you have to pick a side. But it's clearly tongue and cheek, we’re in on the joke, it’s not a highly purposeful idea or an example but I really like the fact that they’ve made you look at the brand in a different way. It’s quite a good idea in my book.
I like that one. I have two that spring to mind, very similar to that. There’s Nike, in London they have North London versus South London, and they create that sort of fake competition, and that works incredibly well. And Marmite too. Do you have Marmite over there in the States Sam?
Marmite is a very British thing. So, tell the audience, the Americans. I think they’ve probably seen it or heard about it, and if you’re Australian you’re probably screaming Vegemite, but explain it to the audience.
They sum it into terms of you’re either gonna love it or hate it. I’m a lover myself, but again, facing down that conflict and creating that bit of rub I think is an important part of it, but everything starts with an elevator pitch. I think whether you’re a junior marketeer and you’re trying to pitch something to your boss or whether you’re there as an agency and you’re going, I’ve got a really creative idea about right Twix versus left Twix, which sounds really odd starting off. It starts off with the fact that you’re going to try and get that across in as simple terms as you can and in as short a time as you can, and the original elevator pitch came from thirty seconds and how do you sum up what you’re doing in thirty seconds? It was used for years in the film industry, I think one of my favourites is for Alien, which was simply described as ‘it’s Jaws in space.’ A really really simple idea, easily conveyed and actually, when we were at The Guardian we took that and we used that as a concept for a promotion where we brought it up to date.
Something you now see as Twit pitch which is really how do you describe something in one hundred and forty characters? A lot of entrepreneurs and startups use this. And we asked people to come up with their best film titles using one hundred and forty characters and the winner we turned into a film poster. It was a great campaign at the time, some really interesting examples, but the idea of being able to sum up your idea in one hundred and forty characters or thirty seconds if people can get it, I think is really powerful. Analogies work very well as well. You often see people say it’s the Uber for hair or hair and beauty or it’s the AirBnB for looking after pets, and the great thing is you’ve got that instantly.
You’ve done the hard bit already because you know what Uber is, you understand what AirBnB is so, I think that works incredibly well as well. others where you might look at it, I’m working with a ticketing start up at the moment and they talk about setting themselves up as a challenger brand and how do they establish themselves? And it’s simple about number one independent online ticketing platform, and that’s how they want to set themselves up. So, each story starts with that elevator pitch and I think It’s a powerful tool that we use, not just when you’re trying to come up with a new business concept, but if you’re trying to sell something in it works equally as well.
One of the ones I thought that I worked in that I was proud of early on in my career was Absolute Radio. So, it was trying to convey to the organisation that we had everything we needed to create a new brand. And we talked about turning the brand and the building inside out and showing everyone our home. There were one hundred people in Absolute Radio in Golden Square, and the idea was that you walked into that office and you absolutely got what that brand was about. You got the culture, you got the values, you got the energy, you got the playfulness, so we simply talked about turning ourselves inside out, and it was a lovely way of conveying what we were about.
Simple Steps for An Energising Elevator Pitch
Interestingly, if we take that one step back, a good elevator pitch comes from about four or five different stages.
The first one has to be about attention, trying to get around a relevant message, an example, something there, you’ve got to grab the audience's attention. It can be a question; it can be a statement, but it’s got to pique the imagination in the first place.
It’s got to be relevant. You’ve got to make sure you’re saying something relevant to your audience and not you. So, you’ve got to get to know your audience in the first place.
The third bit, of course is the message. You must know your message inside out. Be really clear as to what you are about and what you are trying to convey. Giving an example of that in terms of how and what you're proposing will work, giving an example that the audience can imagine happening to them is also very valuable.
Finally, I think it’s about do. What do you want to happen? Think about what it is that you want them to do after the speech, do they need to do something or are they trying to provoke emotions in them? It’s a powerful construct, it's been used in a number of different places, it’s not a new thing. But, if you can keep it short as possible, ideally under thirty seconds, use common language and pique the interest of the listener then it’s a powerful place to start. Starting with a question, if the questions answer is likely to be a yes there’s a good technique in that, but certainly it’s something to practice and once you get it right it can be very very powerful, whether it’s a new project you’re trying to convince someone of or a new business idea.
Bringing Campaigns to Life
I love that break down, the way you broke that into pieces and the idea that it’s what you stand for and how you bring that to life, and I’ve got a few examples that we can share.
The key thing here though for some, for many of these purpose driven brands it’s kind of got easier for them. They’ve got a bit of an advantage in doing that. If you think of a brand called Evol, which is a frozen food products brand. They’re really in the business of overcoming and overturning this corrupt food system and that’s the angle they take. Think of kind and they’re focused on the conflict and the difference between the easy thing to do and the proper thing to do. So, they start off with statements like we believe if you can’t pronounce an ingredient - it shouldn’t go into your food or into your body. Actually, it shouldn’t even go into your pantry. And they want to create a thriving community of people, and that’s the business that they are in. They’re not talking about the product first, they’re talking about what does or doesn’t go into your body.
Then you’ve got brands like Chobani and their goal is to make universal wellness happen sooner, so they’re totally and deeply committed in playing an active role in transforming our food system for the betterment of the planet. And they’re really into doing that, not just changing the box.
You've got Samuel Adams, which is a beer brand predominantly in the US, not sure if they’re in the UK but they have a continuant of pleasure versus restraint. And they’re really fighting these bland tasting beers and their stories are conflict, they fund and champion competitors in the craft beer market, because they are fighting against bland, boring, average, basic beer. They support other craft people, investing in their business, whether you’re small businesses, it’s not just about brewing a better beer, it’s about waking up every day and doing something you love and that’s why they invest in other people. In fact, they claim to have issued over two thousand loans to people in all sorts of industries, not just beer.
No way, that’s amazing. And I really like the concept of supporting the whole market as well, and creating a bit of us against them, against bland beers
For them the competition is bland beer, not the people in the craft beer market and it changes the mindset and it changes the frame of competition. And there’s another way to think about coming up with stories. If you’re listening to the show thinking how am I going to do this? How am I going to do this myself?
Well, there’s a woman called Leah Komaiko, she’s a brand consultant but she’s also a kids book author and she recommends that if you’re looking for stories, trying to unlock them, re read the first children’s book you remember. She encourages her clients to ask and answer customised questions like what colour do you remember now, from reading that book? So, tap into your childhood and that can often unlock great ways to tell stories.
The importance of rhythm, the importance of trying to create that feeling of emotional bond, there’s no stronger bond I don’t think than childhood stories. But also, you can create that as a brand as well.
Patagonia, the clothing brand is another one which does that incredibly well. The founder started out as a climber, passionate climber, looking for people like him. It’s now a clothing brand with an aim to cause as least harm as possible to our habitat but also aims to do more good as well. They produce durable items to try and reduce that negative impact and they donate a portion of their sales to grass root organisations but if you read any of their stories, either on their website or talk to people who buy the Patagonia brand, it really comes out, it resonates incredibly well that actually they believe they can contribute to saving the planet and you’re left there with feeling like it’s fresh and contemporary.
There was a product manager of mine a long time ago at Inspire Gaming in about 2016, great guy, really, really clever but you could see that his mind was elsewhere, and he left to travel the world and climb. He set himself up as an Instagram follower looking at different climbing products, and he set himself up as - his profile was ‘A rock climber on an endless climbing trip.’ He has over ten thousand followers now and he takes that as a core part of his life, just going around, he’s got a YouTube channel, so, I think that’s a great way how you can bring stories to life and see how that takes you as well.
You just brought stories to life so well, with such passion and that rock-climbing example was just a really good one in how you can tell that story in such a short clip and bring that to life, to the external world.
I am also just as passionate about bringing stories to the world of work wherever and whenever possible. And what better place to try and do that in the world of learning and development, where there’s a constant fight for employee engagement. Specifically, when it comes to training programs, and we know how lame they can sometimes be, there’s a great platform called Enwoven. And they give some great stories that bring to life how companies are actually communicating internally within their organisations. And the key message here is about bringing storytelling to life, they have some principles that you can follow, and I’ll share a few of them now.
Think of a documenting story through a storyline lens. So that doesn’t mean you start with PowerPoint and 10-point font size. It’s about utilising photos and sketches, notes and documents, visual and audio, insights to bring that story to life. It’s making the perspective clear. Is it the first person or the third person, or the teammates perspective or someone else? Map out a story within a story board. Don’t just go out bashing words onto a page, you’ve actually got to start with thinking about it in terms of a story board. The real-life example I’ve got is that I was wanting to embed a stronger way of telling stories within the capability program when I was at Campbells. We had PDFs and tell and PowerPoints and various other things, but what more engaging way to actually do that than internally creating a podcast. And we put it on impact, and this was a perfect forum for the marketing innovators and provocateurs and disruptors to actually tell their story as a story, not limited again, to case study or templates or three-minute presentation you’ve got to do at the town hall on the town stage while everyone’s falling asleep.
So, Megan Shea and Chip Heim are the two founders of a fabulous start up called the Soulfull Project. And it’s a company that recreates hot breakfast cereals and various other breakfast foods, and it’s a buy one give one model, so whatever you buy there’s a similar product donated to a local food pantry in your area. And again, imagine trying to communicate that on a PowerPoint slide or the richness of a twenty minute podcast interview, and I share that example because it’s perhaps a little more difficult to do, but if you’re a marketer or a CMO or brand manager right now, how about creating a forum where you can tell stories and you can bring them to life?
I love that idea about storyboarding as well, I think that’s actually something that we forget to do, just mapping out the story in terms of mapping out the beginning, the middle and the end, a simple thing, even if it's just for a presentation. I think also, it’s quite clear that you were broadcasting before Across The Pond so, I’m glad you cut your tooth somewhere else but, at the same time, you just have to experiment with this stuff. You have to try different mediums. We spoke about whether this should be a video and on YouTube or if this was a blog or a book first, but we felt that a podcast would convey what we wanted to do. So, you have to find the right medium to look at your story from. But I’m also interested about challenger brands and how people take that forward and different ways of approaching it. Have you got any examples there?
There’s a great way it thinks about this in terms of challenger brands, they’re a bit of a buzz word there, a bit of the sexy kids on the block and they’re the upstarts who are using technology to disrupt the marketplace. You can probably think of the usual suspects so, I’m going to come up with a brand that’s actually near to where I am in the US, in Philadelphia.
A company called goPuff and this started off as an idea from two friends who were at college and it was basically taking up too much darn time for them to stock up with their snacks. So, they thought, why don’t we start up a business delivering snacks to other people? And they charge a two dollar flat fee, and that’s recently received three quarters of a billion dollars so, yeah that crazy idea to deliver snacks to students is now worth almost a billion dollars, in terms of the support to grow that so, delivering convenience foods, yes that may sounds obvious but that’s just a way to think about a current situation which you can disrupt. Obviously, you have the incumbents who are trying to use and push consumers in a new direction. So, using the consumers they have now and trying to push them into a different direction, and then you probably have a bunch of brands that you could probably class as the establishment. They’re the legacy brands, they try and infuse the new and move in a different direction.
I think the Axe brand which in the UK is known as the Lynx brand, I think they’ve done a remarkable job of transforming their brand story. Think back to the 90’s, the Axe brand became synonymous with male grooming by tapping into teenage boys desire for sex, this Axe affect where you would basically buy more and pay more because women would basically be taking off their clothes and falling at your feet because you had now became this irresistible guy. That Axe brand positioning had lost relevance, the definition of masculinity was changing, and the growing sense of female and women empowerment was huge and so, imagine if today the Axe brand was still positioned in that way. So, they set their minds to find a new position.
They did a lot of research and they reinvented their brand through the Find Your Magic campaign which was encouraging men to embrace and flaunt their individuality because that’s what makes them attractive. So, pivoting from spray more to get more to finding your own individuality, so you could have a big nose, or you could have hair or be tall or be shorter, you could have big ears, whatever shape you were, that was actually what made you attractive. And their purpose included partnering up with multiple organisations to reduce male suicides by men feeling they don’t live up to the social expectations so, that for me is a remarkable way the brand had completely transformed their story. I may sound lofty and far away, but I do think that you can do it and get started. And if you’re struggling, there are ways to find out. I’m going to give you more tips on how to find that story for your brand.
I think it’s an incredibly important point that you are looking for a slightly different angle, you are looking for what type of approach can you take that hasn’t been taken before, but as we said before in the first part of this podcast was thinking around different arts and different role models you can use.
So Sam, I’m going to ask you first of all, who is it that comes to mind here that you feel that really plays a part in your life and how you convey this?
For me Chris, I talked in the last episode about musicians and artists and creatives, but it has to be a poet. And my favourite mantra to live by is the eloquent and profound words of Maya Angelou who said I’ve learnt that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel. And that spirit and that mindset in the corporate world is so meaningful now, more than ever and that’s what I aspire to do, live up to and live into.
It’s a powerful phrase and I like it. For me it’s always been, and I know it is a cliché in many respects, but Martin Luther King I Have a Dream speech. The interesting thing, and again it relates back to what we’re talking about in the first episode is that this has actually taken on a life of its own. It wasn’t a hundred percent Martin Luther King who wrote that, there were a couple of script writers, good colleagues and friends of his that also contributed. But it has been used in so many different ways and almost become folk law in itself and I think that is a powerful place to get to.
Now of course, we’re not talking about making life changing speeches but, the principles do apply. It is about how you can create something that can convey that emotion, something that actually really makes the listener feel something. And the thing that is interesting, just to sort of conclude, a good story usually starts with something that entices you or intrigues you to keep going. That’s the first part of it. The opening makes you want to know about whatever it is. It needs to be short and snappy to catch that attention but has to be easy to read as well. That common language is going to be really important. There was a psychologist who wrote in a book, Story Genius. Her name’s Lisa Cron, she talked about the fact that there are core principles of human perception, thinking and memory in stories that create a positive emotional response and desired decision making from the audience. Now that almost sounds like a Wikipedia entry to me in terms of what you're trying to convey.
Today's Three Takeouts
When it comes to my three things to sum up on what we heard on this week’s show, I’d say
First of all, craft an elevator pitch and leverage the techniques to do that really well. The principles were to make it relevant, to grab attention, to think about the message, have an example and be able to bring it to life by being able to do it.
The second one I’d share is, inspired by the story of Axe is the opportunity and the ability to reinvent your story, irrespective of where you are. They didn’t exactly have a great purposeful position, but they were able to Find Your Magic, they were able to look inside what really was attractive about guys and think about it in a new relevant, modern way.
The third thing I would say is, elicit emotion. That could stand the test of time, maybe the story that you tell, maybe the idea you come up with could be something as monogamous or audacious as the I Have A Dream speech. That speech lives on till today, and we remember it, not just because of who said it, not because of what he said and not because of where he said it. It’s because all of those things combines, make the I Have A Dream speech so memorable and so long lasting for today.
I’d like to say that there’s something about seeing someone and being face to face and looking them in the eye that sometimes you forget about stories. That’s how you can pass them on. That face to face contact is important even in our virtual world.