'Tis The Season of Selling through Story.

My mailbox seems to be running at a rate of about 20 holiday catalogues a day this December. I flip through hundreds of pages chock full of clever sweaters, yummy foodstuffs, big bling, and fancy decor (just in case my family or I really need any of it). Yet I am stopped by two catalogues only. The two that feature engaging stories of human passion and commitment: Perricone MD and Patagonia.

Perricone got me with their cover line, “Meet The Heroes of Science and Results.” Inside were inspirational stories of women using science to change the world. Coming from a skin care line that puts scientific research at its brand core, the connection was powerful.

Patagonia is no stranger to brand storytelling, but it continues to use empathy and the hero’s journey to engage mere athletic mortals like myself. The story of a failed climbing attempt on India’s Mount Nilkantha, “What Was Left,” and the team’s eventual return and final success, was a rich tale of human bonding more than a journey depicting physical prowess.

The December deluge of catalogues was another clear reminder that the best persuasion in any season is a well-crafted, authentic story. Happy storytelling to you in 2019!

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Stories with Brand Heart.

We've all heard how stories release oxytocin, the hormone that makes our hearts beat faster, our love for something (or someone) grow deeper, and our relationships stronger.  There's something unbelievably powerful about how a great story will stick with us for days and years.  We all have favorite stories from childhood, those movies we watch over and over, and Netflix series we wish would never end.

That's why marketers try so hard to recreate powerful stories themselves so people will fall in love with their brand and want to connect with over and over. The problem is, too many organizations try to create a story that mimics Hollywood or Netflix, but sadly, falls too short with their audiences. What these stories often lack is the true heart of the brand—the unique character that only it brings to people's lives. Think of the emotional value that your brand stands for—what is its true purpose for being? 

That's how can you script better stories for your audiences. By making sure that your brand's authentic and emotional essence is truly the hero of the story. That is, the ending of the story would not be the same if [your brand value goes here] wasn't part of overcoming the challenge that the protagonist faces.  That means before putting pen to paper to write a story, you need to be crystal clear what your brand stands for.  You're not selling a tire, you're selling peace of mind that a family can avoid sliding off the road even when caught in a blinding snowstorm. You're not selling financial investment advice, you're selling confidence that your knowledge can help a business can succeed even when a serious and unexpected setback happens.

So put your brand heart out there in your stories. You'll be amazed at the love you'll get in return. 

4 Ways to Keep Your Stories Fresh

There's a store in my neighborhood that changes out its inventory at least every quarter, if not every other month.  It's actually called Fresh Story. Now, not every brand has the luxury or ability to change its entire product line or services that often. But there are some easy ways to keep your brand stories fresh. Here are 4 of my favorites:

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1. Showcase a customer who has a compelling story around the role your brand plays in their organization. 

2. Invite an expert in your industry to talk about trends that favorably impact your brand or have challenges for your customers that your brand can help alleviate. Create a video or podcast with this expert in conversation with one of your executives. 

3. Conduct proprietary research around a hot topic. A couple of years ago, any studies about Millennials received a lot of views and clicks, and extensive coverage in business journals. What's the next must-know topic for customers that your brand can sponsor research on?

4. Make a visit to the labs to see what's being developed either for a current product or something new for the future. This obviously works better if you are in a scientific or technical field. But think how the fashion world is constantly visiting designer's studios to generate news around the placement of a zipper here or a swatch of fur there. 

Keeping brand stories fresh sometimes takes a little old-fashioned journalistic sleuthing, looking for hidden gems both inside and outside the organization. 


All The Way To A Powerful Story

The recent Broadway play and HBO movie "All The Way" features the brief period in President Lyndon Johnson's life between the assassination of JFK and his re-election in 1964, when he fought passionately and fearlessly for the passage of the Civil RIghts Act.

Through the brilliant acting of Bryan Cranston and the screenwriting of Robert Schenkkan, we get to know LBJ's personality in 360 degrees. We see his oversized ego and charming persuasive skills as well as his deep insecurities and paranoid suspicions.  One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is where LBJ is sitting with reporters at his ranch in Texas, and explaining why the Civil Rights legislation is so important to the country. But then the story suddenly shifts to the personal.

LBJ begins to recount his early days as an elementary teacher in the tiny town of Cotulla, Texas, with a classroom of primarily poor Hispanic students. The reporters' pens halt the writing on their notebooks, as they become transfixed with LBJ's poignant description of his students showing up hungry every day. Eventually, despite his enthusiastic encouragement, President Johnson describes painfully how some of the students become discouraged about their future as they see the discrimination and lack of economic opportunities around them.

This short scene encapsulates what makes a powerful story, especially as told by a leader. It's the courage to be vulnerable, and bring one's deeply personal impressions and convictions to the forefront.  A nice reminder to all of us hoping to move an agenda forward, whether in business or government or in life.

Well said, Mr. President.

A Lesson in Lightness

Look what clever, but motivating message I found on my vitaminwater bottle this morning. There's a lesson in this B2C copy that can apply to developing B2B campaigns, executive thought leadership pieces and even social impact communications.  Sometimes giving your audiences a break with a lighter perspective can keep them engaged, and gives your brand voice more humanity and empathy.

Taking A One Word Stand

An advertising creative director once remarked to me that "there is a great campaign waiting for every word in the dictionary." At the time, I had a difficulty imaging selling a major Fortune 500 client on the use of the word "onomatopoeia" in an ad (although it made a funny Todd Rundgren song). Or brobdingnagian to capture the magnitude of a new size of package for cereal or laundry detergent.

I've come to see how associating your company your brand, or your campaign with a single word can forge a strong connection to your audience. The key, of course, is to choose the word that best captures your values and behavior. For example, IBM lives its "smarter" association through its innovation in cloud computing and Big Data. The Rockefeller Foundation made a commitment to building stronger urban environments through its 100 Resilient Cities initiative.  Rockefeller stands for resilience, which is a powerful and relevant position to own in today's volatile economic and social world.

Sometimes a less than positive word association can still work in your favor. One of my clients, Zurich Insurance, is leading the conversation and action around the devastating effects of floods around the globe. Now when a flood hits the news, Zurich's customers immediately know that the company is there to help.

Jeep and adventure. Whole Foods and organic. Brene Brown and vulnerability. Tom Peters and excellence.  It can be a strength to build association with the right word.  Just be sure to pick it well, and stick to it with everything you do.