Remember When Marketing was About Selling?

Checkout these thought posters and share them widely. They address brand storytelling, the loss of meaning in branding, the need for real results, and how marketing must get back to selling.

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“Hang in There, Baby!”: The Tao of Motivational Posters

Do you remember the company Successories? It was responsible for the cheesy posters that hung in offices all across North America. Successories was founded in 1985, by Mac Anderson who, as a hobby collected quotations and motivational writings. Mac took these quotes and added them to a vaguely relevant stock photo. Close your eyes and picture a soaring eagle (setting goals), synchronized rowing crew (teamwork), sharpened pencil (ideas) or mountain climber (perseverance).

These were incredibly popular and at one point the company had stores in malls selling all manner of imagemotivation and inspiration accessories. I saw a lineup to get into one in a Galleria in Dallas. It did not take long for wags to mock the format. This gave way to a wave of de-motivational posters that brought people back down to earth. In some cases the mockery was so well done that it was difficult to tell the two camps apart. This proves that imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but parody is envy of the original idea.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but parody is envy of the original idea.

If you spend two minutes on the Internet or thirty seconds on any social media, you will see Mac’s original idea is alive and well. Instagram and Tumblr is replete with motivational quotes and writings artfully arrayed on various backdrops. Hundreds, if not, thousands of blogs are dedicated to these positive provocations. People the world over on Facebook share these encouragements in hopes of connecting with like-minded souls or, by doing, give themselves a little lift. Twitter’s 140 characters pump out imagethousands of pithy expressions every minute that encourage and cajole.

The original intent of motivational posters was to make people achieve more, or to think differently about the things that they may be learning or doing. It was about challenging beliefs and looking at the world in a fresh way. CBS News concluded that modern motivational posters “are geared more toward things that need to be done than things that are good to believe”. In other words, motivation has become a task or bucket list of things to do or buy versus a perpetual state of being.

Motivation has become a bucket list of things to do or buy.

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Write On with this Advice

God I love writing. Too bad the ‘Gods of Writing’ can be so demanding even cruel. That is why it is important to draw on the experiences of others. Take Ernest Hemingway who said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” There is both comfort and terror in that observation.

Enid Bagnold captured my own sentiments of writing, “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

Here are other quotes on writing that may cause you to slap your forehead and say to and for yourself, “That’s it!”

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” George Orwell

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” Stephen King

“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.” William Zinsser

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“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.” John Updike

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” Elmore Leonard

“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” Larry L. King

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” Doris Lessing

“Style is to forget all styles.” Jules Renard

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.” Lawrence Block

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.” Leigh Brackett

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” Stephen King

“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.” Jim Tully

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” Harper Lee

“Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.” Jack Kerouac

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” Ray Bradbury

“Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.” George Singleton

“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.” Jim Thompson

“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.” Andre Gide

“When I say work I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.” Margaret Laurence

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” Annie Dillard

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A Collection of Business Storytelling Stories

We share a collection of business storytelling articles that offer value. These are both recent and go back a few years but all support the effectiveness of telling the right tale right.

Why Storytelling Will Be the Biggest Business Skill of the Next 5 Years (HubSpot)
“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”

The Irresistible Power of Storytelling (Harvard Business Review)
A Strategic Business Tool.

Why Companies Need More Novelists (Fast Company)
Leaders, take note (and MFA grads, take heart): acclaimed novelist Mohsin Hamid on the most quote-Tim-OBrien-storytelling-is-the-essential-human-activity-the-135637important tool you’re not using enough.

Product Narrative: How to Use Fiction to Get Your Story Straight (Inc. Magazine)
David Riemer of the Haas School of Business explains why story telling is so powerful.

The Inside Story (Psychology Today)
Success in the information age demands that we harness the hidden power of stories. Here’s what you need to know to tell a killer tale.

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22 Bits of Narrative Wisdom

A few years back on Twitter, Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats shared 22 bits of narrative wisdom. Emma’s job is to marry words and pictures to make a complete story. Here is the text but scroll further for visual takes on these “rules”.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at 30-Buzz-Lightyearthe end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

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Stop Writing to Write Better

There are two terms writers detest. The first is, “writer’s block”. The second is. “The bar is closing.” In all seriousness, getting stuck is frustrating. Writing is a complex act. It is self-expression. Writing shares ideas and stories. Everyone has those in the head and heart. We may understand them but putting them down on paper so others do is an awesome challenge.

I believe in the power of persistence but when you get stuck, forcing writing does not always work. Determination is admirable but it often produces an inferior result. When this happens and it can imagehappen with alarming frequency, you have to step away.

Go for a hike, pick up an adult coloring book, wear out a treadmill – anything that will quiet your mind. If you stop focusing on the block often the solution will present itself. One perceived step backwards can take you two real steps forward.

Even if this does not produce an amazing epiphany that miraculously breaks the mental logjam, you will find a few threads that can be pulled. Those will invariably lead you in the right direction. The point is to walk away. You have to stop writing to write better. There are a few reasons why.

Breathe

It can be a blog, novel, annual report or poem. We pour ourselves into the words and ideas. The sentiment and emotion is draining. Just a few sentences in we have lost all objectivity. It is analogous to having a heated argument with a loved one. They have their point-of-view and we have ours. There is a natural give and take but we are not going to budge on the core bits. You have to take some time, breathe, and see it from the other side.

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Communication is Hard Work

A few quotes to help us better communicate…

“The two words information and communication are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” Sydney Harris

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.” Edward R. Murrow

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Tony Robbins

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” Joseph Priestley

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2015 Top-Drawer Business Books

Welcome to the 8th edition of Top-Drawer Business Books

Too many business book lists are narrow in definition. As Robert Weider said, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” The Top-Drawer list is less traditional and duplicative to others. That is why the list includes, and is sometimes dominated by, books not categorized purely as “business”.

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 12.55.48 PMWe always avoid books promising four-hour workweeks because they are fables, over-simplified and prescriptive how-to works that are vacuous and dangerous, and so-called inspirational books that are trite, lite and ineffectual. These are all tossed aside when one experiences the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

There are no shortcuts or magic panaceas in business. We have to do the work even when reading. As John Locke stated, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” We encourage you to read the selections here and make the Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 12.57.16 PMknowledge yours.

The list includes books released in 2015 that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, applicable, thought-provoking, and innovative. Our last bit of criteria makes the selections tougher to determine and that is timelessness of content. We love sharing the Top-Drawer list because so much of success in business is predicated on great storytelling and these selections exemplify that skill.

This year 13 make our list, 4 more than last year, and are presented in no particular order. For the first time, fiction efforts are included for the amazing lessons they carry if one is open to the education. For fun, we have included a separate list of 8 timeless business novels.

Remember, life is too short to drink cheap scotch or to read books that are not Top-Drawer. So keep these selections within easy reach for repeated reference. Access the list here, TopDrawer2015Final.

The Persuasiveness of Great Language

The advertising industry has a rich history. Much, of course, is based on lore made greater with each telling. It is rife with characters both created and those who lived. The Marlboro Man, The Morton Salt Girl, Cap’n Crunch, Aunt Jemima, Mr. Whipple, The Jolly Green Giant, Miss Chiquita Banana, The Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger, Mr. Peanut, and the Coppertone Girl are Pillsburyiconic brand representatives. Many of these creations were spun from the agencies of Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach.

These Madison Avenue greats produced intriguing quotes. The thoughts of these revered and referenced gentlemen continue to be trumpeted and contextualized to be made relevant today. Leo Burnett is economical and bit gruff. David Ogilvy was prolific having identified the power of a soundbite from his earliest days. Bill Bernbach was a furious and detailed writer. I know this having sat close to his archives while Chief Communications Officer at DDB Worldwide.

One bit of the latter’s writing recently came to my attention. I had not seen it while at DDB. It Mr. Bernbach’s 1947 resignation from Grey Advertising. It is a delightful but forceful blast of prose. Firm in conviction and clear in intent, the letter is a summary of his disappointment and hope for advertising. It is rant in defence of craft over technique and science. It is a cry for differentiation and distinction.

Yet, what I enjoy most is the emphasis on selling. In recent decades, marketing and advertising has become entertainment. You are hard pressed to hear the word “sales” and “selling” in agencies. That is the industry protecting itself against age-old indictments of being deceptive and manipulative. The irony is, all business communications exist to sell something whether it be a product or idea…so why cover up that fact?

Below is the text from the letter and the original. Read it and come to your own conclusions. I think he does a wonderful job of proving “to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.”

Dear collegues,

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.

There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best bernbachgame. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.

In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique.

But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.

All this is not to say that technique is unimportant. Superior technical skill will make a good ad better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability. The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising. The danger lies In the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.

If we are to advance we must emerge as a distinctive personality. We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.
Respectfully,

Bill Bernbach

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The Welcome Return of McLuhanacy

Professor Marshall McLuhan is a fascinating fellow. His notable ideas: “the medium is the message” and “the global village” continue to inform and to prompt debate regarding their real meaning. Pundits argue that McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web thirty years before it was invented. His ideas covered metamedia, media ecology, figure and ground media, tetrad of media effects, and hot and cool media.

Born in Edmonton, educated in Winnipeg, and notable while a Professor at the University of tumblr_lmoz8xyPe11qais7sToronto, McLuhan passed away in 1980. He was a celebrity intellectual and as The Globe and Mail points out, “For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, McLuhan seemed to be everywhere – on radio, in print, in film (most notably with a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) and especially on television. The latter, ironically, was a medium he considered pernicious, a certain harbinger of the eventual demise of print culture. He distilled his genius, including phrases that became and remain part of the daily lexicon, such as ‘the medium is the message,’ into sometimes puzzling aphorisms, an early form of the sound byte.”

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