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Narrative Psychology in Brand Storytelling

Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past, a bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a tweet, or captured in an oversimplified how-to formula. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy.

Marketing and advertising agencies claim to be professional storytellers. Agencies deliver a brand story as part of engagements while creative briefs bring the story to life. Agencies pump out papers on the subject and profile case studies where the story is key to client success. Within the industry, marketing conferences make room for storytelling as part of the agenda. Media and publications write on the topic with frequency. Storytelling permeates the profession. Here are three changes taking place in business storytelling:

They Don’t Tell: by its very definition, storytelling is broadcast in nature. We tell a tale. It is ‘one-to-many’ like the Mad Men era of advertising. We know that no longer works. Stories must now invite consumers in and let them be both character and storyteller. It is now about storyparticipation not passive absorption.

They Are Organic: the best brand stories take root organically and get consumers involved. Then they really evolve. This scares traditional marketers. They fear ceding control. Granted it is a bit of a wild ride when consumers help build the story but this is what is taking place with Uber and Airbnb and has taken place with Apple and Red Bull.

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A Brand is Not a Way of Life

Recently, I met with a fashion technology startup. They are building an interesting secondhand marketplace whereby consumers can sell “lightly used” bespoke clothing. Perhaps you wore a Chanel dress once but have no call for it now or the Ralph Lauren tuxedo in the closet is gathering dust. You get the idea.

An additional service involves sending in your used expensive clothing and having it “re-imagined” by company designers. One example was a beautiful woman’s blue blouse that subsequently had one sleeve and the collar removed. These were replaced with a white lacey pattern. I must admit it looked stunning and was very unique. The company also accepts purses and bags that they will clean, restore and/or re-imagine. All in all, it is a cool concept.

Then came a very familiar probe from the founders. They told me they want to be a “lifestyle brand”. That means joining a very long list of brands with the same intent. In fact, I think every brand believes they are a lifestyle brand in some way.

Apple never claims to be anything. Ingeniously they let customers identify them in certain ways. Many suggest they are a lifestyle brand given their dominance in personal technologies. Plenty of apparel brands make the lifestyle claim especially those with a focused product set and defined market. Burton is for snowboarders, Quiksilver for surfers, Helly Hansen for sailors, Volcom for rebellious skateboarders, and Patagonia for environmentally friendly explorers.

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Retro Nostalgia

We we’re feeling nostalgic for the nostalgia of Mad Men.

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Social Media is a Thief of Joy

“Comparison is a thief of joy.” So said Teddy Roosevelt. The man was always good for a quick, incisive quote. In this case he could have been referring to social media. The purpose of Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and other platforms have become much different from what was originally promised.

When social media appeared it was expected to deliver two different things. The first was to create democratic vehicles for the sharing of original, entertaining and valuable content. Sharing is definitely going on but most agree that the content is largely vacuous and self-serving and the few good bits are spread to the point of saturation and irritation.

The second promise was that social media would prompt earnest and real dialogue. That it would be a true exchange. That too has fallen short. It has become a broadcast tool where simplistic buttons are now the avatars for real conversation. A happy or sad icon is not a discussion or an accurate reflection of what we really feel and think. We are ‘clicking’ our way out of the work of communications and relationships.

Where social media has ended up should come as no surprise. After all, it leverages human behaviors that have existed for centuries. Yet, it makes worse our worse behaviors. Pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, sloth and greed show up when we post, share, comment and click. They are certainly in evidence when we compare our life to another.

The fact is, we all wear masks. No one can be their truest self all the time or even in short doses. This begins every morning when we look in the mirror. Our image gets a little distorted and by the time we face the public, a mask or two has been affixed in place. We do the same thing on social media. Our profiles and posts are a deliberate and calculated curation of an idealized image we wish others to see and believe (and what we wish we could actually be).

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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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The Evolution of the TV Tray Table

Remember those gaudily decorated, cheap metal fold-out trays? With the advent of a television in every home in the 1950’s, families soon needed a way to hold food and beverage items while watching one of the three available channels. The TV tray table quickly became a must-have. Their IMG_2165design and ubiquity make them an undeniable pop culture icon.

So what came first the TV tray table or the TV dinner? National advertising for TV tray tables first appeared in 1952. Two years later, C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced the frozen TV dinner, marketing it as an easy-to-prepare, fun-to-eat meal, with a disposable tray that reduced clean-up time. The TV dinner tapped into excitement over television and the tray table was there to literally lend support. By 1960, nearly 90% of American homes had a television and a similar percentage had a TV tray table set.

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