Category Archives: Storytelling

Mass Media Planning vs Community Planning


Many bright people are discussing the idea of Transmedia Planning, an ever-evolving, non-linear brand narrative. Think ‘Lost’: For some (including me) it’s just an entertaining TV show, for others it’s a puzzle they want to solve, just to discover there are more puzzles to be found. And, for the ‘Lost’ fanatics fans it’s an obsession, constantly fed by new theories, facts and factoids fed to them through official and unofficial channels.

Currently, most media is planned around a single idea: Get me this amazing idea and I’ll execute it as a commercial, banner, sticker, print ad – you name it. My first Creative Director always asked the lowly copywriter (me) when he presented his ideas for a commercial: “Does this work as a radio spot? Print ad? Key chain?” (Most of the time it didn’t and I crawled back to my office for another all-nighter.) Our work had to deliver for any educational, age and IQ level. Just like the pyramids. Ask a 5-year old to draw the pyramids and the result won’t be that much different from your own drawings (Be honest!) Sure, there might be more texture, details and finesse. But one glance and everybody gets it. And just a few words come to mind when thinking about pyramids: Slaves, Construction, Sphinx, Pharaohs.


Do you know who this is? No?


Getting closer?


Easier? The overall scene composition might give it away.


These 4 images illustrate that everybody has a different concept of Jesus: Ask 100 people how they would describe Jesus in 5 words and you’ll get an interesting tag cloud. Some overall concepts and ideas (‘Compassion’ anyone?) will be repeated over and over again but each and every person developed their own, personal concept of Jesus. And you will quickly realize that people can handle more than a single core idea. Jesus is more to people than the symbol for ‘Compassion’. For some people he might stand for love. For courage. He might symbolize an oppressive childhood. Indoctrination. World Peace. The Truth. The holy spirit. You take from his story whatever you like. Whatever fits your belief system and values. You create your own Jesus story. Either based on the bible, on historic documents, on interpretations of your priest, on movies. All these channels feed you different story lines. They can never tell the whole story because you tell the story yourself. Since we’re social animals, we are looking for communities that share our values. Without these communities, the idea of Jesus could have never been that successful and all-pervasive. Interacting with people, discussing their understanding of the Bible, experiencing the complexity of the Jesus concept is just so much more powerful than reading the Bible in your living-room. No comparison.

‘Lost’ became a phenomenon because communities adopted the concept. These groups will develop naturally when you offer rich story lines. Well, not always.

People are ready to process much greater complexity, spread info through various platforms and become hypersocial. They are hungry for it. Problem: The kitchen is still cold, remodeling plans being discussed. It’s hard to shift from a one-item menu to a complex 20-course tasting menu. We need to find the right chefs, sommeliers, Maitre D’s and service personnel. And, to make things more complex, we might intend to serve up a 20-course tasting meal but everybody will have a different experience: Some will just have appetizers, some only deserts, some will take your best ingredients and cook something completely new out of it, some will only drink the wine, etc. We basically hope to cook for people that are cooking at the same time. (Mhm, that might be an interesting concept for a restaurant.) It’s complex and messy. But, it’s magic when it all comes together.


We want less facts, more stories


Image courtesy Aint Life Grand

The most important person in an upscale restaurant is not the chef or the waiter – it is the sommelier. Sure, the quality of food is important and an excellent service equally. But, frankly, that’s the price of entry. The real difference maker is the sommelier: A great sommelier will transform your great meal into a memorable experience. How?

As a sommelier, you have two choices: You can overwhelm me with facts about geography, grapes and climate. And bore me to death. Or, you can tell me a story about the wine. Something infotaining, details about the wine or winemaker, insider information. My local wine store does a great job coming up with little stories, facts and fiction that warm my heart and make me want to taste that wine immediately.

Brands need people more than people need brands. And, people don’t need facts from brands. They have Google. Your brand objective should be to tell a story. A story that’s memorable. That can be shared. And spread. Brands without stories mean nothing and without any engaging stories people have nothing to talk about.

The story behind the story behind the story


Whenever we get hired by a new client, we try to immerse ourselves in their brand world: Read anything we can find about the brand, talk to the stakeholders, explore the blogosphere, discover their brand mythology, experience their products and services. All very heady, sensual and experiential. And interesting.

The idea of attending a sales conference came up and I jumped on it immediately. Sure, you might not hear the newest Web 3.56 ideas or Twitter applications. But you get something much more valuable: The story behind the story behind the story. I discovered the backbone of the brand, chatted with people that take care of the brand while selling to people, solving their problems and being rejected day by day. Factory tours are a good start but talking with real people is where the real magic happens. I found it to be highly interesting, inspirational and insightful.

It takes you away from the Marketing Ivory Tower to the authentic essence of the brand. Exactly what I was looking for.

Whoo Hoo


I went to Washington Mutual today, depositing a few checks. While I was filling out the paperwork, a voice boomed through the Intercom: “It’s noon. Everbody: 3,2,1…” All employees got up and exclaimed “Whoo Hoo”.

Now does that get you excited and don’t you just want to rush out and do more business with Washington Mutual? Actually, I almost closed my account on the spot.

Besides the association with Homer Simpson and a possible missspelling (Homer says: Woo Hoo!), the Whoo Hoo campaign is a good example (Or a really bad one!) for a brand that doesn’t listen. A brand is the most important asset of a business. It tells people what you are, who you are, what you stand for and what people can expect from you when they interact with you.

Washington Mutual explains in a press release that “through ongoing brand tracking, we know we always outperform our peers when it comes to being emotionally relevant to people. Whether it’s been in focus groups or surveys, we hear that WaMu is a bank that truly cares about the consumer.”

How does the new campaign show that they care about the consumer? How does a person feel when they are debating loans or opening business accounts and the employee jumps up in mid-sentence and screams “Whoo Hoo?” How does this brand experience retain or even generate customers? What does “Whoo Hoo” stand for? Does this mean we’re going to have a great time while banking at WaMu?

People have serious business to take care of when they go to banks. They want the best advice, the best rates, the lowest fees and quick service. They want to be taken seriously, want to be treated as important customers. “Whoo Hoo” just shows people how self-indulgent and removed from real people WaMu is. It shows that they don’t care about the needs and desires of people. Instead, they pushed communication out that might have played well in a boardroom but doesn’t connect with any of us.

WaMu should take a hard look at the ING brand. Their brand promise: “a commitment to providing the financial services solutions our customers value.” Their advertising promises the experience they’re providing: Simple, easy, customer-centric. And ING delivers on that promise throughout each and every touch point.

Now that’s worth a hearty Homer “Woo Hoo”.

Don’t design Stepford Wives experiences


As discussed in my previous post ‘The Expectation Economy’, consumers have increasingly high expectations from brands: products, service, brand, etc. While many companies still try overcompensate bad products by spending gazillions in advertising, other companies have started to understand the Service is Marketing idea and how Experience Design can create memories.  And, as David Armano points out in his latest Critical Mass Blog post, many of us have to come to understand that customers should be at the center of our attention:

(…) “it’s probably good to keep in mind that the disciplines of Design, PR, Advertising, Marketing and Technology will all play critical roles. I believe many of these roles are already blurring. And everyone wants to know the answer to this question:

“Who will lead the way”?

Would you believe I have the answer? The customer. Start by exceeding their expectations. Meet the needs they never knew they had. The rest will follow.”

People and their money  will go where the best experiences are, we know this. But how do we define best experiences? Is the best experience a perfect experience? Or is there more to it?

The best travel experiences I ever had were not flawless. They often involved massive amount of bugs, sanitary nightmares, bad schedules and grouchy friends. But, looking back, I had a blast and tons of memories. The most mediocre travel experiences were the ones where everything was flawless: The breakfast was delivered 5 minutes early, the eggs were perfect, the coffee the right temperature.

Flawless doesn’t equal best. People don’t want to step into a Stepford Wives experience. They want a human touch to it, something more than just perfection. An engineering brand should deliver flawless engineering. But if they only deliver that, nobody will remember their name. Adding an irreverent tonality to their communications and conversations might deliver this memorable experience. (Cluetrain #21)

Best experiences should be defined as interactions and relationships that add value to people’s lives and allow them to tell a story. My best travel experiences were so good because they made a great story. Same goes for positive experiences with airlines (Yup, there are some), car dealerships, supermarkets, etc. These stories will stay as memories with people and all the others they told about the experience. Make it easy for people to tell their story through platforms and always remember:

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. -Robert McKee