Vor gut eineinhalb Jahren hatte ich Freude und Ehre, im Rahmen der Vortragsreihe “DACS Show and Share” der Münchner Architekten Dina Andersen und Christian Schmid zu sprechen.
Es war ein heißer Juliabend, der erste heiße Abend nach vielen Wochen ungewöhnlicher Kälte und Regen im Juli. Das war cool. Einerseits, denn die die Atmosphäre im Hinterhof der Türkenstraße 21 in Münchens Studentenviertel war an diesem Abend mediterran, einladend ausladend, ausgelassen gelassen, geschichtenträchtig. Andererseits hingegen, was macht man an so einem heißen Sommerabend in Minga, gerade nach einer gefühlten Eiszeit? Genau: Biergarten. Dem geschuldet (so nahmen wir selbstsicher an) kamen statt der angemeldeten 80 Gäste gerade mal 35…
Enttäuschung? Nur im ersten Moment. Denn die, die kamen, wollten’s wirklich. Setzten erfreuliche Prioritäten, nahmen kurze wie längere Wege auf sich, um beim Vortrag “Geschichten als Gestaltungsräume für moderne Marken” über das immerheiße, immergrüne Geschichtenerzählen (neudeutsch: Storytelling), Bedeutung und Chancen für Imagebildung, Imageschärfung, Dialogfähigkeit und Geschäftsunterstützung moderner Marken (erfolglos) der Hitze zu entfliehen. Verschmähten Hoibe und Brezn, tauschten sie gegen Flaschenbier und Hirnschmalz, eingerahmt von Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Mr. Jones und Guy Clark. Ein Traum von Sommer in der Stadt.
Warum denke ich gerade jetzt an diesen Abend zurück? Sicher, weil’s draußen grad mal wieder eklig regnerisch windet und in schwachen Minuten gar schneit. Aber auch, weil mir folgendes Video, das im Vorfeld dieses Vortrags entstanden ist, zwar nicht in die Hände, aber doch virtuell zufällig vor die Augen fiel, als es schüchtern aus seiner Verbannung hinter den Gittern von Vimeo heraus lugte.
Alles noch so wahr wie damals, so wahr wie gestern und vorgestern, so wahr wie heute und morgen, so wahr ich dort stand):
Ever since I made my first professional walking attempts in the digital world (20 years ago that must be #feelslikeyesterday), I heard this mantra everywhere in the pre-dotcom bubble euphoria of Cluetrain afficionados, would-be Internet prophets, and notorious panjandrums:
CONTENT IS KING! They all said.
I had been studying Storytelling for five years, long before I even knew it was Storytelling. Back then they called it literature. So it seemed a little odd to hear these Internet geeks regurgitating their royal mantra when I had just meticulously learnt about the history, structure and perennial powers of stories told by early-day classics like Homer, Cervantes, Dante or Boccaccio, classic classics like Goethe, Schiller or Lessing or modern classics like Grass, Mann or Böll. Admittedly, I was also getting carried away by this millennial the-end-of-business-as-usual atmosphere of imminent change. Felt somehow audacious to dust off the venerable Germanstik patina in favour of some fresh … ehem, content?
It was only many years later, after necessary detours through the fires of corporate Mordor, that I realized one ring, I mean thing: The business world was (sorry: IS!) overly attracted by the glare of technological possibilities and features, fanatically prone to wanna-be-first- and because-we-can-itis. And thereby narrowly and one-sidedly interpreting the word “content”, neglecting other, much more elementary facets – facets that become clearest in the three different German translations the word “content” offers.
Back in the late 90’s, corporate content creation had nothing to do with journalistic research or writing talent. Its creators literally were content “managers”, i.e. project managers for pieces of content that they 1:1 transferred from paper to HTML and pinned to the newly discovered digital blackboard called website. Period. Their job was simply about the most general interpretation of content: words and pictures on a screen, publishing material. The (most probable and wide-spread) German translation for this aspect of content would be:
Or: “Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts … something that is contained.” (dictionary.com)
But it this Inhalt automatically something meaningful? Something that goes deeper than letters strung together by punctuation marks? Something that links beyond the surface not to just another succession of trivialities and soulless pixels, but to true substance? Mostly not. This is where in recent years (in continental Europe) or maybe decades (in Anglo-American dominated countries) the bandwagon of storytelling has already been able to do a lot for the greater good of meaningful content. If understood well and deployed according to the storycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change. The (a lot less wide-spread and more rarely spotted) German translation for this aspect of content with substance would be:
But interesting: Gehalt also means “salary” in German. So maybe in the end all just about the dough, be the content meaningful or not. Surely, what did you think? Now let’s once and for all get past the naïve, childish, even insulting notion that any one corporation on this planet has a different purpose than making money. And the more they want you to believe that they’re sustainably trying to save the world, “do something good” on the side with CSR and foundations, a little like a Hollywood actress doing charity, the more they’re deceiving you.
The labyrinth of linguistics … Whatever. What I actually wanted to say was: Meaningful content with substance is a good thing. But is it enough? No. Not today anymore, that’s for sure. Inhalt and Gehalt were a great, successful and sufficient, but nevertheless rare combination in the pre social media age. When the third facet of “content” didn’t really matter. It was the age of broadcast after all, old-school Shannon-Weaver style.
Bad news: those days are over. Interactivity, ubiquitous commentaries, likes and forum discussions have changed the recipient side practically over night (in a historical sense of time).
People and the conglomerates they form called audiences (NOT users!) will no longer be satisfied with consuming content-turned-into-great-stories and commenting on it in a more or less intelligent and fruitful discussion with fellow audience members or members from other audience groups. They will first of all want to be able to dig deeper behind your story, deeper into the spider web, find proof for your story, get in contact with the heroes of your story, and maybe some day also with you. If they’re not disappointed on their journey.
But, even more substantial, they will want to become an active part of a company’s business story and stories, not as actors or heroes, but as co-authors. After all, they are the other half of the corporate truth, the devil on the corporate shoulder, internal versus external perception. Devils who might become angels when they turn into a renowned and emancipated member if a brand’s story creation team. Only then will they be what the third, most vital and rarest facet of German translation attempts hints at:
Or: “Satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else … Archaic: willing.” (dictionary.com)
Yep, content is also an adjective, not only a noun.
And the central question is: Who is it that you want to satisfy with your content? Yourself? Your bosses? Your bosses bosses? Or maybe, only very maybe … your customers? Your customers’ customers? Your audiences? Maybe even a targeted small portion of your audience? Certainly, your answer will be: Of course my customers! Of course my audiences! Plus the fact, now I have all these big and massive and powerful data, I now even know what my audience wants before it knows that it wants it! Ha! There you go, eat this!
I’m eating …
Only: Lies are hard to digest. And all the easier to unmask. As written in the world’s most successful example of purposeful storytelling: “Thou shalt not lie!”
Which brings me to the answer of above-asked headline question: As long as you betray yourself and thereby the people you are apparently creating your content for, there will be no sustainably successful content! Take all your pig data, winnow the refuse from the valuable gold nuggets, take an honest and disarraying look at them, shuffle your cards anew, do away with your organization’s and your management’s old shibboleths, dare, launch a pilot, let go, and see what happens.
There is an even older mantra from our economy’s service sector, way back from the days when storytelling was still literature, when relevant content didn’t need to be called king, when it in fact was a rarity due to its scarcity, not due to its abundance. Back then, the saying went:
Der Kunde ist König. The customer is the King.
Aha. So, so. Let’s try that for once, what do you say?
I can’t get no satisfaction, he says? All the better; let that be your stimulant.
Stories are everywhere around us. In every part and place of our lives.
Only: we are often much too busy to see them. Too blinkered by life’s challenges, the haste of getting from A to B, the illusion that life is a to-do list, and idleness evil.
Open senses are all it takes to escape this gridlock that makes so many of us unhappy; open eyes open up new perspectives.
Here’s a story (or rather a couple of possible plots) I literally stumbled upon while running in a close-by park – not away from anything, not towards anything, actually in circles, letting my thoughts do the same.
It’s the story of this deserted park bench jacket.
*Disclaimer: I didn’t put it there for this post.;)
My circling mind started asking: How did it get there? Where does it comes from? Who and where is the man (was it a man, just because it’s a man’s jacket?) who left it there? And why did he do it?
The jacket belonged to a homeless man. Lying there, taking a rest from life’s endless atrocities and perpetual failed hopes. Fell asleep in the first rays of warm sunlight surrounded by the colour of hope after yet another night in the rainy cold, looking for shelter, in vain. Hungry, thirsty, desperate, and so terribly tired, tired of life. When, after many hours of peaceful slumber, he was approached by strollers checking on him, he didn’t move. An ambulance was called, but arrived only to find out that the nameless man had passed away, covered by death’s cold hand in the late morning sun. Who was this man? What was his story? Which conflicts and pitfalls in his life brought him to this lonely park bench? And why was the jacket still there?
The jacket belonged to a man in his mid-forties who had been sitting there, trying to collect his thoughts, agonizing over the best way (if there was one) to avert the imminent drama in his life. The U-turn it was about to take, inflicted only by his own stupidity of cheating on his wife. After all that they had been through, one single moment of vain joy now thwarted it all. Would he ever see her again, his son? After his confession and pleas for forgiveness, honest, but (to her) lame promises, she had thrown him out of their house. Marital silence ever since, he was sleeping at a friend’s place. Suddenly, on his walk through the park, mixing fresh air with chain smoke, his phone rang. It was her. Asking if they could meet. Right away. He jumped up in incredulous joy, already on his way while she was still on the phone, completely forgetting his jacket. A happy ending?
The jacket belonged to a business man who had messed with the wrong people. Pushing his luck for the deal of his life with different parties, closing the bargain with the one side, pissing off the other, like real. And the other party was not the one to piss off. A thing he didn’t know, but was soon to find out on his daily walk in the park to work. The three thugs came out of nowhere, dashing from a blind spot … and then his world went black. Who was / is this man? Is he still alive? Does he have a family? What was the deal about, and what was really behind this ambush? And why did the jacket stay there while its owner has gone missing ever since?
Sounds like fiction? Sure it does, I just made it up. But .. only maybe. Do we know? Do we know ANYTHING about the world around us, our neighbours, every-day passers-by on our way to work?
Maybe the deserted bench jacket story was much more prosaic than this, maybe someone just accidentally left it there while taking his lunch break in the sunny park, fiddling around with his smart phone, then running off in a hurry to get back to work on time. Maybe just someone who didn’t want this shabby jacket anymore, too lazy to throw it into the used-clothes container?
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
There a story behind everything. And everyone’s story has its intriguing moments, twists and surprises. It’s just a question of taking a closer look, a question of perspective, of attitude.
And there is definitely some story up this jacket’s sleeve, behind its former owner for sure. Oh and: next morning the jacket was gone … Woohaah!
“Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formatsusing current digital technologies.
From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.“
A lot of story stuff involved, so I tend to like it, naturally. But also a lot of (digital) technology, channels, platforms. So, really something new? Or just an evolution version of our oldest megatrend, a Storytelling x.0?
Let’s take a look at where the concept stems from:
Transmedia as an idea of collaborative, multi-platform creation and narration origins in the 70’s and 80’s of the last century, in the area of telematic art, where artists experimented with collaborative narration and defined the idea of transmedia.
It soon moved on to the gaming industry, creating so-called Alternate Reality Games (ARG). These are games that, based on the Internet as a main hub, use(d) multiple other technological platforms like telephones, email and real offline mail to tell and simultaneously create different parts of the game’s story in those medial habitats relevant to the players. So not just transmedia telling, but transmedia engagement that requires interaction from every gamer in order to bring the game’s plot to the next level. In other words: “Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and collaborate as a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities.” (Wikipedia) An early example being Ong’s Hat.
The next transmedia stop was cinema, bringing the whole idea of alternate realities not only to the screen itself (where we had long been used to getting immersed in alternate worlds), but also connecting these to our real, every day lives. The most prominent example certainly being 1999’s “Blair Witch Project”:
This was not only a mocumentary, i.e. a piece of fiction pretending to be documentary, but also accompanied by a variety of additional, supporting pieces of content such as faked diaries, police reports or interviews that in itself engaged the audience in a captivating manner, adding to the cinema story’s apparent verisimilitude.
That was 15 years ago, and just the beginning …
Since a couple of years, also the commercial world of business communications has started to smell the rat? As always, the more consumer-oriented businesses are on the fore-front here with pioneers like Nike or Lego, but it won’t be long before the so-called B2B world will catch up.
So what could all of this mean for business communications and marketing? What can we learn from arts and entertainment?
I recently read this article on transmedialab.org that instinctively made me want to caution a “because we can” attitude that often pairs with technological advancements. The article basically was about the next big thing in cinema and henceforth modern storytelling. Not an R&D future project, but already on the audiences’ threshold.
The article begins with a short analysis of the film “APP”. APP is the first-ever movie that was written and produced with a 2nd-screen experience in mind, regularly adding content to your phone app while the of the film’s content unfolds on the traditional 1st cinema screen, and thus interrupting the movie’s actual narration.
Hmm, I thought.
Do I like this? Not too sure.
I’ll have to find out…
The article moves on with a glimpse into the labs of Disney’s experiments. These are currently limited to 2nd-screen “content interruptions” to back-catalog films like “The Little Mermaid”, but plans are to integrate the transmedia storytelling idea into the initial screen writing of future film productions.
Hmm, I thought, again.
Ambiguity crawling in …
The angel (or is it the devil?) on my shoulder says something like Yalda Uhl who states that “it is very important to engage children in a narration, and that is very difficult to do nowadays with all the distractions and stimulations that surround them. Adding a distraction in cinemas will definitely not help studios to achieve their goal of creating value or attracting an audience that will return to the cinema in the future”. Yes, says the angel (or devil)! REDUCE the distractions! Foster concentration spans! Concentrate on true narration and storytelling to immerse audiences in your story! Don’t just do stuff, because you technically can, audiences will soon get tired and will want to go back to good old traditional storytelling! Transmedia will eat itself for lunch! I knew it!
Then there’s this devil (or angel?) on the other shoulder talking about “story engagement” instead of boring one-way “story telling”. Making it clear to me that the potential of transmedia entertainment and the disruption of handed-down reception models is not only exiting, but in fact the only way to go. For entertainment as much as for business communications, both of them dealing with humans in the end. That today’s young and thus tomorrow’s adult generation will continue to literally gag for regular interruptions in their lives’ routines … and that linear, beginning-to-end storytelling is over, that no one will listen anymore, if there’s not more interactive engagement, audience involvement and multi-channel disruption.
Listening to both of them I begin to see, as with many things, there will be developments that we can’t stop, that will simply happen (because we CAN and because we as humans will simply WANT it), whether I personally like them or not.
Maybe the following
THREE COMMANDMENTS OF TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING
can help steer technological developments into the right direction:
1. CONCENTRATE ON A GOOD STORY (ALONG THE PATH OF THE STORYCODEX).
Not matter which medium, no matter how many of them; not matter how fragmented and scattered: A well-told, convincing narration offering a high degree of the “Like Me” effect will always work. It doesn’t have to be chronological, but it needs Expectation, Surprise, Conflict and Change. What will change is the people who will create this expectation, add the surprise and conflict spice, foster the narration’s change – this will not be a classical narrator instance anymore, this will be multiple parties engaging in different parts of a story from different angles and perspectives, in different places. But a story it will still be.
2. DON’T LET TECHNOLOGY LEAD THE WAY OF A STORY.
No matter what technological developments the future holds, no matter what devices will surface: Technology is simply an enabler, an easer, a multiplier, distributer, a vehicle. The true power lies in the human nature of communication, conversation, and storytelling.
3. TURN STORY TELLING INTO STORY ENGAGEMENT.
Do listen to, observe your audiences, and maybe(?) realize: The age of (traditional) story TELLING could be over. Never the age of STORY itself, but maybe tomorrow’s audiences will really want fragmentation, want to be stimulated from multiple sources and in multiple places. Of course, THE CONCEPT OF STORY will and cannot change, it’s genuinely human, but: Maybe the future is indeed more about story ENGAGEMENT, involving audiences actively in plot creation or character development. This would radically influence scripting, e.g. by taking devices and reception environments into consideration when writing a story’s various chapters.
Again, all of this holds true not only in arts and entertainment, but also in business, along the infamous, much recited “customer journey”, a journey that is getting more and more complicated, but – if you listen and truly get involved – ever more rewarding for all story and hence conversation participants.
Granted, this interpretation might seem far-fetched, but hey, that’s the great thing about having my own blog: I can write, interpret and far-fetch as much as I like, ain’t nobody’s business but mine. 🙂
Thanks to my dear old friend Martin (old as in long-cherished, but also as in older than me, haha…and formerly known as “Müllermartinhallo” to people calling our shared apartment in Schwabing over 15 years ago … Gee, talking about old, is it that long ago???), I have been introduced to the power and beauty of Texan songwriters, bards and troubadours. Often scolded “Country Music” by ignorants (like me back then), “Texas Folk” (aka “Outlaw Country”, “Texas Country” or simply “Texas Music”) is much more, and something completely different. You can clearly hear it in its anti-Nashville sound and instrumentation, which actually brings it much closer to Woody Guthrie’s Folk, Hank Williams’ early Country and Western style, even Blues. One reason why it’s quite rightly often considered “roots music”, music that draws its inspiration and emotional power not only from the roots of American history and culture, but indeed from the roots of mankind, of human being.
Even though it is said that music has a universal power, which is certainly true, it’s the lyrics of many of these Texan songs that do it for me, no wonder: “Lyrical content is the backbone of Texas country”, as the web teaches us. I can indeed understand people simply not responding to hand-made music, raw stuff that sounds more like a garage than a BMG studio, but I do find it hard to appreciate lyrical and poetic numbness in people who don’t just bow down to some of the folk scene’s thrilling lines. And those troubadours like Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, John Prine, or even non-Texans John Gorka and Johnny Cash (unrightfully mistaken as a Nashville guy for too long) simply got it goin on the text side of life. True storytellers of true stories, not by “creative writing course”, but by nature, by heart.
Much has been written about folk music from Texas or elsewhere in the English-speaking world (the language barrier where I would actually draw the line, calling the rest “Volksmusik”or “Folkore”, but that’s surely arguable), and if you want to know all there is to know about Texas Folk, its origins, history, meaning as well as all its great exponents, you’d better ask my old friend Müllermartinhallo himself or read his own words at facebook.com/de.martin.wimmer or deinlandmeinland.com (where he tends to his alter ego Willi Ehms). Nobody knows more about that stuff than him – as I could witness in endless Martini and Ardbeg nights in Munich’s beautiful Schwabing at the end of the last century.
No, I’m not out to write an incompetent take two at a Wikipedia entry or compete with No Depression and other Roots authorities. What made me start this post was actually the short, but soul-pinching lyrics of one of my favorite North American singer-/songwriters Guy Clark (by coincidence from Texas) that have stuck in my heart and mind ever since I heard them first – and have not only accompanied me through life’s many introspective challenges and helped me make one or the other right decision. They have also proven true and helpful in explaining the essence of a good storyteller and good, true and successful storytelling, to myself, and to others.
I may not know all of Guy’s songs (yet), but I know and I LOVE this one for its simplistic beauty and truth, words to engrave into your wedding ring.
The song’s called “Come From The Heart”, very appropriately from his 1988 album “Old Friends”, and is goes like this:
When I was a young man, my daddy told me
A lesson he learned, it was a long time ago
If you want to have someone to hold onto
You’re gonna have to learn to let go
You got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
Now here is the one thing that I keep forgetting
When everything is falling apart
In life as in love, what I need to remember
There’s such a thing as trying too hard
You got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
And the accompanying song sounds like this:
Now … How am I gonna turn the corner on this one? From words that come from the heart, about love and life, to business storytelling? Ah, c’mon! There must be some connection, or did I daydream it while listening to Guy’s song … is it indeed true that there is such a thing as trying too hard, also when blogging about storytelling and trying to find a story connection everywhere?
Ah, got it, I remember: “In life as in love”, it says. And what different is business life to “normal” life anyway? Humans, mostly men, playing a game of thrones, of love and hate, of life and death, even if gladly (most of the time) not in a literal sense, though it can hurt nonetheless. But also people (or colleagues) helping each other through tough times, providing a working environment worth remaining a part of. Or (now I’m really bending this one into shape here!) products (or solutions or services or whatever) actually helping people change their world for the better. These are all the stories great and small that – if true and told in the right way – can convince others and turn so-called “prospects” into customers or employees, or at least brand ambassadors.
And this right way of telling a story is: Truth, Authenticity, Integrity, Righteousness. And Boldness – a virtue most cooperations, especially from the so-called “old economy” or, simpler, the 19th and 20th century, still lack to an appalling degree. The courage to speak (or write) in the true, human and individual voices of each and every one of its employees or customers, even if doing it on behalf of the company. Let’s make one thing clear: There is no corporate voice, cooperations cannot speak, think, feel, or experience anything; it’s their people and the people the get in contact with (communicatively or while making business) who have this human voice that is “unmistakably genuine and can’t be faked” – a voice that can come from the heart, that (if bold and courageous and self-confident enough) speaks like nobody’s listening, like nobody’s watching, like there is no audience.
So here a bone to chew on:
Ignore your audience!
Go on, try it: Tell your story as it is, without thinking about its reception before it’s even written (or filmed)! This may not (right away) be what you audience wants to hear, but it may be what you have to say, what you want to tell.
And it’s gotta come from the heart, if you want it to work.
Here are 11 ingredients that will get you to your successful business story.
It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth the effort. It needs determination, honesty, and courage. The willingness to introspect, listen, experiment, learn, and optimize based on what you learn.
These ingredients, or tips, don’t necessarily need to come in the below order, nor does it suffice to go through all of them just once, over and out, success here you come! There’s a lot of inevitable repetition in these efforts, a kind of “perpetuum mobile of business story”.
Here we go:
1. It’s listening time, the age of attention and conversation. So: Listen to your audiences. Find out who they really are. What they really need, what they want. And where and how they want it.
2. Observe your competition. Don’t be a “Me Two”. Be different. Be authentically you.
3. You can only be you, if you know who you are. So: Find your big story, your identity, your character, your DNA. Again, this can only be achieved by listening. To yourself, your own organization from top bottom, left to right. To your audiences (or target groups, as you might call them). See where the delta is, where it matches, where it doesn’t. And somewhere amidst that cacophony of data: there’s your big story. Once you find it: stick to it!
4. Continuously search for all the stories within and without your organization that fill your big story with proof and bring it to life – credibly and authentically, verifiably and true. No matter how small or irrelevant they may seem: They are the only currency you have that differentiates you from your competition. Messages, Brand Ambitions, Visions, and all those bullshit-bingo Whatchmacallits are interchangeable, just hot air, written by expensive agencies to make you feel special. What truly makes you special are your stories, and your people or the people who make up your target audiences, for they are your stories’ heroes. And nobody else!
5. Become Sinatra, find your way, and then do it your way. If you believe in your idea’s brilliance and capability to tell all your stories great and small, the stories that in the end all make your big story, the accuracy of fit to your character, then go for it! Always follow The STORYCODEX of Expectation, Surprise and Change … and eliminate the taste factor. Nothing worse than management killing an idea just because they can. Because they have a position within your hierarchy that demands of you to ignore or tolerate that they don’t have a bloody clue what they’re talking about. Oh and: If these grey-suited folks demand of you to make their product the hero, remind them of the Ninth Commandment, the one about lying and false witness. A product can NEVER be a hero, and thou shalt never attempt to do so, thou will fail!
6. If your idea, your concept is truly brilliant, unique, something different, maybe even a little crazy: There’ll be armies of Bedenkenträger in their trenches, armed with “Buts” and “We’ve never done this before’s”. This should encourage you, not the opposite: You’re probably on the right track. To get past the army of doubters, call your project a “pilot”. Management feels comfortable with pilots, has a finite touch, limited risk and all that crap.
7. Once your pilot’s taken off, make no casualties, no compromises. Be resilient and consequent. The windmills of doubt and Schadenfreude will be blowing into your face from all directions. Don’t let them stop you. And find yourself a trustful companion who will stick by your side, even if one or the other of the journey’s adventures turns out to be a failure or at least different than expected. If this companion is also willing and able to tell your story and stories, a good and true storyteller, who doesn’t necessarily need to be an experts in your field of business, all the better. He (or she) just needs to understand you and be able to translate your management brand identity mission-vision-value-proposition messaging bullshit into stories somebody actually wants to hear.
8. Even if you’re out (or in) there alone, all by yourself: Be consistent, stick to who you are, what you believe in. Work on your own little moonwalk and surprise audiences and critiques, leave them awestruck.
9. How do you convince critiques and Benkenträger, prove them wrong? Right: through hard facts and figures they can’t neglect or deny. Seriously, anything procurement sharks, engineers or sales guys trust more than numbers on a paper or screen or power point? So give em what they want: Develop objective KPI’s, measure every customer’s every movement and interaction with your story, present the results in a comprehensible and comprehensive way, and then: Poke your tongue at them, or – if the figures suggest so – have the guts to admit they were right, and it didn’t work.
10. All along the way, every second of your adventure of finding yourself, understanding your competitors and your audience(s), finding all your stories great and small, finding your formula, pulling it through and sticking to your idea like Jacko to white socks … make sure you do it with someone you trust. Someone on your wavelength, with the same vision, as well as balls and management position to back you up when the FBI is up your fundament to shut your business down.
11. Last, but oh so very not least: Every truly unique, innovative and successful business story needs … investment. Not only of money, although it needs a lot of that also, make no mistake; investment in the stories themselves, of course, but also for the stories’ marketing, as nobody is really waiting for your corporate story! But you mainly need to invest a looooot of time, and need to give your story project time to grow, like a tree: from seed to graft to full-grown plant. In a nutshell: You need Herzblut: belief, commitment, passion, and stamina.
Of course, these words sound more far-reaching than they actually are, and Nike’s marketing activities since then imply that Pestridge was actually referring to classical “one-way” advertising only. Still: It’s a bold statement and I admire him simply for making it. And I second the way his quote from this interview with marketingmagazine.co.uk continues:
“Advertising is all about achieving awareness, and we no longer need awareness. We need to become part of people’s lives, and digital allows us to do that.”
It’s great, if a company can say that. Not too sure, if it is ever really true, that a brand doesn’t need awareness, but whatever: bold statement, deliberately and successfully provocative. But what is true (not rocket science, but a truth long evident, yet still hidden to blindfold marketers from the last century) is the fact that digital is becoming more and more important for leveraging a company’s brand awareness and reputation. One day, it may become the (main) place, but it’s not yet.
Digital in the 21st century, digital in the so-called 2.0 age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and all the many platforms around today (and the unknown one’s that will pop up tomorrow) is not about broadcasting, about messaging, about patronizing uneducated audiences. It’s about interaction, about engagement, about openness, verifiable authenticity, and consequently about conversations. The end of the age of broadcasting and (classical one-way) advertising has long begun, as has the beginning of the age of shared content creation with audiences. Audiences meaning people, human beings with emotions and opinions, with maybe better ideas closer to your product’s true core than any single person in your marketing department could have.
This power of the crowd and its potential is still heavily unused and underrated, like diamonds laying out in the open and mistaken for plastic accessories, apparently worthless, of minor quality, maybe even dangerous. Oooh, scary!
Nike has made this move very consequently, as David Moth kindly summarized last year at econsultancy.com. The people who experience the brand (in marketing speech: target group) and wish to interact with the company and its people, are not only allowed to do just that, they are actually encouraged to do it. To become part of the brand and even help create its future perception by being an inventive part of what it does today. And not only in the digital world; Nike’s effort cross the borders of online and offline, as their audiences do, too.
Here is one of my favorites from Moth’s collection, mainly because it does exactly that: bridge the artificial gap between digital and analogue:
The true power of tomorrow’s communication with (and not marketing for!) people takes place everywhere where these people are, regardless of online or offline, above the stupid line or below it, internal or external, blue-collar or white-collar, or whatever artificial distinction we have made up for decades to pigeonhole he stuff we do and the people we do it for. [By the way, Nike does not limit its co-creating approach to marketing and communications, they also integrate customers in the creation process of their actual products, see here.]
Apart from having the right people with the right visions and insights around at the right time to create such a shift from glossy TV and print broadcasting to customer-engaging digitally crowd-sourced advertising, Nike has or at least claims to have one massive advantage compared to other companies, especially in the B2B area:
“We know who we are. We know what we want to achieve and we go for it 100 per cent of the time.”
Says Pestridge, again.
If only that were true for more brands. How much more courageous, engaging and entertaining would advertising and corporate communications be.
I truly believe that THIS is THE CORE and foremost homework any company needs to do: find out who they are, what their BIG STORY aka their identity is. That’s a massive undertaking that requires quite some investments, both time and budget-wise. Sometimes this undertaking is a tedious one, as it requires a lot of relentless self-reflection and open, honest introspection.
But also a great deal of listening. To people in touch with your company, it’s products, its people, its communications – everything. And once you’re through the results of these listening exercises into one data bucket, analyze them and put your cards on the table, you’ll see: It’s worth it.
Finding your BIG STORY is the prerequisite to purposeful storytelling about your brand, your people, your products – and to any truly and sustainably meaningful conversation, the best-case result from good storytelling. All corporate stories that don’t follow a company’s big story, its identity, its DNA, are just meaningless debris in the vast web space of content overload.
It’s March 23, Easter Sunday, in the year of 1916. A smoky pub in the centre of Dublin city, bursting with Irish volunteers and crown haters, the scent of men’s sweat and stout medicine; tense anticipation is in the air. Schoolmaster and legend-to-be Patrick Pearse is cutting his way through the underground crowd, accompanied by Gaelic murmur.
Pearse’s freshly thwarted demonstration of Irish resistance to British oppression for this very day is still eating away at him, but he will not let his supporters see or feel his disappointment. He is determined to make a stand against the British and their century-long occupation of Ireland, Plan B must kick in, and now’s the crucial moment, it’s giving up or “now more than ever”.
He climbs the pub’s small stage, pint and hope in hand, to address the crowd.
And this is the song he never sung. But he could have, in this very moment, and maybe he or someone else did, who knows. The song about the Easter Rising of 1916 that was never recorded, lost in the fire fight of history, never recited, forgotten until today. The song that helped mobilise the demoralised debris. The song that summed up centuries of suffering into five minutes, that brought the pub’s atmosphere to the boil. The story song that was the final spark needed to light the historical Easter bonfire, flames enough to engrave freedom as something indeed achievable into the Irish soul. A fire that lasted for only six days, but whose smoke signals reached out years into the future, forming silhouettes of an independent Ireland, the Eire that was officially constituted in 1937.
These are the improbable song’s lyrics. It could have been called “9TEEN6TEEN”:
“It’s been a thousand years and it’s so hard to tell,
More than a million tears though I should know it well.
Will anybody tell me when it did start?
Well, in fact it don’t mind as it’s been god-damn hard.
They came across the sea with a plan in their head,
And at its open end we would surely be dead.
Tried to take away our pride and annex our land,
But they never realised how we’d make our stand.
And now we’ll rise, we’re gonna rise at Easter!
We’re gonna rise, and we will make the whole world see!
We’re gonna rise, we’re gonna rise at Easter,
Cause we’re sick of all the tyranny and greed!
They took all we had, much more than we could bear,
It won’t happen again, this to you all I swear.
No more rapin’ our wives, mutilatin’ our kids
By now the only tongue they speak is the row of our fists!
So many battles won, so many children lost,
Can’t you feel a shudder in your heart rehearsing this cost.
So don’t you tell me nothing ‘bout no two in the bush,
Cause it can’t get any worse, come out and make a rush.
Just come and rise, come on and rise with me at Easter!
We’re gonna rise, and we will make the whole world see!
We’re gonna rise, come on and rise with me at Easter,
Cause we’re sick of all the tyranny and greed!
We tried the peaceful way, it only led them astray,
Out to the wilderness that reappears every day.
What was believable once is unbelievable now,
So now I give a fuck for anything they say.
We’ll chop the bloody hands that tried to kill our will,
And use them in return to show we’re living still.
So come on and chant will me the song that we all know
Cause by the time the sun will rise it will be time to go!
Time to rise, we’re gonna rise at Easter!
We’re gonna rise, rise and make the whole world see!
This story literally came flying into my inbox the other day, the subject merely indicating: “British Airways is also doing personal stories now”. The sender surely seemed to know how to catch my attention … and there was no comment as to whether BA’s attempt was successful, in the sense of good-story-successful, not youtube-clicks-successful. She left that to me to find out …
Overcoming an instinctive cerebral reflex of rejection by the notion that this is probably just another ad in sheep’s (or cheap) clothing – and henceforth the source of evil that continues to insult my intelligence by insinuating authenticity while actually shouting out “CLICK HERE AND BUY ME, STUPID!” –, I followed the link anyway. And I was rewarded; in one way, not in every.
OK, there’s a decent slice from the cheesy cake mixed into this film, but: a really good story it is. And if it’s a well-told story, I do admit to being susceptible to some nice, unpatronizing cheesiness every now and again, that lets me escape from our technocratic, data- and perfomance-driven world … hmmm, maybe I’ll start a list of the best-told and produced stories that made me cry and were not good despite, but because?.
I was glad that nobody was watching when my eyes premiered this film in the office … 😉
What’s so good about this story?
That it makes me experience the “like me” effect. Even though it’s plotted in a world completely foreign to my own. Even though the heroes’ sufferings are (on the outside) something I will (probably and hopefully) never be exposed to myself, but (on the inside) something that’s as close to my heart as Romeo and Juliet, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, or László de Almásy and Katherine Clifton.
That it manages to take the seemingly very specific story of an organized, yet later love-match-to-be marriage and its challenges in modern Indian life to the broader sphere of She and He. Of Love and Sacrifice. Of Desire and Deprivation. Of Longing and Letting Go. And so on. Universal themes of togetherness and separation and all the shades of grey in-between. It doesn’t matter, whether our two heroes are Indian, American, German, Chinese or African: These kinds of experiences are all the same, all over the world. We know them, and we feel them when we see them – and feel even more when we experience them as true (and I haven’t found any lead anywhere yet that this story is scripted or fake).
That it clearly follows the storycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change in a way that is not totally surprising, granted, but despite its predictability it is convincing and true to its own inner truth. Even though I had a pretty good feeling for how the story will end, I still didn’t want to miss the satisfaction of the closure living up to my expectations. And it did.
Still … Why is this story and especially the overall British Airways campaign behind that story so very far from perfect?
First of all: the music. It begins OK, adequately subtle as the story unfolds, and the hero introduces himself. But after a minute already, the unwelcome feeling creeps over me that a soundscape is about to invade my ear conch, and oh how I hate that. At minute 2:45 it almost becomes unbearable, this crescendo of paternalism, acoustically giving me the order what to feel in a couple of seconds. Again, how I hate that. Although I also hate it when it works, when my heart answers through my lacrimal glands while my brain is saying “No! Don’t! They’re just manipulating you!”.
The documentary start of the film (if you ignore the fast-motion sequences, which you definitely should, they’re so eighties and boring!) maybe does not have the intention of fooling me, but it does. Because in the end it turns out to be an attempt to imitate Hollywood. Especially after minute 3:30, this becomes all too evident: slow motion, seemingly staged or at least retook scenes, too much forced effort on an image-text match. At the end and with Sumeet’s fit-to-campaign-and-landing-page-title slogan “Sometimes we have to go really far to get close”, this becomes even blunter – and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I hate being fooled.
Speaking about the campaign (the above arguments are a little prone to taste, but the following is a fact): It’s a laudable one, with a nice and true core message, showing the authentic benefits of a brand and its actions for its recipients (or more abstractly: target audience). This campaign goal surely is reached (emotionally, that is, I have no knowledge of the quantitative results apart from 1.8m YouTube views to date). But, in the end, it turns out to be just another poor attempt of deviation, pretending to want one thing (in this case: make people happy and tell a good story), when in the end it’s ever so obviously about another thing (in this case: make people book flights with BA, and not just somewhere down the Brand and Sales Funnel, that would be OK, and expected, and accepted, but RIGHT NOW, STUPID! No subtleness, no intelligent weaving of one story into a greater theme or idea.). When I enter ba.com/getcloser, I don’t (as I would have hoped for) get more content of the kind I have just seen, that is other example stories of BA’s impact on human happiness, not even a “more to come” message in case this is the first episode of a planned series. Nope, nuthin. Instead, a simple, plain, in my eyes insultingly profane flight booking page as you actually would expect at BA.com, not on its apparently os so human “get closer” campaign landing page. And then I even find out, how our happy heroes are exploited for a whole bunch of other online marketing measures such as Facebook quiz asking me (as a story seeker!) how close I am to whomever. I can even win a flight to get even closer. Can it get more right in the face? Phew. And URGH.
A shame. An insult, And a wasted chance of a sustainably credible campaign that started off so promising – with a good story.
“Year after year, power cuts threatened the Yang’s orchid farm. Now is their last chance to save this fragile business. But it has been a long, cold winter in Guangdong…”
This is the brief, seducing intro to a very touching story about Mr. Yang and his family who are in the business of selling orchids in the Chinese province of Guangdong. The orchid selling season is running to its peak around Chinese Near year when the story begins. Normally, that’s a very exciting and promising time of the year. However, Mr. Yang is as nervous as never before, for him it’s an all-or-nothing year. In past seasons, his fragile flowers have suffered from frequent blackouts – and no power means no delicately heated greenhouses, means no flourishing orchids, and means no income for the Yang’s. This season is the very decisive one for the family and its business …
If you want to find out how the drama ends and what all of this has to do with a German engineering company, you should follow my recommendation and enjoy these six minutes of very emotional and intelligently story called “The Last Flower”, told by award-winning US documentary filmmaker Zac Murphy for the digital storytelling magazine “/answers”:
Some background on “/answers”: In 2010, while other B2B companies were still dreaming the twentieth-century broadcasting Muezzin’s dream, Siemens had the courage to experiment with the evil twin called “loss of control”. They asked renowned documentary filmmakers, journalists and authors from around the world to take their personal look at people who benefit from Siemens technology, mostly unknowingly. Every author is asked to find true heroes for a true, authentic, un-staged story, people who have or have had a major challenge in their lives which they manage(d) to overcome. The authors produce a piece of authentic story (not always necessarily film) in their own style and tone of voice, no branding, no company control of the creative process or outcome. I still think that’s pretty brave and remarkable.
/answers has been the experimental and at the same time very thought-through and dedicated top of my business story list for a very long period of time. The magazine was launched in 2011 at http://www.youtube.com/answers and http://www.facebook.com/answersmag and includes two new stories every month and lots of interesting background info and behind-the-scenes outtakes on the Facebook page. Worth watching and following!
BUT: Ever since, the business (2C or 2B, a very questionable differentiation anyway) communications market has moved deeper into the sea of stories and invested more time, effort and money into this social media currency – which is great and raises hope. Have a great example from Old Spice up my sleeve for the next post …
Stay posted, because: The story goes on … here … soon.