Why Objects Matter

Stories are all around us. They're part of our DNA. From our earliest childhood, most of us can remember the sound of Mom or Dad reading stories to us. Stories of superheroes, folktale legends or just simply stories about some pretty wild and wacky characters entertained us for hours on end. The best childhood stories were able to draw you into a plot and world quite different from your own. Worlds where the good guys often won and imaginations ran free.

As we grew up, stories took on a whole new meaning. The books we read and films we watched reflected our "coming of age." As we struggled to find our place in the world, we hoped that stories would help us find meaning in our somewhat confused and chaotic lives. Sometimes we relied on heroes to provide a path through darkness to light. At other times, stories were just a means of escape, a way to temporarily leave the present world to experience a new one in print, on stage or on screen.

While enlightened companies are waking up to the fact that stories can help their brands better connect to consumers, stories can also be of great personal significance when they're a reflection of the objects we own. These objects, artifacts or "Narrative Assets," tell the story of our lives and as a group, can even reflect the story of an entire culture or nation.

Every object, or artifact has a story. Not only does it have a particular meaning for the owner, but it can also have broader implications as well. People are naturally curious beings. Just look at the popularity of museums, art and photography exhibits, antique fairs, movies and social media. We all like to share stories about what's important to us in our lives. Artifacts are one way to help us understand our place in the world.

By relating a story to an object, we're able to connect with others on an emotional level who may or may not have gone through a similar experience. Humans are naturally curious beings and are drawn to objects. What does an object represent? Who owned it? What's it made of? How old is it? and "What's its story?"

Artifacts taken from the site of world changing events can be an important source of reflection. For example, artifacts gathered from Ground Zero were placed in a museum honouring the heroes of that dark day in our history. Artifacts can represent stories that invoke either good or bad memories, but their significance to an individual or to society in general is equally important in that they serve as connecting points to our own community - or to the world in general.

Perhaps more than anything, objects and artifacts have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

This blog will attempt to find meaning in otherwise everyday objects. In some cases, they may have little significance to the reader - but by adding a story the purpose of the object and its emotional relevance will become clear and generate a life of its own. So whether you're a company looking for innovative ways to showcase your brand, or an individual curious to hear or share some really cool stories, I invite you to take and share in this journey through the fascinating world of "Narrative Assets." Feel free to post your own stories and pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy the adventure.

Objects-tell-human-stories-real-things-connect-people-to-ideas-14-638
(Image from http://www.slideshare.net/Timmilne/make-objects-tell-stories)



 

 


Selling Emotion In Advertising: The Psychology of Effective Ads

The advent of non-traditional distribution channels brought on by advances in technology has raised a number of issues for advertisers. The consumer marketplace has become a dumping ground of sorts for a bevy of messages from companies telling us to buy more - and buy "better."

To reach us, ad agencies have tried numerous tactics including: cool graphics and effects, gorgeous models leading globetrotting lifestyles (who are not an accurate representation of "Joe and Jill" average), and promises that the product will deliver and meet our needs on numerous levels. Billions of dollars are spent delivering the message, but is the message really getting through?

When I think back to my days as a corporate sales representative, my business challenges were not unlike those faced by advertisers today. How do I come across as being "different" than my competitors - and succeed at having my product stand out amongst others that deliver similar experiences?

Looking back, the clincher to my biggest and most successful sales was based on an emotional element that I was able to add to the selling mix. Customers could have bought a similar product elsewhere, but they bought from me. If I was selling toys, then I would be able to use the "cute and fuzzy" factor as a lead-in to the sale. Key sales decisions were always a combination of both rational and emotional elements.

Emotion is important in selling because it leads to ownership and involvement. Remember the breakthrough success of the pet rock? Why else would anyone pay money for a rock in a box, other than the "cool" - and pride of ownership factors? The fact that the rock came with a handbook increased the emotional attachment of the rock to the owner. The success of the mood ring was based on similar principles. The product was even able to "predict" emotion through a display of colour on the owner's hand. We all knew it was a crock, yet we all bought it. In some strange way, we became attached to the idea that the ring could actually predict or reflect our mood. The experience became personal.

Just as in selling, the most effective ads reach us through their emotional appeal. By targeting our emotions, we are able to identify with the characters in the ad. Their story becomes our own.

When I think about great ads, I think of ads that struck a key emotional chord. There was something universal and "human" to the story. Examples of ads that catered to our emotions include:

The key to customer awareness and engagement can be found in this simple truism...people don't buy from companies - people buy from people.

What other ad campaigns can you think of that used emotion as a way to sell the product? Do you think this is an effective way of reaching consumers? Why isn't it used more often in advertising today?

  Marlboro


To Learn Something New...It Pays To Look At The Old!

With all the advances in technology, it still amazes me how many people are forgetting the basics when it comes down to understanding key principles of human interaction.

When I started my first job in territory sales with NCR, we had no email or Blackberry or cellphones. I made my quotas the old-fashioned way - I spoke to people! I knocked on doors, took the time to understand my customer's needs - and sold lots of stuff!

NCR trained us through their office in Dayton, Ohio. They had a great sales program, and we all graduated thinking that if we followed a few basic and proven principles, we would come out on top of the sales echelon. They emphasized old-fashioned principles such as hard work, persistence, honesty, follow up and planning. They told us to have faith and confidence in ourselves in that if we made a solid plan and stuck to it, the sales would come. And they did - in spades. I made the Century Points Club every year with NCR, and continued to set records in business development in future sales jobs.

In a fast-paced and often unforgiving world, it's not always the fastest and flashiest who win. It's often the person who shows the human touch who is able to break through the clutter and stand out as someone who truly cares. So next time, instead of text messaging - try the human approach. Drop in and see how someone is doing - or give them a call. The benefits might just last a lifetime.

What "old fashioned" values do you still believe in? Is it possible to succeed in today's fast paced world and still believe in these values?

NOTE: When I Googled NCR, the company description came up as "NCR is a global technology company leading how the world connects, interacts and transacts with business." Connection - interaction and transaction...the technology may have changed, but the principles sure haven't.


"Oh Mama! Please Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Writers and Directors!"

Like many, I had an average middle-class upbringing. My parent's professional lives and beliefs were submersed in academia. My father was a teacher, and my mother worked in a University. For a while it seemed as if our careers were all mapped out. Marks were all-important, as they would be a ticket to University and gainful employment. All four of us kids ended up in one of the professions - Business, Science, Medicine and Engineering.

Looking at our lives now it's easy to say we did well. But I wonder what would have happened had we chosen a different and perhaps more creative path? I had a talent and passion for languages, yet was told that job prospects would be better if I studied business. My brother had a passion for writing and acting, yet there was no way he would be allowed to follow that dream - at least until he finished the requisite degree.

Many families have the seemingly universal thought that a career in the Arts is just not "acceptable." We still see the scenes in movies and television where distraught parents utter the words..."Agh! He/she wants to be an actor!" Why is there still the stigma that a career in the Arts is an automatic ticket to a life of virtual poverty?

When I see what's happening in the world, I feel what's needed are more people who are able to inspire us through film, theatre and writing. We need more people like Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Capra and Jim Henson. Actors, directors, writers, playwrights - they all have a story to tell, and their words are of just as much value as those used in the more traditional and "noble" professions. They are valuable because they move people and, in some cases, are able to motivate people to change their lives in a positive way.

We need to motivate and inspire more young people to consider the Arts as a career. If we move to think outside the box, an artist doesn't even have to be an 'artist' in the traditional sense. A businessperson with a visionary idea can build a company with the same talent and passion as a painter who strives to communicate an idea through a paintbrush. A public speaker who is able to inspire an audience to action is a true artist.

It's time to place more value on people's ideas and abilities to inspire and motive others. If you have a passion early on in life, follow that dream - and don't let anyone tell you it's impossible.

What stories can you share on a similar subject? How many of you are sitting in jobs right now wondering what would have happened, had you followed your instincts and gone against the advice of others?


From Hollywood to Bay Street: Success is Defined By The Story You Tell

Hollywood1Recently I purchased a book called "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters." The book is different from others in its genre as it doesn't just look at what highly successful people DO, it digs deeper and looks at how they THINK.

What's striking about the content in the book is its similarities to challenges found in the business world. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter, entrepreneur or corporate CEO, your challenges are quite similar. At some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story to people prepared to buy it.

David Brown, a renowned Hollywood producer, once said that "Nothing counts as much as the story, because it is the story that will attract the director, the actors, the studio, the money. The story is the thing." It's the same in business. If you're the CEO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story. People tend to gather around a good idea, so make your story compelling and find an innovative way to help solve someone else's problem. Make yourself indispensible and they won't be able to get enough of you.

From the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the driven financial core of Bay Street, success is defined by the story you tell. You have to have something of importance to say, something that's different and cuts through the clutter. You have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

So take your talent, and hone it through intense dedication to your craft. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don't give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.

What other similarities do you see between the challenges faced by people in creative industries - and those faced by people who work in the corporate world? Do you think all successful people share the same traits? If so, which ones?

 


Selling Your Story: The Art and Science of Media Coverage

Tminthenewsteaser_2Selling your organization's story to the media involves a combination of both art and science. It's an art because you have to find a creative way to capture the attention of people who are bombarded with similar messages on a daily basis. How your message is crafted is also important, so design is key.

The scientific part is nothing new to selling. Selling is a numbers game, and the more qualified people you contact, the better the chance of getting your message out there.

So...what can you do to increase media coverage for your company?

1) Do your research. Figure out who you'd like to reach, then contact the editors of media outlets and publications who cater to this demographic. For example, if you produce a cool new line of outdoor furniture suitable for cottagers, contact publications geared to cottage owners to see if they might do a feature article or review on your furniture. You could also contact your local TV station to see if they might cover your product on a morning show. Keep in mind that many media outlets plan for events well in advance, so get in there early to be sure your message is a timely and seasonal one.

2) Tell an engaging story. Everyone loves a good story, including the media. A well told story that has both rational and emotional appeal will catch the eye of the media. Let them know why your story would be of interest to their readers, and how it would help them maintain their profile as providers of innovative and engaging content.

3) Look into both traditional and non-traditional forms of media. Today, virtually everyone offers online editions of print publications, and if someone doesn't publish your story in print, they may well accommodate in their online edition.

4) Get to the right person. Journalists are very busy people. If you sell design services, don't bother the editor of an antiques magazine. Unless you design a cool new system for antique dealers.

5) Make it personal. How has your product or service impacted your life (or the lives of others), and why would it interest someone else's audience?

6) Be persistent. Calvin Coolidge once said that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Selling a story is a numbers game, and the more times up to bat, the better the chance of scoring that home run.

7) Don't forget to follow up. The world is littered with people who take great pains to design campaigns, and then don't follow up.

So go out there - and sell your story. Let your voice be heard!

What techniques have you used to successfully sell your story to the media? What worked - and what didn't? Why?


Want To Get Creative? Think Like A Kid Again!

 

Ptru12896561t130   Potato_3

As a writer and speaker, people are always asking me where I come up with my creative ideas. If I could give one bit of advice it would be this..."Think like a kid!"

Remember when you were a kid? Didn't everything seem worth exploring? If you ended up getting your feet wet during your adventures, did it really matter? Growing up can and often does have a negative effect on our creativity. At a certain age, our dreams can be squashed as we're told that our imagination is nonsense. How sad - and how far from the truth!

Without a sense of wonder, life would seem so grim. Nothing would be fun anymore, and we would worry too much about what people think. To keep those creative thoughts flowing, here are 5 tips to keep you on top of the creative game:

1) Rediscover your sense of play. If you have kids, watch them at play. See how they interact. Join in. If you don't have kids, walk through a toy store and get nostalgic as you rediscover all your favourite childhood toys and memories

2) Rediscover your sense of wonder. As we get older, we tend to lose our enthusiasm for things. Take a walk through the woods, and look at all the wonders of mother nature. Watch an airplane soar through the sky, and wonder why it is the thing never falls down. Take a look at a full moon, and imagine what it must have been like to walk on its surface. Imagine yourself walking on the surface. What would you be thinking?

3) Rent one of your favourite childhood movies, and discover what it was you liked about it in the first place. There must be some reason you remember it now

4) Jump in a puddle. Don't forget to wear rubber shoes or boots

5) Imagine yourself as a superhero. Who would you be - who would you save - and why?

Rekindling your creativity by thinking like a kid doesn't have to take a lot of effort. It just takes a willingness to step into a place where everything was new again. A place where possibilities were endless, and every day held something to treasure.

What steps have you taken today to rekindle your creativity? How has your creativity been squashed as you worked your way through life? What movies,  books or toys remind you of the best times of your childhood?


“Trumped”: Get Your Narrative Right and You Could Win the White House

Love him or hate him, few would disagree that Donald Trump is a master storyteller. Politics aside, Trump was the true underdog both within and outside of his own party.

Obama and many others skewered him in public. The media would often sway between sensationalism to downright skepticism in their reporting of all things Trump. Yet what the skeptics didn’t know or understand was that Trump was playing right into the hands of the American electorate.

People love the underdog story. Most can identify with what it’s like to be the outsider. It seemed that no matter what Trump said or did, he couldn’t lose. And people want to support a winner.

Perhaps even Trump himself was surprised that he was able to win over America to claim the highest office in the land. The fact is that Donald Trump is a genius at getting inside the zeitgeist of a population and in reading what it is exactly that people want. And it was time for change. Fed up with the status quo and their place in life, Trump gave his supporters what they wanted to hear. Like Superman rushing to save the screaming masses from a burning building, he was their hero and promised to fix things if they gave him a chance.

Many underestimated Trump. What his opponents and skeptics did was fail to see that through his storytelling and ability to read the current narrative playing out in America, he was able to tap into something so deep that no one else was able to reach it.

While there were many reasons that led to Trump’s victory, from a story perspective he hit all the right buttons.

Here’s what Trump did right:

  1. He tapped into people’s emotions and took them on an emotional journey. Great stories are built on great characters and he was able to create a persona for himself that instinctively drew people to his rallies by the tens of thousands
  2. He focused on what was really going on with the American people in a way that more seasoned politicians just failed to see. He read the narrative and followed the script. America was fed up and wanted to be great again. Trump offered a way out and his unconventional personality was able to draw people to his ideas
  3. His journey had many similarities to those experienced by heroes in the classic book by Christopher Vogler “The Writer’s Journey.” It’s almost as if Trump’s actions followed those in a dramatic movie script. There was a Call to Action, which led to the Hero’s Journey. Along the way, there were antagonists (or one key one – Hillary Clinton), tests, allies and enemies. After numerous challenges the hero crosses the threshold and returns with the ultimate prize – the White House

To quote Campbell, “Every storyteller bends the mythic pattern to his own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces.”

Great stories are mythic in nature and speak directly to the human spirit.They tap into a mythological core that teaches us something about ourselves.

From a storytelling perspective, Trump nailed it on all levels. Add to that his brand of authenticity yet unseen in the world of Washington politics and he proved to be a worthy opponent.

For Donald Trump, his final act is yet to be written. In the meantime, there will be more tests, allies and enemies along the way as he leaves the ordinary world and prepares to enter the brand new world of politics.

  Trumpfinal

Source: CTVnews.ca

 


All Is Not Lost In Love And War

The well-worn locket doesn’t look fancy or expensive, yet the contents echo the story of long lost family of a different place and time. Although the exterior is slightly battered and the interior starting to fade with the hands of time, it’s still in remarkably good shape.

The exterior bears a floral like pattern and there are three tiny “stones” on the front side.

The age and original owner of the locket are still in question, yet a good guess would be that the locket was passed down through generations in my mother’s family. From small town Czechoslovakia to numerous cities in Canada to metropolitan Toronto, the locket is now in my hands and I claim responsibility as “keeper” to pass on the story.

As its current owner, I cannot help but ask the questions – How many people wore the locket? Where was it originally bought? How did it end up in Canada? Is the story one of tragedy or hope? Or perhaps both?

Considering the interior contents, a good guess would be that the locket was owned (at least at one point) by my mother. It contains two crude cut outs in the shape of a heart that appear to be cut from an old photograph. One cut out is an old haunting black and white picture of my grandfather (my mother’s father) who unfortunately died in a car accident about 7 months before I was born. After the war, he was working as a District Attorney in Germany and I am told a woman hit him with her car. Having taken place on a rainy day, apparently the incident was an accident. I guess we will never really know the truth. His ‘presence’ today in a treasured family artifact resembles a kind of surreal ghost of the past urging us not to forget the sacrifices made during an extremely turbulent time in history.

I know little about my grandfather except that he was working as a lawyer in Czechoslovakia when he met my grandmother. Their story sounds straight out of Hollywood, as she was his secretary and well…one thing led to another. They got married and had one child – my mother.

Although I never knew him, I hear good things about my grandfather. He was a smart man – highly educated, introverted and a hard worker. Somehow during all the chaos synonymous to world wars and frequent invasions of Czechoslovakia and its then associated borders, he managed to study law at Charles University in Prague. Being wartime, everything my family owned was taken from them and they were left with little. He left Czechoslovakia in 1948 and ended up in Germany as a refugee. He (Opa) ended up in a German labour camp (was forced to glaze bathtubs) and lost a lot of weight. The exact details of what happened in between this and his position as a D.A. is not known to my mother, a fact that adds a lot of mystery to the story of the man in the locket.

To the outside observer the locket appears to have little value. Yet while its monetary value is most likely negligible, its intrinsic and emotional value are priceless. Think of where this locket has been. Of the kind of conditions it has lived through. What are the chances that this locket survived all these years and eventually made it to Toronto for me to hold on to and cherish?

As an admirer of history and photography, I asked my Mom if I could keep a few (very old) black and white photos of her family. The photos have the classic look of people in the 1900’s and up. One of these photos is a picture of my grandmother’s parents posing in a Czech studio. From the clothing and suspected timeline, I would say that the photo was taken sometime in the early 1900’s. A studio imprint on the front of the photo says it was taken in Vsetin – which is about 300 km from Prague.

What’s intriguing is that, in the photo, my great grandmother is wearing the same locket that I’m now holding in my hands almost a century later.

While exact details will remain a mystery, this treasured artifact succeeds in bringing history to life. I feel as if I am a family curator of sorts charged with the responsibility of ensuring that we never forget the story of key players in our family history. For this is what artifacts do. Transcend time and space to pass on stories to future generations.

What artifacts or heirlooms are treasured in your family? Do you know their stories or are they still surrounded by mystery?

Locket1 Locketint
Parents1


Lenzkirch: The "Not Quite" 100 Year Old Clock That Keeps On Ticking

Many objects offer a sense of reconnection with our past. It’s the experience we had with the object that invokes some sort of meaning. But what if an object has been passed down through generations with little information about the story behind it? Does it hold the same meaning even if it wasn’t originally your object?

The point is that even if an object wasn’t originally in your possession, it can still have some sort of “mystique” about it. Family artifacts can still be a part of your life even if they were passed down because at some point, it held meaning for someone in your family. It had a purpose, and in a way “carries” all the memories from this person’s former life. In fact, sometimes it’s the lack of story that creates a story.

Who saw it? Who owned it? Into whose hands did it pass? Why did they keep it? Why was it important to them?

As the keeper of the object, you can now give it a place of its own even if the story and/or meaning are undefined. By holding on to a family heirloom, you’re keeping a bit of history and are giving an object value that has somehow managed to transcend both time and space. It’s also a sign of respect that what mattered once to your family, also matters to you even in a totally different time.

My mother grew up in war torn Czechoslovakia and her family lost virtually everything they owned during the war. One of the items they owned (and managed to hold on to) was a wooden clock that they kept in their family home. It’s a Lenzkirch clock that, at the time, was the height of German design and craftsmanship. Lenzkirch, a small town in the German Black Forest region, housed a factory that produced the clocks from 1860 to 1932. While the clock’s ticking doesn’t last for days, it actually still works and has found a home on our dining room cabinet. When I wind it up, it seems quite haunting as the aging timepiece springs into action in what is I’m sure a shadow of its former self.

The scuffed back panel is no longer held together by four screws. Only one remains to hold the panel in place. Other than a small piece of wood missing from the front panel, everything else seems to be in order. Pretty extraordinary considering the estimated age of the clock. I wonder who was tampering with the clock, where the original screws went, why the clock was being tampered with and where it was when the panel was opened up?

Although my Mom is unsure as to the exact date of the clock, she remembers seeing it even as a child. She says it was her mother who kept the clock throughout her life in Czechoslovakia, then through her time in Germany – and eventually brought it with her to Canada where she kept it until her death in 1994. Looking at the timeline, my Mom figures it probably dates back to the 1920’s and, considering its importance to my grandmother, was most likely a wedding gift. Unfortunately with my grandmother no longer with us, we will most certainly never know the truth. All of which adds to the eternal story and mystique surrounding this unique and endearing family artifact.

 

Lenzkirch


Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels