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July 2007

June 2007

Brand Canada

On the eve of Canada's national birthday, I feel compelled to write a few thoughts. If every brand tells a story, then Canada's is one of adventure...of pioneering spirits...of survival and hope in a brave new land. Not quite a world power, we're sometimes content to sit on the sidelines. What we lack in power, we make up for with a fierce sense of Canadian pride. We're proud of who we are, and of the stories that make us unique.

We offer a unique combination of untouched, raw wilderness and dynamic world-class urban centres. Our hospitable reputation makes us a magnet for tourists from all over the globe.

Canada, to me, will always mean weekends and summers at the lake. The shrill cry of the loon as I guide my canoe through calm waters. The sound of my skis as I race down the Kandahar run at Mt. Tremblant resort. The interest expressed by European tourists when they find out I'm from Canada. The ritual of sipping that Tim Horton's coffee while travelling down the 401. And the pure joy and satisfaction of claiming that "I Am Canadian!"

Happy Birthday Canada.

Harry Potter and the Future of Business

In a recent post entitled "Heroes of the Future: we ARE Harry Potter", Fast Company blogger and Conversation Agent Valeria Maltoni uses Harry Potter as an example of how we use stories to process information and make sense of the reality around us.

Valeria's thoughts can be applied to the business world as well.

When we get tired of processing the vast amount of information around us, we use stories to help us understand what's going on. We also use stories as a way of predicting what the future might hold, based on the outcome of past events, our culture, and our interpretation of the actions of people around us.

Harry Potter's journey is not unlike that of many people in the corporate world. There are heros, and villains...opportunities, threats and challenges coming from both inside and outside of the company. In some cases, Potter is even threatened by incidents in his past that might hurt his current situation.

Through use of story, companies might get a better idea as to where they've been - and where they're going. World-class companies and brands are able to cut through marketing clutter by delivering a message that is engaging, persuasive - and able to affect customers at an emotional level.

As long as there are human beings involved in the business world, there is room for incorporating story into business strategy. In the future, a company's true assets, will be its Narrative Assets.

Timeless Brands

As a kid, I found I was affected by commercials for certain brands. For some reason, I found myself singing the old jingle for Coca-Cola ("I'd like to teach the world to sing...") while diving off rocks in our favourite Quebec lake. The words in that ad had the ability to move me in a way that made me feel alive, as if the world I was in at the time really was "the real thing."

When I was sick and my Mom offered me Campbell's chicken soup, I knew that the brand would "take care" of me and I would be feeling well again soon. The soup also tasted good...just like the old slogan said it would.."M'm! M'm! Good."

To this day, when I hear the old jingle for Coke or see an ad for Campbell's soup, it transports me to another place and time - just for an instant. Now that's brand recognition.

In his book "The Brand You 50", Tom Peters quotes Scott Bedbury. Bedbury, a senior ad and marketing executive, is best known for his work on brand development for Nike and Starbucks. He suggests that the ultimate value of brand is a result of how we experience it.

To Bedbury "A great brand taps into emotions...Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience. It's an emotional connecting point that transcends the product...A great brand is a story that's never completely told. A brand is a metaphorical story that's evolving all the time...Stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience."

Marshall McLuhan may have agreed. In the book "Marshall McLuhan and Virtuality", Christopher Horrocks states that the concept of immersion applies to McLuhan's observation that "electric media" transport us instantly wherever we choose. McLuhan's work suggests that it's not the type of media that matters, but the effect the medium has ON us, that causes us to react a certain way. Just how we react to certain media provides clues for marketers as to how to create engaging experiences. 

This whole idea of being "immersed" in an experience has been capitalized on by Hollywood throughout the ages. How many times do we "lose ourselves" in a movie, only to feel that we're being transported to another place and time?

What does all this mean for brand marketers? It means that when you create a brand, or design a campaign to advertise a brand, give us something interesting and real. Tell us a story - use emotional appeal so we can connect a positive experience with your brand. Make it memorable. Appeal to our senses and show how others like myself have used the product to escape everyday life - if only for a moment. 

Business: It's About Motivation and Persuasion (and telling a good story)

Having spent years as a rep in territory sales, I realized that business was all about motivating people to take action. In order to convince someone to buy, I had to tell my story in a way that was both intriguing and relevent to the customer. At times, a little showmanship didn't hurt either. My job involved a combination of business strategy, psychology and performance art.

Whether you're a sales rep on the front line, an entrepreneur, an ad agency executive or a CEO trying to persuade and appease shareholders...successful businesses know how to motivate people to take action. They know how to harness information and present it in a way that tells a good story.

Perhaps the best place to look to learn how to engage and motivate an audience is Hollywood. As director Steven Spielberg once said: "I always think of the audience when directing - because I am the audience." How many times has a movie "moved you" to think, feel, or even act a certain way?

If proven tips and techniques used in the entertainment industry could be applied to the business world, how many more consumers would be motivated to say..."I want one - NOW!"

It's time to look beyond traditional principles used in business. The realms of Art, Science and Technology offer clues as to how companies can better improve their strategies and brand communications. If companies take measures to better understand their audience - what makes them buy, think, act, and react to certain media...then the world will be at their feet.

The company of the future will be a master at engaging and persuading mass and diverse audiences. In his book, Romancing the Brand, David N. Martin tells us that "Great Advertising is a storyteller, a romantic voice, an emotional persuader. It must have style and intrigue as it shines a bright light on the product, its advantages and value point. The brand and its uniqueness must be remembered when the TV set goes dark, or the page is turned. To do this, advertising must combine the thinking of a Claude Hopkins with the staging of a George Lucas. It must persuade in a way that romances and lures the customer unsuspecting into the brand's sticky web."

Hollywood couldn't have said it any better.

It's Time to Tell My Story

The world of communications has always fascinated me. Throughout my career, I've worked with a wide range of organizations and found that the most successful ones understood the impact of effective communications on the bottom-line.

The advent of new technology and introduction of mobile devices made it increasingly difficult to ensure corporate messages were seen and heard by their target audiences. There was simply too much information out there.

After researching numerous websites, I began to wonder how companies could present their information in ways that would be more engaging to the consumer. I then met with professionals in Art (film, design, literature) and Science (psychology, sociology, human-computer interaction, information design), and began to see applications to the business world.

I believe that information, if packaged and presented properly, can increase awareness of key messages and for some companies, sell more stuff. It's time to use principles used in Art, Science and Technology to get into the hearts and minds of the consumer.

It's time to harness the power of "Narrative Assets."

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