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November 2007

Narrative Assets Announces Plot Change....

As a note of interest to my loyal readers, I wanted to announce that I've accepted an 8 month full-time contract in Communications starting tomorrow. I'll be working as a Communications Specialist for an organization that supports and services professionals in the financial services industry.

The opportunity is a great one with lots of potential, and gives me the opportunity to put my writing, strategic and project management skills to good use.

I will still continue to blog, although the timeline for posts might not be as frequent as in the past. I look forward to reading more of your comments.

If anyone has ideas on content they would like to see on Narrative Assets, please let me know and I would be happy to provide it.

According to brand guru Scott Bedbury, a "great brand is a story that's never completely told. A brand is a metaphorical story that's evolving all the time." If we as marketers and communicators think of ourselves as a brand, then each decision we make gives us the chance to add another chapter to our story. Nobody is ever sure how the story is going to end, but that's what makes life interesting isn't it?

I look forward to writing more stories - and to hearing more about your own.

Keep reading...and keep thinking. The world is full of stories yet to be told.

 


P&G Translates Design Thinking Into A Competitive Advantage

Btn_squeezers_2A recent article in BRANDWEEK describes how P&G is using design to drive product performance and customer experience. This September, GAIN detergent joined the ranks of the company's billion dollar brands.

The increasingly competitive environment meant P&G had to focus more on product and design experience than ever before. Claudia Kotchka, VP design innovation and strategy, explains the concept this way "Obviously the product cleans fabulously, but this is all about joy. When consumers open the bottle, they like the smell. The bottle itself is much more whimsical. It's about taking the elements people wouldn't think are important and having them add up to the overall brand experience."

The GAIN website even incorporates storytelling into the online experience. In a section entitled "Freshies from the Heart," consumers are invited to share stories about their experiences with the brand. Participants are asked to choose between numerous story categories ranging from "joyful" to "fresh" and "scandalous."

Faced with rising commodity prices, executives were forced to find innovative ways to offset increasing costs. One way to separate their brands from those of their competitors was to incorporate design thinking at every level of the organization.

P&G puts its designers in business units throughout the company. They are involved at every stage of the game from R&D, to marketing and branding. Says Kotchka, "That's a big change from the historical approach of handing it over the wall at the end. . . . Looking at design as part of the total consumer experience is critical."

The fact that design is now incorporated into the company's DNA means that their products will be more meaningful and useful to customers.

How do you feel about consumer products in general? Do you think many brands take good design into consideration? Do you think more companies should use an approach similar to P&G's?


KitchenAid Ad Campaign Stirs Up Story Of Holiday Memories

ChristmastreesfrontKitchenAid has launched an interesting print campaign that is an ode to their legendary stand mixer line. The non-colour ad was meant to evoke memories of our past and current experiences in the family kitchen. It features a young girl who has somehow managed to dig into the proverbial cookie dough bowl.

She's licking her fingers, and the expression on her face is a rather non chalant version of "Who, me?" (yeah,we've all been there).

What's interesting about this ad is the way the visuals and copy are meant to evoke our earliest experiences of life in the kitchen. The story of baking cookies with our Mom or grandmother is timeless, and something that invites fond memories and recollections in most of us to this very day.

The copy reads:

"If there's one place where memories live, it's here. We understand that the kitchen is about more than food. It's where you can still taste your first cake, smell your Mom's apple pie, feel the warmth of home.

Wonder, love, hope and joy all stay with you here, the one room in the house where life happens."

Now that's pretty powerful stuff. The best stories are timeless. They take us back to a certain place and time by playing on our emotions and senses. Who can't think back and remember the feelings of comfort when the first waft of fresh baked apple pie drifted through the kitchen?

Stories connect people to brands through a powerful and emotional connecting experience. Every time you bake a batch of cookies, you're not just making something to eat. As the copy in the ad tells us, when you use KitchenAid, "it's easy for you to make a big batch of new memories."

What other brands provide powerful connecting experiences through the holidays? What brands do you think of when you think of Christmas - or any other religious holiday?


Leadership and Storytelling: The Evolution of CEO to CSO (Chief Storytelling Officer)

MainbugNowhere is storytelling more important in the business world than in the executive boardroom. Public companies have numerous levels of accountability including commitments to shareholders, and private organizations are also accountable to both internal and external stakeholders.

In the process of trying to deliver a clear message to everyone, there is a huge degree of complexity as CEO's attempt to tell their story. At the product level, today's consumer is quite savvy, and most people just want the honest truth about a situation. Think of the stories companies such as Mattel, Lululemon, GAP and numerous players in the pharmaceutical industry had to tell to regain consumer confidence in their products.

Given the complexities of communicating in today's connected society, the job of a corporate CEO has really become one of Chief Storytelling Officer (CSO). A leader is there not only to lead, but to guide numerous stakeholders to his or her point of view so that corporate strategy can be effectively carried out.

Stories are a great way to convey information, as they affect people at an emotional level. This coupled with the fact that people tend to remember a story (many identify with characters in its plot) makes it an extremely powerful executive tool.

No longer the realm of childhood fable, storytelling has earned its place in the executive suite. The subject has been studied in key business publications all over the world including: Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek and Harvard Business Review - as well as in countless academic and scientific studies citing the benefits to business of using storytelling as a tool.

A CEO who is able to use storytelling effectively will be able to connect with people, and make them feel as if they are part of a community. It's this ability to connect and stir empathy in people that separates a good CEO from a great one.

The next time you see a CEO on the news, see what story he/she is trying to tell. If so, do you feel it's the right story for the situation? Does the story affect you at an emotional level - or do you feel the CEO is just saying what has to be said to get out of a certain situation?

Every business has a story. How a CEO tells it at any point in a company's history can determine the fate of even a multi-billion dollar corporation.

   

   


Is Customer Service Dead?

If a brand is a promise, then why do so many organizations fail to deliver on that promise?

It seems that there are less companies (and people) out there who actually do what they say they will do. A recent article in BRANDWEEK by consultant, marketer and blogger Mark Stevens recounts his frustration with companies who fail to deliver on the brand promise.

While I haven't experienced a great deal of frustration with the companies mentioned in the article, there remain a few sectors where the level of service makes you feel as if you want to rent a hot air balloon and fly over their head offices shouting...."Hey! What about me? Remember me...the customer?"

The sectors who seem to consistently provide a horrible brand experience are:

  • phone companies
  • cable providers
  • large retail outlets
  • airlines
  • city institutions
  • banks

What we need is more people who care about what they do. We need better processes, and organizations that consistently deliver on their own promise to employees before they can even begin to tackle brand experience on the outside. If it's true that our external world is a reflection of our inner one, then what does it say about how many of these organizations are run?

Last month, we bought some new winter tires from a local tire shop. After visiting several garages who told us what we should by buying, we finally settled on a place that delivered what we wanted - and what was best for us. What's more, they kept their promise at every level of the process. They called to update us on stock availability. They called back when we left a message, and they sent us a thank you card to acknowledge their appreciation of our business. Now THAT'S customer service.

From the little tire shop that could...and did...we could learn a few lessons.

Why do you think there is a widespread feeling that customer service has declined? Why does it seem people care less about what they do - and how they do it? No job is perfect...but does it hurt to smile once in a while?


Emotional Architecture - Uncovering The "Secret Narrative" Behind Building Design

Asmoothlyv2_6In the book Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, authors William C. Taylor (a co-founder and founding editor of Fast Company Magazine) and Polly LaBarre (former senior editor of Fast Company Magazine) discuss the work of New York based influential architect and designer David Rockwell.

Founded in 1984, the Rockwell Group has completed over 200 projects including work on some of the world's trendiest hotels, restaurants and entertainment spaces. Rockwell's reputation for designing spaces that attract and engage an audience keeps his work in high demand. What separates Rockwell from his competitors is his ability to connect emotionally with people by examining the "secret narrative" behind a building. Rather than looking purely at the external elements of design, his design philosophy involves story lines and an examination of people's interactions with a building.

To Rockwell, "The first and most important piece of every job is to tell a unique and relevent story about the space, the product, or the experience. Story is the fundamental platform for organizing ideas. That's how you connect emotionally with people."

Before his team even sits down to design a building, they spend time with potential visitors, prospective clients and other key stakeholders. They map out the "backstory" behind the building to discover a set of themes that link the space to the lives of its users. The "secret narrative" that they discover serves as the basis behind every design decision.

Banner_logo_3Rockwell's approach to "secret narrative" is evident in the design behind the Children's Hospital at Montefiore. The client turned to Rockwell in the hopes of delivering a memorable experience, and he delivered. Prior to beginning the design work, Rockwell and his team immersed themselves in the experience of hospitalization to get a perspective from children, parents, nurses and physicians. Through research, they discovered a core theme of kids as "explorers on a journey to health." They began to substitute curiousity for fear, and used moments of fear to provide children with information - as well as instill them with a sense of wonder and delight. The story had to be strong enough to convince people to join in, and the team succeeded at every level.

On the third floor, you can see Carl Sagan's idea (reportedly a long time friend of the client) that "we are star stuff" etched in murals of snowflakes and stars. Patient rooms don't have numbers, only constellations or animals according to the floor's theme. Child height exhibits encourage kids to create their own drawings and sculptures in well-stocked lounges strategically placed on each floor.

Rockwell and his team found out that 70% of the kids experienced the hospital from their beds, and they designed fun ceiling tiles with hopeful messages. Even the sound of the privacy curtain around their bed was tweaked to be more appealing.

Part of Rockwell's success lies in his ability to design and create spaces that people care about. By incorporating story into all aspects of design, people sense that they're in a special space and somehow know that "they're in a place that has an underlying intelligence."

Why do you think that the concepts used successfully by Rockwell haven't been used by many others? Is the "secret narrative" approach something that can be applied to other areas - consumer goods, food, advertising, etc.? What do you think of the idea of designing things or spaces with underlying intelligence?

 


Brand Oprah On Road To Recovery

Oprah0508_2I had a chance to watch the news conference this week as Oprah Winfrey spoke to reporters in South Africa by satellite. As many of you know by now, the dormitory matron in her South African Academy for Leadership for Girls has been accused of indecent assault and criminal injury against six students.

Winfrey, a victim of childhood abuse herself, called the situation "one of the most devastating experiences of my life", and vowed to "clean house." From a public relations perspective, the situation could have damaged her reputation as a broadcast icon and motivational guru who vows to help people live their best lives. Well, it might have damaged anyone else's reputation but Oprah's.

Throughout the conference, Winfrey was the ultimate professional, and answered reporters questions with a skill and mastery only Oprah could perform. At times, she chose to let her personal side shine through, and came close to tears on several occasions as she described her initial tearful reaction to the news.

From a rational and business perspective, one has to wonder what measures were in place to hire and screen someone who was capable of committing such alleged acts. 

During the conference, Winfrey admitted that the screening process was inadequate. With so much at stake, who was in charge of hiring the person subsequently charged with the crimes? Winfrey says she was not responsible for hiring at the school, yet who was the person entrusted to do so, and why were they chosen for this extremely important job?

From a public relations perspective, the Oprah brand will recover. Quick measures were taken to address the issue, and the patch up has already begun. Yet the fact that sufficient measures weren't in place to screen potential employees at the school still bothers me as a communicator and businessperson. Mistakes happen everywhere, but the fact that this happened in Oprah's school makes it seem all the more tragic.

Tragedy or not, it's a good example of how a bad situation can be turned around through the effective use of spin. The incident is being shown in its best possible light - as a chance for the girls to show their resolve and leadership skills, to be given the opportunity to heal, and to hold on to their best possible dream in life.

Do you think that any damage was done to the Oprah brand, in light of this incident? What do you think of the way Oprah handled the news conference, and the incident at the school?