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December 2007

Secrets to Entrepreneurial Success Found in the Story of Hollywood's Great Movie Moguls

Cover_2The story of the rise and fall of Hollywood's greatest movie moguls is a testament to the spirit of entrepreneurism, and the will and ability to achieve the American Dream. Over Christmas, I received a copy of Neal Gabler's Award-winning book "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood." In addition to being an excellent historical account of the moguls rise to fame, the book also offers insights into what makes a successful entrepreneur.

The great moguls (Harry Cohn, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner and Adolph Zukor) all shared similar characteristics that led to the creation and definition of the American motion picture system. Most were immigrants who left their "old country" (or were the children of immigrant families) in the search of something much better - the pursuit of the American Dream. Their strong sense of business acumen combined with a dogged sense of determination, persistence and ability to visualize trends and markets helped them achieve heights that many only dare dream of.

What's striking about their story is that the characteristics that led to their success still apply today. Their way of thinking and doing things was quite visionary for the times, and they persisted when others insisted their actions would be met with failure.

What can today's entrepreneurs learn from the moguls? Here's what I think would be their Top 5 tips to entrepreneurs today:

1) Trust your gut - If everyone is telling you that your idea will fail, chances are it probably won't (Adolph Zukor was told that there would never be an interest in feature length movies)

2) Don't give up - Success doesn't come right away, so the more failures you get through the closer you will be to achieving your dream

3) Have a Vision - The moguls visualized what they thought was the future of motion pictures, then found ways to achieve that vision

4) The past doesn't determine your future - As immigrants, many left impoverished situations overseas and vowed to rewrite their lives in America

5)  Each career move is a stepping stone to greater success - Several moguls took what they learned in the fur/fashion trade and applied it to a new realm...motion pictures. They took what they learned from each business success/failure and used it to move on to the next step

As we move onto new projects and successes in 2008, I'll be thinking of the movie moguls, and how they were able to write their own way into the history books when virtually everything at the time was working against them.

May 2008 be the year you write your greatest story - and achieve your greatest vision once and for all!

HAPPY NEW YEAR - and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and insights in 2008!


A Christmas Narrative (Courtesy of Charles Dickens)

Since this blog is called "Narrative Assets", I thought I would close the year with a snippet from Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers.

Dickens words capture the true story and spirit of the holiday season - the story of families coming together, of laughter and shared companionship. He describes the ability of Christmas to transport us to the days of our youth, and to help the more "seasoned" regain a sense of their own. Christmas is all about storytelling, and its power to transport us to places that have real meaning in our lives.

To all of my loyal readers all over the world, I would like to wish you a fabulous holiday season and best of luck in 2008. May the New Year give you the opportunity to write the story of your life.


And now, some words to capture the spirit of Christmas from Charles Dickens:

"And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families whose members have
been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then re-united, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual good-will, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight, and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilized nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future state of existence, provided for the blest and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which,
year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of
the hearts that throb so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the
looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we
grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in
the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling
faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstance
connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each
recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but
yesterday. Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions
of our childish days, that can recall to the old man the pleasures of
his youth, and transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of
miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!"



Holiday Ads Bring Back Memories of Christmas Past

Tree_2There's nothing like the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the holiday season to bring back memories of Christmas. As a child, I cherished Christmas as a time of wonder, enjoyment and sheer delight. Every Christmas had its own unique story - a story that continues to play itself out as I continue my journey through adulthood.

Well-crafted holiday advertising has the ability to capture these fond emotional memories, and tie them into a brand. Here are the taglines from some holiday ads that evoke the spirit and story of the Christmas season.

1) Westin Hotels and Resorts - "Morning Stretch"..."Spread your wings at" (with photo of a snow angel)

2) Jackson-Triggs Wine - "Those who say there aren't enough hours in the day must be going to bed too early"..."Life's greatest moments happen at night. That's why it's the perfect time to enjoy Jackson-Triggs and create some new beginnings at the end of the day."..."Bring on the night" (product shown beside a photo of a city skyline at night)

3) Cote d'Or Chocolate - "The first bite is the most intense until the second" (with mouthwatering photo of a Cote d'Or dark chocolate bar)

4) Kitchen Aid - "If there's one place where memories live, it's here"..."Wonder, love, hope and joy all stay with you here, the one room in the house where life happens" (for regular blog readers, you may have remembered my post on this ad on November 20)

5) Eastern Townships Travel Ad -  "Austria? Eastern Townships!"..."Only 45 minutes from Montreal!" (with winter scene equivalent of the photo below)


The sights, sounds, tastes and smells take me back to a time when Christmas meant fun, food and family. To this day, it isn't Christmas until I've had my first slice of a Maroc clementine, first sniff of the scented pine boughs of a Christmas tree fresh from the lot, and first bite into my Mom's old family German Christmas cookie recipe. As I get older, I'll continue to invent some new traditions, but the old memories of Christmas past are there to serve as a reminder that some things in life never change amidst the uncertainties of life.

BMW Mini Takes A Bite Into The Culinary World

Mini_palais_1An upscale restaurant in Paris has used the idea of subliminal branding to promote the Mini brand. The Mini Palais portrays aspects of the Mini brand in subtle ways including the use of the official Mini typeface on the lobby sign, on the menu and on T-shirts worn by staff. In the lobby, a row of clocks resembles the Mini dashboard. Mini posters are on the doors, and there is a rack of Mini magazines outside of the bathrooms.

The restaurant occupies the space beside the Grand Palais, a chic glass roofed art gallery. Needless to say, BMW holds events and product launches at the restaurant. According to an article in Marketing Magazine, Emmanuel Bret, Mini brand manager at BMW France, says that the "Mini brand is synonymous with chic urban's also trendsetting and unconventional. As it's a unique location, even for Paris, the Mini Palais perfectly represents our brand values."

The absence of any marketing for the Mini Palais falls in line with its incorporation of brand subtlety in that its success is due to word of mouth and the occasional restaurant review. 

Noted for its ability to incorporate brand experience into the cultural and entertainment worlds, BMW continues to prove itself a keen contender in the innovative world of brand storytelling. 

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Telling the Brand Story: Interview with

In November 2007 I was interviewed for an article by Neil Davey, editor of Europe's leading online CRM service - The subject was storytelling, and how narrative could help companies design better customer experiences.

Some of my comments appeared in the feature article "What's the story: why customers need narrative." The discussion centered around Dove's highly successful Campaign for Real Beauty, and how customers can help companies rewrite the brand story.

Just as Hollywood has been able to capitalize on storytelling as a way of engaging audiences all over the world, so too can companies use storytelling as a way of maximizing a customers experience with the brand.

Hollywood Executive Uncovers Four Truths to Storytelling


The art and craft of storytelling is gradually making its way into the business world. Once used primarily by novelists and moviemakers as a tool to connect plot and character with an audience, it is now being seen as an innovative strategic tool for companies to better connect with their customers.

The Harvard Business Review has published several stories on the subject, the most recent being this months article by Hollywood executive Peter Guber entitled "The Four Truths of the Storyteller." As a filmmaker and executive, Guber is in the business of telling stories. While he realizes the impact of storytelling on box office success, he also recognizes its power as a way to sway business audiences. As a salesperson, you'll have more success if you can tell a story in which the product is the hero. As a manager, storytelling can be used as a way of explaining how short term sacrifice can lead to long term business success.

A well crafted story and emotional narrative can also help CEO's attract investors and partners, set strategic goals and inspire employees and customers.

Whether in the entertainment or business world, stories have an incredible ability to connect with audiences in a way that more traditional business practices cannot. Market research and strategic planning are always important, but to establish a strong bond with customers requires the deep impact that storytelling can offer an audience.

How has your company used storytelling to connect with customers? Do you think more companies will be hiring people well versed in the fine art of storytelling? Do you see CEO's gradually becoming CSO's - Chief Storytelling Officers?