Personal Storytelling

“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.

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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?

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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

 

 

 

 

 


Life and Death In New Orleans (Why Jewellery Is No Match For A Hurricane)

To some, a piece of jewellery is just a piece of jewellery. A static item that represents fashion sensibility, style or status.  Yet to others, the underlying story behind a favourite piece of jewellery may actually be more valuable than the value of the item itself.

I love New Orleans  and have visited there twice. I’m amazed at the energy, life and vibrancy of the place. Unless you experience it for yourself, it’s impossible to understand its magic – magic that makes you fall in love with it over and over again.

In October 2011, my husband and I took a much anticipated trip to NOLA and one afternoon found ourselves in the French Market. The market is a well-known eclectic spot where vendors sell food, food items, clothing and jewellery and other items. I was wandering around when I was struck by a table filled with vibrant colours. The table was full of fun, funky and unique jewellery made by NOLA native Russell Gore. I fell in love with several of the pieces and started talking to Russell. Turns out he was raised in the not so nice part of NOLA called the projects (St. Thomas housing development). His colourful jewellery, dubbed “Made in the Ghetto”, is a stark contrast to the harsh reality faced by others who had a similar upbringing.

Russell

(Photo courtesy of Richard Critz Photography http://prints.rwcfoto.com/)
 

Russell was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck which he made out of his wife’s gold after she died in his arms during Hurricane Katrina. His life was filled with hardship and tragedy, and could have gone a different route had he not chosen art and photography as a way out of a seemingly desperate situation.

What struck me most about Russell (over and above his incredible talent) was his kindness, compassion and energy for everything and everyone. He had faced such tragedy, yet didn’t seem hardened by it all. There was energy and optimism in his voice.

After talking for a while, I mentioned that I had just been to the music store to buy CD’s by NOLA legend Kermit Ruffins. He told us he knew Kermit, and invited us to attend a local bar called Bullets where Kermit was performing that night. We smiled and said we would try to make it, not knowing anything about this place or part of town where it was located.

Bullets is a hole in the wall sports bar in the 7th ward area in New Orleans (Treme area). The neighbourhood looks tough and some of the clientele equally so. In spite of the “off the beaten path” location, the reviews were excellent and we decided to take a chance. We took a cab to the bar yet even the cab driver got lost. After driving around for what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life, we eventually found our way and made it to Bullets. The place had an amazing vibe and quite a mix of demographic. From biker jackets to well-dressed senior couples, anyone was welcome there and no one seemed to care who you were – or where you were from.

Kermit showed up and the place went wild. Russell walked in and everyone knew him. Turns out that if you know Russell and if he likes you, you’re treated with grace and respect. And so we were.

We had a blast. Strangers would raise their glass and everyone was dancing on the floor. Russell was total class, and even chased down Kermit so I could have a picture with him. For those who don’t know, Kermit Ruffins is to NOLA what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey.

We talked to the owner of the bar who was a total sweetheart. He told us the story of how he lived through Hurricane Katrina and lost several friends in the process. In great detail, he described the water levels and bodies floating down the streets. One could not help but get teary eyed. Bullets was one of the anchors during the storm and somehow he was able to feed many of the locals. In these parts, he’s known as a hero. He knew and respected everyone, and they did the same. To me, he represented the strength, optimism and resilience shown by many in the New Orleans area.

I still wear the jewellery I bought from Russell. A colourful guitar decorative piece – and eclectic piece I like to think symbolizes life and hope amidst the despair of the projects. To this day, I get more compliments and inquiries on his jewellery than any other pieces I own.

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I always wondered what became of Russell and hoped for the best. While researching his story, I came across a recent clip of him on CNN. He was interviewed for a 10th Anniversary story of Katrina  and seems to be doing well.  

When someone compliments me on his jewellery, it’s also a compliment to Russell. So the next time you see an interesting piece of jewellery on someone, take a moment to ask them about it. Because sometimes an object as small and seemingly insignificant as a piece of jewellery can represent a story far more intriguing and inspirational than you can ever imagine.

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Nostalgic Over Heinz

Heinz is one of the world’s most iconic and memorable brands. To this day, I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz ketchup. The topic of brand loyalty has long intrigued both manufacturers as well as advertisers and academics. What makes a brand so good – that consumers will go out of their way to buy it every time – regardless of price or the wide array of other options on the grocery shelf?

Iconic global brands have several qualities, but perhaps the most dominant is their ability to invoke some sort of emotional connection in the consumer. By consuming a product represented by a global brand, we are often transported to a different place and time. A time when things were simpler and less rushed. A time when we were perhaps surrounded by family gathered around the television set watching the Flintstones or Walt Disney.

Take Heinz spaghetti. To some, it might be just another option to soup on a cold winter’s day. But to me, the idea of eating Heinz spaghetti has a far deeper connection and meaning. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I remember us all eating Heinz spaghetti on (usually wobbly) TV trays  watching our old black and white TV on those long and cold winter days. On some days we might have come home for a quick lunch from school. My grandmother would open up a couple of cans, then serve them to us sprinkled with Kraft grated parmesan cheese.  I still remember shaking those large green containers with the red lids. I also remember watching the spaghetti boil as the odour of tomato sauce filled our house.

We loved Heinz spaghetti, and I still eat it today when I want to feel nostalgic. That’s one reason comfort foods exist. When it comes to brands, it’s not so much what they ARE – but what they DO to us that represents their true quality and value. A brand is a promise of quality, and I know that whether it’s today or 10 years from now, Heinz will still offer me the same quality product I experienced when I was 10.

Perhaps most importantly, it will offer me the same brand STORY I experienced when I was 10. Brands offer context, and whenever I eat Heinz spaghetti I’m transported back to childhood. It represents comfort food and reminds me of a time when we were all together as a family.

To me, it’s not just another can of convenience food. It’s a promise that what I experience when I eat it will contain good memories and will make me feel good about the purchase. That’s what iconic brands do – and will always continue to do. It’s what makes them unique.

Are there any other brands you can think of that offer you a similar story? Are all brand decisions based on price, or do you sometimes buy something just because it reminds you of another place and time?

Heinz_spaghetti

 

 


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.

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(Image from http://www.slideshare.net/Timmilne/make-objects-tell-stories)



 

 


Personal Storytelling Through Artifacts

Webster's Dictionary defines an artifact as a "characteristic product of human activity." In the world of storytelling, artifacts can tell us a lot about someone's personal history and experiences. Artifacts define us, and offer a way to map out and understand key milestones and years in our lives.

In an effort to retrace my roots and experiences, I found it interesting that most of the key phases in my life (childhood, teenage years, working world/adulthood) could be traced back to key brands and/or consumer products. A certain brand, item or place tells me a lot about what I experienced during each phase. Artifacts have the ability to bring me back to a certain place or time, where things seemed much simpler. They have the timeless ability to recreate certain feelings and/or emotions...regardless of which phase of my life I'm in at the moment.

World-class brands have the ability to move us in ways that can't be designed with a marketing plan. They become artifacts of sorts through their ability to bring back certain moments in our lives. A few have even earned their place as cultural icons that defined a certain generation.

If I could create a timeline of artifacts that have relevance in my mind even to this day, they would include:

1) Rock180 The Pet Rock (characterizes the fads of the 70's)

2) Chickensoup Campbell's Chicken Soup (reminds me of being taken care of in my childhood - especially when sick watching TV in front of the Flinstones)

3) Milka    Milka Chocolate - My German grandmother used to always bring us Milka chocolate during her visits to Canada - it became a standard item during the entire time I was a downhill ski racer and represents a big period of joy in my life - I still buy the chocolate today

4) Fender   Fender Squire Bullet guitar - Reminds me of my early adult years living in Toronto's Beach Community (and attempts at trying to get into the music industry)

5) Roe_racing   Roe Racing Slalom Boards (still used to this day) - Reminds me of my teenage years and high energy, carefree times where fear was not a factor!

6)  Partridge family Partridge Family (OK, what girl wasn't a fan of David Cassidy?) - Reminds me of the years of camping, lunches in front of the TV and after school cookies (can't believe that I actually admit to remembering the words to certain songs)

I could go on and on, but it seems clear that artifacts offer an innovative form of visual storytelling. Much more than images, each brand or item represents a specific "Act" in the story of my life. When I see, listen to or eat these items, the emotions and memories come back in vivid form even to this day.

The lesson for marketers is clear. The images brought back to one person that are generated by a certain brand are probably consistent with other people's experiences. Use this to your advantage - and you'll create (or recreate) customer loyalty that the competition will find hard to beat. Dig beneath the surface, and we'll be your customers for life.

If you were to create a timeline of your key life experiences, which brands would be on your list?