Business Storytelling

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?


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?


“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.




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






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.

(Image from



Walt Disney On Why It's Not Good To Grow Up

As a child growing up in Ottawa, I was exposed to a world of imagination through music, reading and stories. My parents were originally from Europe and I was quickly introduced to fables and folklore from the "old country." An outgoing child, I would often take the outdoor stage at our favourite lake in the Gatineau Park and put on a show for my family. Acting, singing, writing - they were all part of who I was as a young child.

Unfortunately as I grew older and responsibilities started to take over, I lost my sense of imagination and some of my creativity. My life took a different direction, and I ended up in the world of the "practical" having to deal with deadlines, commitments and pleasing "stakeholders."

Once in a while, my sense of imagination and creativity make a re-appearance. It happens when I browse through antique markets, check out the dusty corner of a guitar store - or see a movie like Wes Anderson's recent Moonrise Kingdom - the story of rediscovering youth and imagination in the remoteness of small town America.

Walt Disney once said "Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well, I won't do that." Words on which to build a marketing empire.

In a world full of complex ideas, quick fix hits and information measured in gigabytes - it's up to marketers to reinspire their audience to encourage them to act. More than storytelling, this requires the ability to "hit us" where it will have most impact. Find some way to connect your product with our youth. It's a powerful selling tool. Tom Peters said that a "brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience." It's almost a primeval way of hitting us at the gut level to re-ignite something that has been lost for so many years.

Being an adult is definitely a wonderful experience. Yet the success of movies and books that cater to the imagination and one's inherent creativity tell me that there's a void in the lives of many adults. It's a void that makes people long for a simpler time - a time when being a child held all the magic and wonder of life - and the thought of growing up was a story yet about to unfold.


On The Money: What Brad Pitt Can Teach Us About Life And Business

The film Moneyball (based on Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game), looks at the Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane's (played by Brad Pitt) less conventional approach to the practice of hiring professional baseball players.

While baseball traditionalists tend to hire based on certain criteria (highly athletic hitters and their good looking girlfriends), Beane is convinced there has to be a better way to hire players for teams whose budgets come nowhere near those of other teams in the Major Leagues. He decides that traditional statistical formulations used to gage player success weren't representative of a player's true potential, and starts to build a winning team based on less expensive options. As an example, instead of looking at pitchers with incredible throwing speeds, Beane looked at pitchers who could get more ground outs.

Player attributes that were less focused on looks were often used in Beane's selections. While one player was shunned by the majors due to his odd-looking pitching arm and style, Beane looked at other aspects of his record and decided he was a potential winner. By applying his technique, Beane was able to assemble a winning team that could compete with major competitors fielding huge budgets.

So what does Brad Pitt have to do with life and business?

  • Smart risk taking can have a huge potential payoff. He went against tradition, took a risk in doing so, and won
  • To solve a problem, sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious
  • Using creativity and ingenuity, he transformed his position from being one of having an unfair advantage to that of a winner. He did this by identifying unique strengths in others that the majority of people in his industry dismissed
  • Given a chance, underdogs can turn out to be winners. It takes someone who "thinks outside the crowd" to give them that chance
  • You can't hire people solely based on looks or the fact that they might have some perceived "quirkiness" that doesn't fit the norm. They have other attributes that will make them shine (and make YOU shine too)
  • The greatest form of flattery is imitation - after Beane's success, other Major League teams tried to copy his winning formula

What do you think businesses can learn from the way Billy Beane achieved success? Why does there always seem to be resistance to new ways of thinking - when the people who think differently are often the ones who are able to change the world?




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?

Storytelling and the Art of Persuasion

In business as in life, success often depends on our ability to persuade others to adopt our ideas. If we can't persuade consumers to buy our product or service, or convince shareholders to adopt a new plan of attack, then we won't move forward with our goals.

Simply put, stories are how we make sense of the world. We arrange information according to our experiences and interactions in the world, and stories help us locate our place in the grander scheme.

Storytelling offers a new and innovative way to engage people's emotions, and win their hearts and minds. For years, the word "storytelling" conjured up images of people sitting around campfires or dinner tables, passing along tales that lasted generations. Although this scene still has implications today, today's modern storyteller can often be found in the executive suite.

In 2003, Harvard Business School published an article called "Happy Tales: The CEO as Storyteller." In it, screenwriting coach and legend Robert McKee explains how he coached executives in the art of storytelling. He advises executives to toss away their PowerPoint slides, and engage their stakeholders through the fine art of story. Rather than focus on rhetoric, McKee suggests uniting an idea with an emotion through use of a compelling story. He says that a little imagination can go a long way in getting people to applaud you and your ideas.

According to McKee, a story "expresses how and why life changes", and may help people deal with the fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and often cruel reality. A good storyteller might inspire employees to "dig deeper" by presenting them with scenarios based on characters and principles often found in screenplays: protagonists, opposing forces, allies, calls to action, etc. This approach might help people with their decision-making when they're faced with challenges at work.

Cognitive scientists such as Donald Norman help explain the relationship between stories, consumer goods, photographs and other objects (or artifacts). From a human perspective, the fundamental element that makes an event or object memorable is the presence of emotion. Stories can help capture the context, as well as the emotion.

Remember Scott Bedbury's quote in Tom Peters book "the brand you 50"...."A great brand taps into emotions...Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions...It's an emotional connecting point that transcends the product...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."

The next time you're called upon to do a corporate presentation, ask yourself the question "What's my/our story?", and you'll go a long way in winning over people's hearts and minds.

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.