It’s been a couple of years since I updated my bio, so here is an updated version of my own journey into Narrative Branding®. I am the founder and CEO of Verse Group, an independent brand consulting and design firm that was started in 2004. [My second job is serving the NYC marketing community as President of the NYAMA, nyama.org, but that is a different story.]
Narrative Branding is a breakthrough method for creating, staging and managing brands in today’s digital/social/mobile world.
Narrative Branding is written up in text books — Kotler & Keller’s Marketing Management, 14th Edition — and has been taught to MBA students at Wharton, Columbia and Kellogg at Northwestern.
Over the years I have had the great good fortune to work with — and sometimes create — a number of iconic brands. Some examples include: Lockheed Martin’s centennial branding; co-creating Samsung’s brand strategy to lift it to class status over the past 15 years; creating NXP Semiconductor brand; creating Terra; restaging of MSN in 2000 with a butterfly designed to live in a digital world; re-staging Telefónica from a local brand in Spain to a true multinational; brand strategy that transformed Legend Computing into Lenovo and so forth.
I am a storyteller. I am a creative writer — non-fiction, one-act plays, screenplays — but mostly a fiction writer. My short fiction has been published in magazines such a Runner’s World, Ladies Home Journal and Philadelphia Magazine, but mostly in small literary journals like Witness, The Quarterly and Many Mountains Moving and in anthologies like The Bruce Springsteen Reader published by Penguin Books. I received my MFA in creative writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Through Columbia I met and was very much influenced by several writers including Gordon Lish, Jorge Luis Borges, Elizabeth Hardwick, Sanjay Nigam and John Leonard. It also led to my chance meeting J.D. Salinger, a meeting which did not change the course of my life.
I am an economist, with my Economics degree from University of Pennsylvania. There I was taught and deeply influenced by the extraordinary economist Sidney Weintraub who was himself a graduate student of John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s.
I began my marketing/branding/advertising career in the market research department at Ted Bates. Looking back, I recognize the tremendous opportunity I was given to understand both the strategic and the creative sides of business. It also led to the peculiar situation where I’m probably the only MFA who has served as a Director of Planning and Research.
At the time, Ted Bates was one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, famous for the ideas of it’s co-founder Rosser Reeves. Reeves is legendary for articulating “the unique selling proposition” — or USP as it is better known. Reeves wrote a seminal book “Reality in Advertising” which set forth the agency’s famous USP philosophy. With the fortune he made in advertising he retired at an early age to write novels.
From Ted Bates I moved to Backer & Spielvogel and on to a series of increasingly senior roles at J. Walter Thompson and BBDO Worldwide and then into the world of brand consulting with the late Peter Kim at Bright Sun Consulting. In 1998 I was invited to join FutureBrand as an executive director.
By the mid-1990s it became quite clear to me that there was a fundamental problem with the way brands were created and managed — e.g. the Brand Positioning method, which is also known as USP. From concrete experience, from listening to and conducting thousands of hours of qualitative research, it became clear that what created emotional bonds between people and brands were the stories that they shared. And that the strongest of brands had engaging stories with a core metaphor at the heart of those stories. For example, in the case of MSN it is the butterfly, which allows people to co-create their own worlds online.
This set me on a journey of learning about how narrative shapes our understanding of the world and its power in creating and staging brands, or, more importantly, in creating community and bringing people closer to each other. It led to many conversations with writers, actors, movie makers, composers, neurologists, market researchers, psychologists and others.
This led to the development of a breakthrough method for creating and staging brands based on digital narratives, on storytelling, on metaphors. A brand is more like a hit Broadway musical or an attraction at Disneyworld.
Narrative Branding® is the result of those investigations.
And in 2004 I founded Verse Group to bring this method to market.
And, over a drink some time, I’ll be happy to share my story of how meeting J.D. Salinger did not change my life.