Posts Tagged 'brand storytelling'

Put some creativity into your marketing – or – Improving by Improv

Marketing managers of the world, exercise your creativity!

Here’s a perfect opportunity to add some creativity to your marketing thinking.  The improv group, Chicago City Limits, will be hosting a creativity in marketing event for the NYAMA on May 19th.  [Learn more here]

No, you don’t have to go to Chicago.  Chicago City Limits is actually located in New York’s theater district.  It promises to be good fun and a good way to rethink marketing.  The event is going to be held in their theater.  We’ll be going through mind stretching exercises led by members of Chicago City Limits.

Why Chicago City Limits?  In addition to being a training ground for some very talented actors, writers, CCL runs creativity training sessions for many major corporations.  They know their business…and ours, too.

Here’s what some of their corporate clients have said:

Praise for Chicago City Limits corporate programs

Creativity is all about perspective.  Creativity gives you a way to look at the world in a different way.  Because when you look at the world in a different way, you can come up with new ideas and new answers to old problems.

Perfect example:  for decades people had been twisting apart their oreos, throwing way the part with only cookie and then putting together the two cookie/creme sides.  How did Nabisco respond?  They introduced the Double Stuf Oreo.

So now, I twist apart my double stufs, put two together and…hey…Nabisco, how about a Quad Stuf Oreo?

Double The Stuf, Double The Funn

When We Were BRITE And Young…

More recap of the BRITE conference from earlier this week.

Thursday morning started off with a thunderclap.

How else can I describe that moment when you feel so completely alive and rapt by a presentation at a conference?  The usual “lean back, listen, observe, observe yourself observing” experience was replaced by the highly charged engagement of discovery — the  leaning in, hearing, trying to make sense of what is so sensible but so insightful and smart. For me it was a lightbulb moment, a Eureka moment.  That is the only way I describe what it felt like to hear Columbia’s own Professor Sheena Iyengar discuss her work on “The Art of Choosing” and her famous/infamous Jam Study.

Professor Iyengar discussed how people say they want more choices but what they really want are better choosing experiences.

More choice leads to “Choice Overload” which decreases: 1. commitment to buy  2. decision quality (make worse choices, abandon in-going criteria) and 3. satisfaction (did I buy the best thing? did I make the right choice?)

Then she tackled the problem that had been bothering me for years.  There’s a seminal study from the 1950s by George Miller which is titled “The Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two”.  In marketing this has often translated into theories about unaided brand awareness as the main predictor of brand selection and a very high level of importance placed on brand awareness.

Trout and Ries used Miller’s study as one of the fundamental pillars to support their positioning model in their book “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind”.  Share of mind, or Mind Share, became the driving focus of marketing from the 1970s up through today.  It is what MBA students have been taught for decades.

There had always been something about this “magic number seven” that was contradicted by actual experience and empirical evidence.  After all, the average person can name many brands verbally.  And when you show them the actual packaging or logo their recognition jumps even higher.  Just off the top of my head I can name more than a dozen brands of beer (Saranac, Samuel Adams, Coors, Miller, Budweiser, Michelob, Sierra Nevada, St. Pauli Girl, Pabst, Rolling Rock, Anchor Steam, Brooklyn, Blue Moon, Molsons, Hite, Kirin, Heineken, Red Stripe, Guiness, Modelo, Polar, Busch, Kronenburg, Lowenbrau, Harpoon) and within that I can identify many variations (Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Lite, Miller).  If you showed me the packaging I would recognized at least twice as many.

Professor Iyengar cleared up this mystery for me.  In fact “experts” in any category can handle more choices and they want more choices.  They see options, organize the choices, categorize them.  They see patterns and put the different brands into those categories and sub-categories.

The example that she gave was the chess master.  The options for moves that a chess master has is exponentially higher than the total number of brands in the world.  The master sees patterns, zeros in on the most relevant choices and then thinks ahead many moves to see the consequences of his choices.

That made sense to me.  I do not consider myself an expert on beer but I did spend more than 4 years working on beer advertising accounts.  That sensitized me to beer.  I seem to notice beer brands unconsciously whenever I travel to a new place. Professor Iyengar helped me understand what was going on in my process of remembering the brands. I went through a number of filters.  The first was big brands vs. small brands (although Saranac isn’t a traditional big brand, I had spent time upstate in NY where it has a lot of visibility). The next was geography (states, countries, cities).  Then by visual memory of what I’d seen on bar taps and six packs.  Finally there are a number of brands that I can visualize in my mind but cannot immediately remember the name of…for example I can visualize Corona Light, with lime wedges, I know it is from Mexico, I can picture the advertising in my mind, I reach for the word cerveza is and until this moment I couldn’t say Corona Light.

She then provided the keys to helping consumers make better choices.

1.  Cut: get rid of similar looking options

2. Organize: by categories consumers intuitively understand, not by industry standards

3. Condition: help people handle complexity by going from the largest filters (e.g. 2 or 3 categories) to the smallest (multiple sub-sub categories)

Here’s what the NY Times had to say about her book.

Unlike “provocative” books designed to stir controversy, “The Art of Choosing” is refreshingly thought-provoking. [NY Times Book Review, 04/18/2010]

The Art of Choosing

One other presentation that I want to bring to your attention.

Renée Horne of Fedex discussed “the evolving role of marketing” and the growing importance of employees to influencing customer purchasing choices.  At the same time, customers are expanding the criteria they use for choosing brands — with social responsibility, sustainability, workplace conditions and other corporate reputation factors coming into play more than ever before.  And, finally, social media is the way employees naturally want to communicate these days.  If they are using Facebook at home, their inclination is to want to use Facebook at work.

For Fedex this meant tapping into employees and making them ambassadors.  It led them to “a fresh approach to brand storytelling.”  And to “I am Fedex”.

They recognized it as “potentially game changing…to drive higher level of engagement with our own employees.”  The more engaged the employees, the higher the level of customer satisfaction.

The roll of storytelling is very important to us

Using social media, Fedex seeded the program with professionally made videos and then allowed employees to make their own.  Hundreds of videos have been made by employees around the world, sharing their “I am Fedex” stories with each other on Facebook and other social media channels.

To keep the stories real, “authentic” there are no scripts but there are some clear and simple guidelines and criteria for employees to follow.

I am Fedex storytelling

Of course in today’s world what is internal is external in a matter of moments.  There is no longer the possibility of an employee branding program not being seen by the world at large.  So the Fedex program has external elements and visibility.  It isn’t pushed on anyone,

“if customers see it, it is through sales association…We put it online.  We are not pushing it in paid media…You can see it on our YouTube channel, “Behind the scenes at FedEx”

A central element of “I am Fedex” is the purple promise.  That is in many of the videos.  It is also shared through more traditional communications such as booklets, merchandise, posters, employee awards — many of which anyone can download from Fedex.

The Purple Promise

The Purple Promise booklet

The reality is that selling in the program was not a slam dunk.  The SVP who initiated it was persuasive in selling it in to senior management.  And then they had to “overcome the fears of “what if….” with middle management”.

So, some editorializing: What I find to be particularly compelling about the Fedex program is the use of the first person singular — “I”.  It personalizes the pledge.  It internalizes the stories.  Just by having an employee say “I am Fedex” aloud  commits them.  Nobody wants to have to take back their words.  Another good example of this internalization is the longer running “I’m an IBMer” program.


There was more and more to BRITE.  I’ve just skimmed some of the highlights that I found to be compelling, interesting or personally relevant.


The first day of the BRITE conference up at Columbia University was a series of 25 minute presentations on 4 groups of themes.  The speakers were from a wide range of companies, large and small, including: SAP, Linked In, Clickable, Wired, Boxee, Bravo, Edelman and Citibank.

Some ideas that were raised at the conference that I found to be notable:

First of all, not once during the day did anyone use the phrase “brand positioning.”  That was refreshing.

Max Kalehoff of Clickable observed that in the current economic crisis, “Brands are more important than ever before.”  He went on to discuss the conundrum of how companies are now cutting back on their spending behind branding.   He also brought forth a fact I had not know before, which is that search accounts for about 1/2 of online advertising.  And the % is rising. 

Kalehoff also made a point of saying that companies are moving away from “brand advertising” and towards “goal-based advertising.”  After listening to his clarification during the Q&A session, I came to the conclusion that he raises a false dichotomy.  The best advertising is both “brand” and “goal-based” at the same time.  It is not a trade-off.  Perhaps he was simply making the observation that some advertisers — or agencies — are making a distinction between one and the other instead of doing both together.

Professor Sanjay Sood of UCLA made the very cogent observation that there are many pieces of branding tools such as Brand Mantra, Brand DNA, Brand Soul and so forth that just don’t all fit together.  

He was looking at branding from the movie business perspective — how do the studios build excitement and interest in the movies in the time leading up to the release date.  It was a perspective on branding that I had not heard before.  And the examples that he provided are a refreshing break from the usual Google, Apple, Nike case studies that we have all heard so often and seen used to support many, many different viewpoints.  He said that “the Power of Storytelling” is the one think that companies can own and manage.  From his own research this is particularly important for word of mouth.

He also discussed the importance of crafting the brand mythology, the creation story or backstory of the brand.  It doesn’t have to be found in the product itself but can be found online or in some portions of the communications.  

Lisa Hsia of Bravo spent a lot of time discussing the struggles that “old” media companies are having integrating with new media.  She provided some examples of how Bravo is doing this successfully where viewers are both online and watching a program at the same time, then continuing their discussion about the show and characters later.  

Jeff Howe of Wired gave his presentation on Crowdsourcing, a term which he coined for an article in Wired and which is now a new book.  He began his talk with a brief and very entertaining video that you can see by clicking on the link or going to YouTube.  

Mark Yolton of SAP began his presentation by discussing the ways SAP has begun to provide ways for their community of users to connect with the people inside of the company.  It was forcing a cultural change within SAP, according to Yolton.  In a follow-up conversation I had with him, he discussed some of the challenges internally of such an opening up of the company to the outside community.  Traditionally marketing and sales were the main points of contact with customers.  Now many parts of the organization have direct connections to customers, requiring a whole new set of internal behaviors and coordination.  It raised a number of questions such as who “owns” the brand in such a world?  And how do companies overcome the organizational silos?

Umair Haque gave a presentation which, frankly, I could not comprehend.  He was talking about something called “thin value” and “fat value.”  In my own semi-informed opinion — as someone who spent years studying economics — Haque’s economic understanding of the current world crisis was a bit shaky.  He calls it the “great compression.”  Clever term but not particularly illuminating. 

But he did have a very cool presentation tool that you can get from  I warn you, it is not for those of us who suffer from motion sickness!

For someone who posits himself as driving radical innovation, and critiquing 20th Century capitalism, he has a peculiar gap  the core ideas of that biggest radical of all, Karl Marx.  When asked by a member of the audience how his ideas are different from “dialectical materialism” Haque confessed to being unfamiliar with the phrase or ideas behind it.  You can judge for yourself if Haque is brilliant or simply bullshit by going to his blog. Perhaps he is both simultaneously?

These were my highlights of Day One, along with meeting some very wonderful people attending the conference and seeing some old acquaintances. Tomorrow I’ll debrief on Day Two.  

For those of you who want to attend next year but are on a budget, a friend gave me the tip that volunteering for a couple of hours at the conference will get you free admission.

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