Posts Tagged 'narrative marketing'

Corporate Narrative Arcs – or – What’s Past is Prologue to the Future*

Every company has a powerful tool to build a strong internal culture.

It is the narrative arc of the company.

The narrative arc is a collection of individual story lines that weave together the larger story of the company.  It starts with the inspiration driving the founder(s)  to form the company, driving them to the early successes, and from the inevitable failures (generously called teachable moments) to the successes which reaffirm the company employees’ sense of common purpose.  It answers either implicitly or explicitly the questions of employees and customers alike:

  • Why was this company founded?
  • What is the common purpose that we all share?
  • What are the famous past accomplishments in which we take pride?
  • What are the dark moments in the corporate history, the turning points which demonstrate the resilience and resourcefulness of the company’s people?

All of these questions are answered through telling the corporate story.  In essence, the narrative arc conveys a sense of destiny, inevitability, a unified purpose and direction behind the company’s trajectory.  Done right it points to the direction the company will take in the future.

*Or, to slightly paraphrase the lines from the Tempest by Shakespeare (our favorite creative director) what is past is prologue for the future of the company.

You can visualize it like this (thanks to Mike Prentice who is now at the U of Mich):


All too often companies overlook the power of their past to shape perceptions of the future.  Sometimes they deliberately leave out portions of the story that make them feel uncomfortable.  Other times the stories have been forgotten from disuse, hidden away in archives and the fading memories of former employees, leaving behind a form of corporate amnesia.  Or the stories have gotten stale from they way there are told.

When you understand the cumulative power of these individual story lines, you will understand why some companies continue to mine the stories of their past and retell them today.  It isn’t limited to small companies like Patagonia.  They are big companies like Coca Cola, McDonald’s, IBM, GE and Lockheed Martin.

Example on Effective Use of Corporate Narrative Arc:  Lockheed Martin


This year (2012-2013) Lockheed Martin is celebrating a major milestone, its Centennial.  To double down, this company is actually celebrating two centennials-in-one: it is the centennial of both companies that eventually combined to form Lockheed Martin.    [Full disclosure, my team at Verse Group worked together with Lockheed Martin on this program.]

From the 100th Anniversary website:

To mark our 100th anniversary, we’re looking back at the innovations and achievements that helped our customers rise to some of the world’s most vital challenges. And we’ll look forward to emerging global challenges and the technology that will change our world for the next 100 years. [From  website].

100 years ago the Glenn L. Martin Company was founded by…Glenn L. Martin.  That very same year the Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Company  was founded by the brothers Allan and Malcolm Lockheed.

All of three of these men were pioneers with the vision, determination and smarts to make breakthroughs upon breakthroughs which transformed aeroplanes from novelty rides into a robust form of commercial and military travel.

There is real drama in their stories, and the stories of the men and women who worked with them, those who flew their machines and those who benefited from the advances and achievements they inspired.  From their bold visions and humble beginnings in a barn and church came the great innovations which helped land Neil Armstrong on the moon and are now giving us sight into the past through the Hubble telescope — to name just a few of achievements that their successors made possible.


Through-out this centennial year the company is sharing 100 story lines that weave together into the larger corporate narrative arc.  100 Stories.  100 Years of Accelerating Tomorrow.

Just as important are the stories shared by individuals with their own very personal experiences of Lockheed Martin.  There is real power in the reminiscences, imaginings and memories of these people.  The company is tapping into this power by inviting the public to share their own personal stories online.  These individual and the company storylines weave together, co-creating the larger narrative arc.


Sharing stories is what brings a brand closer to its audience.

Add them all up and these shared stories form the larger narrative arc of the company.

And that is a powerful tool for building a strong internal culture based on a common understanding of their shared sense of purpose from where they came and where they want to go next.

Giving Thanks For Parking

We live right next to the staging area for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  For 2 days our neighborhood becomes a giant No Parking Zone and the streets are decorated with blue police barricades.

Watching all of the tow-trucks over the past couple of days reminded me of a piece I wrote for AdWeek about a new LoJack advertising campaign.

So, for your reading pleasure, I am attaching the article.  Happy Thanksgiving Weekend everyone.  Shop early and shop often!


Today’s Branding Quote from Robert Frost

“Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.”  Robert Frost

A couple of days ago I was sitting in on a poetry class at the Kelly Writers House down at the University of Pennsylvania when this line from Frost popped into my mind.  Professor Al Filreis invited me to sit in on this class, the undergrad version of a course he’s teaching online to 35,000 people.

Yes, that’s right, 35,000 people are taking the same online poetry course taught by the same wonderful professor, going through close readings of modern poetry.

You could make a very compelling case that Mitt Romney lost the presidential election because of his carelessness with metaphors.  Among the memorable ones are“Binders full of women” and “47% of people…believe they are victims…” And he wasn’t helped by his spokesperson, Fehrnstrom who famously said of Romney’s ability to change positions:  “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” 

So what does this have to do with marketing?  Remember a couple of years ago when Tropicana dropped it’s packaging metaphor of a straw in an orange?  The beautiful picture of OJ pouring into a glass was beautiful and vacuous.  People couldn’t find their Tropicana anymore.  In my house the comment was, “Why did you buy this instead of the regular OJ?”  It was an expensive headache for Pepsico, all because someone was not well educated in metaphor.

Almost single-handedly Al is going to educate us in metaphor for our own safety and for that of others around us.  Let’s join in to support Al and Kelly Writers House.




Happy Birthday 2 U-2

Not many companies have the staying power, the strong internal culture, to make it to the century mark.  Lockheed Martin is one of the few who do, who continue to be relevant to us today.  At Verse Group we are very proud to be helping Lockheed Martin tell their story of accelerating tomorrow.


So this is also the year of big milestones for Oreos, Zurich Insurance, Citibank and Chevy.  What is most important about any branding program is making it relevant to us, the people who are going to be seeing the ads, going to the facebook pages and buying the products.  Okay, maybe we aren’t all in the market for an F-35.  But certainly Oreos!


Oreos make their centennial relevant.

Citi and Zurich have missed the mark, they are rather more self-congratulatory than relevant.



Cognitive Dissonance

In fact, Citibank’s advertising even features a shot of the Space Shuttle lifting off.   That really is something NASA accomplished with Lockheed Martin and a number of other vital corporations.  And you’ll see that Lockheed Martin’s centennial tells the story of our past century and how they’ve helped to accelerate the pace of innovation.  (note: updated with fixed links!)




What’s Past Is Prologue – or – Ad Copy By Shakespeare

This just in from as retold by Michael Margolis

Storytelling is a hot business trend for a reason. In the face of growing cynicism and distrust, stores are how people decide if they belong in your tribe…. The brand story is what allows your message to travel.

Every brand has a founding myth, an epic narrative that explains how it came to be in this world. It’s important because it explains why you do what you do. If you’re clear about the end product you’re trying to create, you can use the past to help tell the story of your future.

Does every brand really have a founding myth?  No, but they should.  It’s like a back-story for an attraction at Disney World.  You may not know it but you can certainly sense it.
As the Bard once said, “what’s past is prologue”

My Future Was BRITE

It was great fun to be at Columbia’s Center for Global Brand Leadership’s BRITE Conference yesterday and today.

Professor Don Sexton and David Rogers presented some of initial findings and implications from our new CMO Study on ROI in the Era of BIG DATA.  This was a joint study of the Center for Global Brand Leadership and the NYAMA.  The very generous sponsors of the study were the Greenbook and ResearchNow.  There were many other people involved in championing the idea of this study including Edwin Roman of ESPN/NYAMA, Rick Kendall, Debra Berliner and Christine Heye of the NYAMA; Sylvia Chu, Andrew Kyrejko and Michael Dudley of Verse Group; and Matt Quint and the incomparable Bernd Schmitt of Columbia.

If I had one message to give CMOs about the study it is: “You are not alone in your struggles to stuff digital marketing into traditional processes and methods.”

And there’s a good reason.

Big Data is a Big Headache for most marketers, revealing a fundamental Big Problem: The underlying foundation of marketing is rickety, fragile.  Piling more digital innovations on top of it reveals the problems inherent in the traditional positioning model of how marketing works.  In fact, marketing management has become like an elephant riding on a bicycle.

The good news is that there are newer approaches to marketing that are built for the digital world.  Until now, many of those breakthroughs in marketing have been created internally at corporations like Coca-Cola (liquid and linked), McDonald’s (Brand Journalism), P&G and others.  The principles of their approaches are available to anyone to adopt and adapt.  Principles such narrative — e.g. seeing your brand more like a hit Broadway Musical or attraction at Disney World rather than a 2 dimensional billboard.  Principles such as using powerful metaphors, co-creating meaning with customers and, yes, engaging with them on their terms.

In the coming weeks expect to see more of the data from the study so that you can make your own judgements.  The NYAMA will be holding a seminar to share the findings in greater depth than was possible at BRITE.  Stay tuned!

CMO ROI Social Media Metrics – or – Did I Say the Magic Word Yet?

We are now out of the field with the joint BRITE/NYAMA study of CMOs.  Over 200 corporate marketing decision makers have shared their views and perspectives on how they are managing and measuring digital and social media.   This study goes deep into the methods, metrics, ROI — even to the level of  how they are organized to take full advantage of social media.

As the old saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage to it.

World premiere is on March 5th at the BRITE conference here in NYC.

NYAMA members get a $100 discount on the conference.  You can get the discount code by emailing Tracy Crinion,

In April, date TBD, NYAMA will hold a follow-up event to go through the findings in more depth and allow more time for members to discuss the issues.  Stay tuned to

“New Survey Results: Marketing Measurement in a Time of Transition
Prof. Don Sexton; Columbia Business School
Randall Ringer; President, NY American Marketing Association, and CEO Verse Group

Measuring the effect of marketing activities is, arguably, more important than ever. The Center on Global Brand Leadership and the NY-AMA are conducting a survey of over 200 senior marketers from leading companies in order to uncover current practices and attitudes concerning the development and use of effective marketing metrics. Results of this research will be released for the first time at BRITE ’12, providing key insights for attendees considering their own marketing metrics and best practices.



Brand That Place – or – George Washington Slept Here

In today’s NY Post there is a swell piece about Brooklyn as a brand.  And, yes, that is me being quoted.

My first experience of branding a place was spending some of my cavity prone years in Morristown, NJ.  Everywhere you look there is a plaque about George Washington.  George Washington Slept Here (A Lot) is pretty much the town’s unofficial slogan.

Best of all in Morristown is Fort Nonsense.  Basically it is just a hill. The story is that George Washington had his men build fortifications, dig trenches and put up a guard house on the hill for the sole purpose of  keeping the soldiers busy during the winter months.  It was never used and soon reverted back to its natural state as a hill.   All that remains are plaques on the hill, telling its unique narrative.

Fort Nonsense is such a wonderful name and a wonderful example of how branding a place can create a legend.  The story carries so much value that today a plain hill is a historical landmark and a national park!

2012: The Year of Reinventing Marketing

A new year, a new way of marketing?

In the past 7 or 8 years the traditional methods of marketing have shown declining effectiveness.   At first the decline was slow overall, although more accelerated in some categories than others.  The decline in effectiveness of traditional methods was most visible in categories such as services, hospitality, beverages and entertainment at first.  Now it is quickly spreading to all  categories.

Miller Lite was a classic example of the traditional  method.  “Taste Great. Less Filling” along with some brilliant advertising  and heavy media spending drove the brand to the number 2 market share.  But from 1994 to 2003 the brand went from a 23% market share to an 18% share.

Looking more narrowly at the light beer category, Miller Lite lost the number 1 position to Bud Light.  By the rules of brand positioning that shouldn’t have happened.  Miller Lite had a strong differentiating claim, while Bud Light had no product differentiation at all in its advertising.  By 2010 Miller Lite lost the number 2 position to Coors Light.

At the same time, marketers continue to use the old methods.  In part, I suspect that the continuing Great Recession is to blame.  I call it “The Tepid Trap”. The economy is bumping along too slowly to give marketers great confidence in the future.  Yet business is not in such a tailspin that people will take the leap of faith to a whole new approach.

Tepid economies result in tepid marketing strategies (okay, a gross generalization, I know).  From personal conversations with people on the corporate side, I sense a certain flight to safety and conservatism.  Not in the political sense but in the sense of  avoiding risk or substantial changes that will leave a person exposed if it fails.  It seems like an unconscious reflex, avoiding danger until business really picks up and there is more leeway for experimentation and risk taking.

Of course this is a broad generalization and many individual companies are bolding moving in new directions.  McDonald’s, Visa (whose stock is up over 40% year over year), Samsung.

So what will 2012 bring?  Will marketing stay in the Tepid Trap?  Or will we spring out of it?

I am an optimist.  I believe that 2012 is the year of reinventing marketing.

Marketing Without Context Is Not Marketing – or – Reading Curation Nation

Context is King!

You don’t have to take my word for it.  You can have breakfast this Wednesday morning (11/16) with the author Steven Rosenbaum and hear it from him directly.

Here’s what Daniel Pink (author of A Whole New Mind) has to say about Steven Rosenbaum’s new book, Curation Nation

“Curation Nation gives me hope for the future of the Information Age. Rosenbaum argues for the growing importance of people creative, smart, hip who can spot trends, find patterns, and make meaning out of the flood of data that threatens to overwhelm us.”

Rosenbaum is the next guest in the NYAMA’s “Meet The Author” series of informal breakfast conversations.  This Wednesday, November 16th, from 8 am until 9:30 am (8 am!  yes, I know, that’s quite early for all of us…).  116 East 27th Street.   Sign up at

Come and get your copy signed by Steven.



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