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Archive for the ‘Messaging & Positioning’ Category

I just saw a great slideshare presentation from Sarah Goodall, Head of Social Media – EMEA, at SAP.  Entitled, “Storytelling to Storyselling,” it’s exactly the type of resource I’ve been searching for to help put pattern and process behind that elusive — yet incredibly important — art of storytelling.

Her premise is this — in an age of information overload, getting your audience to remember anything is a challenge.  Yes, you could keep repeating yourself, and at some level that may work, but it’s more efficient to tell a story.  Why?  Because stories are how we are “wired” to remember things.  Think of it as the Three R’s: we Relate to what we’re hearing and therefore build a context that we can Recall and Refer to later on.

As for process, I really like this chart Sarah presents, because it helps me see the pattern in storytelling:

So How Can You Move to Storyselling?
The value in this chart for me is that it demonstrates that storytelling begins with positioning – you need to know who your customer is, what problems they face, and how you solve the problems before you can tell them a story.  Once positioning is established, you move on to messaging, which is where most people “stop.”  I remember hearing Lou Hoffman, the storytelling guru, say essentially that messaging is useless in this day and age.  He posits that executives are so “trained” to parrot messages, that what they say ends up not resonating with their audiences because it sounds too “canned.” 
 
I think he’s got a point.  But messaging is still a key step to the storytelling process, because it customizes the value propositions for each audience.  It’s also an invaluable tool to communicate those value propositions within your organization, not only creating alignment among groups, but also giving the individuals in your organization the opportunity to evangelize your value to their networks.
 
Next comes  storyboarding.  If you’ve never heard of storyboarding, it’s a technique used in theater and film to visibly express a story, scene by scene.  My own belief is that it is this step that is the “missing piece.”  Okay, what do I mean by that?
 
What I mean is that traditional case studies don’t give you a story!   Not only that, they can be really boring — problem, solution, result.  Yada yada yada.  Who cares?  Especially nowadays when communications are everywhere and our attention is diverted so easily to other topics?
 
So, how does storyboarding solve that problem?
 
Storyboarding gets story tellers to think visually.  That is the missing piece, critical element or communications “chasm” to cross (to mix my metaphors).  Once you start thinking of telling your story in visual blocks, it makes you think multidimensionally — and encourages you to use multiple communications strategies to communicate your message.  This means that you gone from appealling to just the logical mind (via the written word) and extends your engagement power by introducing visuals — pictures, sequence & scene, texture, sounds.
 
More on storyboarding in my next post.

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I went to an IABC meeting last week (International Association of Business Communicators) here in Silicon Valley.  The event was a luncheon and — a surprise to me — the room was packed.  The audience was experienced communications professionals from some of the most well-known high tech companies.  The communications glitterati, if you will.

The topic was “Social Media Meets Corporate Storytelling.”  It was a great session, very interactive.  One of the speakers, Lou Hoffman, is very well known for his advocacy of Storytelling as a method of communication.  His premise, and I agree with him, is that if you can tell a story, you will engage an audience.  People will much more readily remember what you are trying to communicate if you put it in story form.

Those of you who have met me know that I am not shy.  So, I popped up during the Q&A and asked if they know of any best practices on going from “case study” to “storytelling.”  The answers I got, interestingly, were garbled.  One of the speakers said that I should encourage executives that I am training to tell stories to stick to topics that excite them.  Okay, useful.  But not a best practice.  Lou said that he has some storytelling workshops that he does and that anecdotes are under appreciated storytelling devices.

This is interesting but not what I’m trying to get to.  I want the equation.  I want the pattern.  I want the elusive thing that makes a case study into a memorable story. 

So, I’m looking into storytelling from a different perspective.  From the perspective of the script writer, the novelist, the “great communicator.”  This must translate into the business world.  I will relay what I learn in this blog.

In the meantime, I’m reaching out to my virtual network and asking you:  What makes a good story?  And do you have any storytelling best practices to share?

Can’t wait to hear from you.

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People are full of contradictions.  For example, studies show that people will usually believe what they read, no matter the source.  If it’s printed in a magazine, newspaper, blog or company brochure, then they will believe it.

One of my friends even said to me (verbatim), “They can’t print it if it’s not true.”

Be that as it may, when it comes to people parting with their money, they tend to be more circumspect.  When someone is spending money, either their own or their company’s, they want to be sure about what they are purchasing.  Yes, they may be willing to believe what you tell them.  But they will want to see proof of your claim.

“Proof points” do just that.   A proof point is evidence that supports a claim of value that you make about your product, service or company.  These claims of value are called “key messages.” 

Proof points can be formulated in many ways, including:

  • Quotes from a trusted or credible source
  • Research that provides statistics
  • Written material from third parties (newspapers, blogs, twitter postings)
  • Video material from third parties (news interviews, training sessions)
  • Awards and certifications granted by third parties (industry associations, newspapers, rankings)
  • Refererences or referrals from third parties (business associates, customers, friends)

You’ll notice that third parties play a critical role in the creation of proof points.  This reveals a common “human” characteristic — we will accept a supposedly independent recommendation from another source as a validation of a claim.  As a result, companies will spend considerable amounts of time and money to influence the development of proof points via marketing and public relations.

Some examples of (completely fictional) proof points:

Key Messages with Proof Points

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One of the most frequently voiced complaints I hear about marketing is that it’s “squishy.”  People have trouble drawing a connection between the research, branding, positioning and communications that we do into real-world, value creating action.  One of my favorite illustrations of how a company successfully has translated “theory” into “action” is a recent advertising campaign from Symantec.  

The messaging in the advertising focuses on the customer – what their concerns and fears might be surrounding security.  Then, they created scenarios that illustrate their fears — but not in a frightening way.  Instead, they opted for entertainment value to create memorable scenarios that drive home their key messages without intimidating their viewers.

The TV commercials in the campaign showcase scenarios of cybercrime (watch them here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avG0Eh-Uq2g).  For example, in “The Bank of Nikolai” you meet Nikolai, a cyber thief.  He tells you that he has a bank, it’s very safe and if you give him your money, it will be very safe — “right here, in my front pocket.”  The video closes with Symantec’s key message for that commercial — a statistic about cybercrime, “Cybercrime has now surpassed illegal drug trafficking as a criminal moneymaker.” 

Symantec effectively created an entire series of these commercials that showcase their key messages.  They have been very effective in communicating these messages in an entertaining way and on a medium (YouTube) that makes it easy to forward the video to your friends.

Symantec did one thing very well — they focused on translating all that research, positioning and messaging into something tangible that created value for their company.  Bravo!

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I’ve been attending a lot of Webinars and movies lately, which has made me more aware of the power of storytelling.

It’s an aspect of branding that my new book does not go in to.  My new book focuses more on the nuts and bolts, the “equation” if you will, of what and how to communicate your brand clearly.   Yes, it’s important, and if you don’t know those fundamentals, you will not be as effective in building and controlling the perception of your brand.

But storytelling adds an aspect to your brand that is irreplaceable. 

We become used to storytelling from the earliest age, when it was unimaginable to go to bed without a bedtime story.  As we grow older, we study both secular and religious literature, not simply to be well educated, but to till the fertile fields of imagination, socialization, morality and human attachment.

Great communicators understand that a concept or idea is all good and fine, but if we give that idea a context by telling a story, it helps us to remember it.  When we remember it, it’s natural to then discuss it later among peers, friends and family.  It is the context that drives the point home – context which explains and explores the multi-dimensions of any concept or idea.

As a business communicator, I frequently write about or present case studies about how company A bought company B’s product and got XYZ results.  Many of us do this on a regular basis.  But how often do we think, when coming up with one of these case studies, that what we’re doing is actually telling a story?

Would thinking of it that way change the way we wrote?  Would it make it more personal, and therefore, more memorable and maybe (gasp!) even more emotionally engaging?

It makes good business sense to ask these questions, because studies show that the purchase decision is influenced heavily by the way we feel about the purchase.  This means that emotional engagement simply can’t be dismissed when we think about how to communicate with one another about our brand value.

This it could – and should – change the way we tell our stories to one another.  In the age of “virtual” communications, where email, videos, tweets and blogs replace face-to-face communications, it’s the people who can tell stories effectively who emotionally engage their audience and will be the most effective as a result.

So how do you tell a good story?  Humm….sounds like a good question to explore in future blog posts.

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A brand messaging architecture is the first thing you should develop to help you manage your brand image and communications.  It is primarily used by internal departments and external vendors (such as PR firms) who communicate externally to customers, partners, and influencers.  The brand messaging architecture is a formal structure that summarizes and communicates messages about your company, products, and services. 

There are a lot of components to messaging and not all of them will be needed for every brand messaging architecture.  Depending upon your situation, you will choose from the following components to develop the messaging that you need:

– Vision Statement
– Mission Statement
– Positioning Statement
– Value Proposition
– Key Messages
– Proof Points

Here’s an example of a brand messaging architecture for a global non-profit professional association, the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (it’s an older version of the brand architecture, so I can share it).

Example: Brand Messaging Architecture

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Branding is as much an art as science.  As a science, there are the “to do’s” of branding which encompass processes and procedures for marketing a product.  As an art, branding is about influencing and managing perception on a grand scale, a much trickier proposition.

So it’s clear there is a lot to building a brand.  Now, where do you start?

Before you create that product launch, media event, or advertising campaign, you’ll need to be clear about who you want to talk to, what you want to say to them, and how you want them to feel about it.  In addition, consumers should be hearing the same messages about your product from all parts of your organization.  So, if you are selling an apple, it wouldn’t be good if some people in your organization describe the apple as red, juicy, and delicious, but others are talking about how great apple trees are for planting in a garden.

My new book, Before the Brand, contains a process that will help you create a messaging baseline for your company, product, or service.  I developed the process over the course of many years providing messaging for high technology companies such as Apple, Adobe, and Cisco.

But the value in the process described in Before the Brand isn’t simply the solid foundation you will create with positioning and messaging.  Rather, one of the most significant values of the messaging process itself is that it’s experiential.  You will take the people who know and care about your company, product, or service through a step by step process that results in alignment of participants – from company executives and stakeholders to partners and customers.  In addition to creating alignment – and therefore making it easier to communicate consistently – participants will also consciously debate what kind of perception they want to create in the mind of your consumer.

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