More than Words

storytelling

I love a good story. Is there anything more engaging or thought provoking than a compelling story?

No one seems to tell a better story than Pixar, the Walt Disney animated subsidiary. Pixar is renowned for its high quality animation and superb story lines. In a recent webinar I was directed to check out Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling to see how it parallels with digital brand storytelling.

So, what does Pixar have to say about storytelling?

Rule 1.                    You admire a character more for trying than for their success.

Rule 2.                    Keep in mind what’s interesting to an audience not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

Rule 3.                    Trying for theme is important, buy you won’t see what the story is actually about until you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Rule 4.                    Once upon a time there was       . Everyday,     . One day       . Because of that,    .because of that,     . Until finally    .

Rule 5.                    Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Rule 6.                    What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

Rule 7.                    Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

Rule 8.                    Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

Rule 9.                    When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next…lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

Rule 10.                 Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

Rule 11.                 Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Rule 12.                 Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Rule 13.                 Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Rule 14.                 Why must you tell this story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

Rule 15.                 If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

Rule 16.                 What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

Rule 17.                 No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

Rule 18.                 You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story telling is testing not refining.

Rule 19.                 Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great. Coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Rule 20.                 Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How’d you rearrange them Into what you do like?

Rule 21.                 You have to identify with your situation and characters; can’t just write “cool”. What would make you act that way?

Rule 22.                 What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

And there you have it (I think #4 and #10 are my favorites). To build on Pixar’s storytelling rules, Filmmaker Andrew Stanton offers great advice in his Ted Talk video, The Clues to a Great Story. One tip is “Make Me Care”. I think this is an important part of any story – even brand stories. Why should readers or viewers care about what a brand has to say? As we know, storytelling can be the best form of engagement. What better way to connect with customers than through brand storytelling? Yet, there must be a compelling reason for people to want to listen. This is where brands fall short. They usually spin yarns about their products or services, but few have the insight to offer the audience more. Stanton advices that storytellers should use what they know, expressing values they personally feel deep down to their core. How many brands can say that?

Here’s an example of a brand that I think did a great job with their brand story. It’s Guinness’ “Empty Chair” ad from July 4, 2014:

So what did you like about the Guinness example? How do you think the story aligns with Pixar’s storytelling rules?

Please comment, like, or share this story.

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Twitter Embraces New Features

New Release Shows Twitter Can Change

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Dismal market news dogged Twitter for much of 2014, as investors were continually concerned about the growth of the user base and the strategic direction of the company. In July, Market Watch reported shares had fallen 9.5% since first-quarter results were released in late April, and were down 39% year-to-date, mainly due to investor worries that the company’s user base wasn’t growing fast enough. A Huffington Post article later reported that Twitter posted a loss of $175 million, or 29 cents per share, in the third quarter of 2014. Additionally, Twitter was repeatedly compared with Facebook – both in number of users and flexibility. In the first quarter of 2014, Twitter reported 255 million monthly active users, compared to Facebook’s 1.3 billion monthly users. Facebook added new features and facelifts while Twitter’s functionality remained relatively unchanged.

But, 2015 brings a New Year and new promise for Twitter. This month, Twitter announced it is rolling out two new features, which are designed to make the platform more appealing. One feature is private group messaging and the other is the ability to shoot, edit and post videos directly through the Twitter app. While Twitter hopes to capture more new users to the platform, it also wants its current user base to use the site more often. According to Robert Peck, managing director and Internet equity analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, some analysts believe the new features, investments in advertising technology, and the company’s outreach to third-party software developers could be potential catalysts for Twitter having a “Facebook moment” in 2015.

Clearly, video is the king of content. Just on YouTube alone, over 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute! That is why the new video feature of Twitter maybe one of the most important. Previously, the only way for most Twitter users to share video was through Vine, Twitter’s standalone video app (which provided short, 6-second clips). Now, Twitter users can add video up to 30 seconds in length. Twitter for iPhone users can upload videos from the camera roll and Twitter promises to be expanding this functionality to Android soon. Twitter hopes the addition of video will promote richer, more frequent, and shareable content.

The new group messaging feature allows users to start conversations with up to 20 people on Twitter. Those people do not all have to follow each other to chat privately. Since its inception, Twitter has largely been focused on public conversations. Yet, with this new release, the ability for private conversations will be realized. This type of functionality should promote greater levels of engagement with users. Maybe more users who enjoy Facebook for its social collaboration will migrate to Twitter now that more social interactivity is possible. You can bet that’s what Twitter is aiming for.

Are We Too Connected?

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Brad Paisley has a song, “Welcome to the Future”, where he reminisces about childhood wishes, such as being able to watch TV on long trips and having arcade games at home. Now these things are available on his phone, from the palm of his hand. This kind of modernization is exciting and intoxicating. What was once thought impossible is now possible. We are lead to believe that if we just get connected and live in the digital stratosphere our lives will be easier, simpler, and smarter. With a simple press of a button we can manage bank accounts, buy products, play a game, or connect with people and brands we love. Even social media sites provide the ability to connect, but without face-to-face or telephonic conversations. We are easily convinced to join, like, share, upload, click, or check in. But, what’s the price we pay to reach ultimate connectivity? Is being so digitally connected really helping us or making us smarter?

A 2012 research report by Pew Research Center describes how analysts believe many young people growing up in today’s networked world and counting on the Internet as their external brain will be nimble analysts and decision-makers who will do well. However, these experts also expect that constantly connected teens and young adults will
thirst for instant gratification and often make quick, shallow choices. Survey respondents think educational reform and greater emphasis on social skills will be necessary in the future. Moreover, 42 percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement:

“In 2020, the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are ‘wired’ differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields baleful results”

The survey presents some interesting insights about concerns in the decline of deep analytical skills, critical thinking, and the ability of young adults to focus for long periods of time. Yet, Christopher Ferguson’s main point is that America is in a state of “moral panic.” This state of moral alarm is very similar to the outrage that shook up the nation’s prevailing, orthodox mores at the advent of cultural events such as comic books, rock and roll, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Is emerging technology presenting truly smarter options or are we sacrificing precious social and analytical skills in order to live by machine? As Sophocles once said, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

Let’s Get It Started

Our lives are surrounded by various forms of media – both traditional media forms, such as print, television, and telephonic, as well as emerging media, such as video, mobile, and social media.  Before jumping in to various topics on emerging media, let’s consider what is meant by the term.  According to West Virginia University’s IMC 619 Emerging Media and the Market class, emerging media is a “global term to cover social, digital and mobile communications”.  Think about how the vast array of devices interact with our daily lives.  It is an integral part of how we function and the majority of the population seems to have access to this emerging technology.  Pew Research Center states that 90 percent of people have a cell phone with 58 percent having a smart phone.  The capabilities of emerging media have surpassed what most people thought was possible just a few years ago.  Today, people can move seamlessly between conversations, web browsing, social interaction, etc. all from the palm of their hand.  Such levels of engagement and connection have also created a huge dependency on this type of media.  Most people admit they cannot do without their cell phone.  In fact, Pew’s Research shows that 44 percent of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night and 29 percent admit they cannot imagine living without their cell phone.

For marketers, the constant change in the emerging media landscape is dizzying and the capabilities require  constant nimbleness and creativity.  However, a marketer’s best friend in the emerging media market is data.  The more the better.  Marketers are using data to zero in and personalize their message to specific audiences.  Companies are turning to computer models that analyze massive pools of information to make inferences about health, personality traits, and even mood in real-time, in order to help them predict, and ultimately influence, the customer’s next purchase.  The sophisticated way in which it is now possible to gather or collect information about a consumer resembles a science fiction movie (think Minority Report).  Except the technology isn’t futuristic.  It is here.

While emerging media may seem invasive or intrusive, most consumers prefer to have an emotional connection with brands.  Michael Lazerow, the chief marketing officer of the Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, states that “the value of targeted marketing isn’t just from the marketing message itself, it’s from the intelligence and optimization” — data — “with each interaction that builds a one-to-one relationship with each customer to increase brand loyalty and drives sales.” There is a delicate balance between giving the customer what they want without being seen as intrusive.  Emerging media will always push the envelope and make us think and act in a whole new (and hopefully) smarter way.