I have always loved colour and type. Even when I worked as an editor – where my focus was words – I was particularly interested in the way that design, typography, words and imagery could combine to create an amazing emotional and intellectual response.
Some of my interest here was intuitive, and some was studied. I worked to understand layout. I battled with ugly typefaces. And realised that there really are people who have a much better eye and feel for design than I do. But my efforts provided me with a deep appreciation.
These days, whether we like it or not, all of our work is in sales or marketing. Whether we are communicators, designers, business leaders or just starting out, we are all, always pitching. Always selling. Always communicating.
And with this in mind, it’s important to know a little about how design, colour and type all affect the story you are telling. Even if that story speaks to the unconscious mind of your audiences. This animated infographic from MDG Advertising lets you in on some of the secrets used by professional designers. Pay particular attention to the different ways that men and women react and interpret design and colour. It may just change your day.
Living, as we do, in a time of rapid change. Of transformation and uncertainty. It can be difficult to see what our long term future holds.
You can see it in the words we use to describe our lives. These words are flat. Uninspired. Transactional. We have entire governments swept to power on the back of the laziest of phrases and political slogans masquerading as thought-through policy agendas.
But we have not arrived in this desolate landscape randomly. It is the end-result of a thousand micro choices that consolidate our misery.
It is as if we have abdicated our personal responsibility for imagination in favour of a strange wariness of close fears. Today, in Australia, it was announced that we now hold the record for economic growth without a recession. We have experienced 26 years without interruption to our prosperity. Twenty six years without a downturn.
We have a generation of people who have known only growth. There have been few labour strikes. Precious few public protests. This perceived prosperity has dulled our senses to our own personal agency. The storytellers who ignite our hearts and passions no longer tread the public boards of our most important debates – they pop up in our Facebook news feeds, talking at TED or singing on “Insert Your Country Here’s” Got Talent.
But this can change. The story is the trick. And if we do want to reclaim our sense of the future, then there’s much to learn from the careful crafting that goes into the stories of digital media’s emerging heroes. Just watch this clip from America’s Got Talent. Think about the one clear message. See how you are drawn in to this story. Understand how and why you respond to what you see and what you hear. And see how the foreground, backstory and framing create the conditions for you to take the story into your heart.
Then think about what you can do to change your sense of what is possible. You only need try.
Facts and figures are boring. Yet almost every B2B brand relies on facts and figures to tell the story of their products or services. Countless whitepapers, videos and presentations wheel out the features and functions or a particular platform, technology or product line, yet everything that we know, as marketers, as data analysts, tells us that there is a better way. A more efficient way. In fact, neuroscience has provided vital clues that help us understand not the power of logic to drive purchase, but the importance of emotion to tip our decision-making.
So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.
But it is one thing to know something and quite another to do something about it. Just imagine being the marketing director pitching in a new campaign to your CMO where there is little reference to product features and functions. Imagine the questions. The feedback. The personal-professional risk.
This week I recorded a podcast with the NewsModo team. We talked about branding, social media and content marketing. But mostly we talked about how storytelling allows brands to tap into the minds and emotions of their customers. One of the examples I had in mind was this video from the recent election campaign. The video captured my imagination because it’s a great example of how facts and figures can be incorporated into a campaign that drives not just action but activation. In fact, if brands (and political parties) can learn anything from the election results, it is this … listen to your audiences, understand what drives their collective mindset and help or encourage them to act on that mindset.
When you have a moment, check out the NewsModo podcast. There have been some great guests – and it may just inspire your next, best idea.
It is easy to get excited about big data. After all, it’s lots of small pieces of data woven together into a patchwork that stretches our imaginative capacity. Just think, we’re creating more data every two days than was produced from the dawn of civilisation up to 2003 (or so Google’s Eric Schmidt claims). That means that every photo, status update, movie, podcast, purchase, share and any other form of interaction that we make on a digital forum – PLUS all the metadata of that interaction – is adding to a massive pool of data that sits like a great digital artesian basin underneath our digital experience.
The question about all this data, however, is what do we do with this big data? Sure we can mine it, connect internal and external data. We can use it for retargeting. Or forecasting. Or analysis. We can put it into charts and infographics and in doing so, add our own efforts to the big data explosion. But it feels like we are just scraping the surface. It feels like we are in our digital infancy when it comes to big data.
But there are a few companies who are innovating on the edge and taking a different approach. For these companies, big data is just a means to an end. The real value is not in the data but in the capacity to tell stories with that data. It’s the realm of big narratives – and it is as exciting as it is terrifying.
The team at Narrative Science have been focusing on machine learning and linguistics for some time. Their natural language generation platform takes big data and applies artificial intelligence to it in such a way that reports are not just visual but contextual. That is, there is the result and the reasoning all-in-one report.
I have written about QuillEngage previously, the platform that turns your Google Analytics data into a summarised report email. So I was interested to see what would come out of their new Twitter report.
Based on an analysis of my Twitter traffic and the traffic of my recent followers, Quill examined around 13,000 tweets to produce the report. Most interesting to me was the analysis of my own tweets and the topics that “my community” engage in. While my follower numbers and ratio put me in the “99th percentile of Twitter users measured by followers”, the report provides little in terms of suggestions for growth / improvement. But it does confirm what I suspected. And in most cases, that’s how many marketers are using big data at present – as a sense check. A validation.
But as technologies like this get better, more automated and programmatic, there’ll be less sense checking. Less validation. And more action. It’s just that that action won’t be taken by you or I.
I never wanted to be a businessman. All I wanted was to do my craft … and climb mountains.
— Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia
Origin stories are vitally important for your business. They are vital for the way that your customers perceive and engage with you and they are vital for your employees. But the reason they are important is because they provide us all with a narrative that speaks to our sense of purpose.
Often when we think of purpose, we think of our “mission” statements – or our “vision”. But purpose goes beyond these often banal statements. Purpose speaks to our hearts not to our heads. If it is not a driving energy, then it’s only words on a page.
The challenge is that our “purpose” is hard to define.
And in many ways, this is why it is so important. It is what marks us out as unique or worthy of attention. It’s both an energy that propels us and a sense of gravity that attracts others.
Watching this video was an interesting experience. It’s not really a documentary about the clothing brand, Patagonia. It’s the story of the business’ owners and customers. It is brand storytelling at its finest. As Mitch Joel explains, this is how your brand should tell a beautiful story. And one of the things the video does well is that it shares Patagonia’s purpose. In doing so, it not only attracts an audience, it brings them into the experience of the story.
And while not all of us have the kind of budget that allows us to produce a 30 minute case study of this quality, every single business has an origin story. And telling that story can transform your business and the relationships you create around it. So I wonder, how are you telling your origin story today?
When I studied literature, I was fascinated by form. By the words. Arrangement. Layout. And narrative. I loved the way that John Fowles would create untrustworthy narrators that led the story in new, unexpected directions. And I loved Antonin Artaud’s dangerous writings. Or Christopher Barnett’s language that was so revolutionary it broke the words. I was intrigued and excited by writing that would break the language and our expectations and then reconstruct things completely new. It was a disruption to thought and expectation and it blew my mind.
But the best of these writers were not rampant destroyers of meaning. They were articulate explorers pushing the limits of language and the implicit bargain that writers make with their readers. Sometimes it would work and take us – together – on new journeys. And sometimes I’d throw the book against the wall and leave it to make its own way back to the shelf. The thing is, that the best of these writers were masters of their craft – and they’d work very deliberately to take us as readers on a journey – it just so happened that the by-product of that journey would be some form of collision or catastrophe of language. And in that way, the product of the writing was not the book – but the experience. Of reading. Co-creating meaning. Disruption.
So when I attend a conference, view a video or see a presentation, I look for something that is going to set my heart ablaze and send my mind wheeling. I wonder where I will be taken or how I will be surprised. And more often than not, I am disappointed.
There is no narrative. No journey to follow and become involved with. It’s just facts. Numbers. And opportunities for micro-naps.
It’s a slow death being hammered by statistics.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, explains the formula deployed to great success by Pixar. It goes something like this:
Once upon a time <something happened>.
Every day <life went on like this>.
One day <something changed>.
Because of that <the world was never the same again>.
Until finally <a new world became the next chapter>.
Now, I am not going to say that this formula will change your world. Nor that each presentation needs to be a masterpiece.
But if your job is communication (and if it’s not, why are you presenting?), then do your audience a favour and wheel out the Pixar Pitch. You might just be amazed at the impact it has.
Storytelling is hard work. It’s intricate, nuanced and can be expensive. But we crave it, know it and hold good storytelling and storytellers close to our hearts. After all, we all have books that we’d fight for.
But in this world of digital media, simple tools for content creation, video production, worldwide publishing and distribution, we are confronted by so much fog. Static. Unimaginative or unengaging material. There are words but fewer stories that we can get our teeth into.
When I was a child, I would voraciously read short history project books. They were text books for children much older than I, but they set out a world that was familiar but strangely different. I read about Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth as they explored the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. I read about Leichhardt and the heartbreak of Bourke and Wills. I read about bushrangers and the fear they spread through the isolated parts of New South Wales and Victoria. And on long car trips, I would look out the very same landscape that these people lived in. We would visit the towns that they passed through, and stood in the places that they too, had stood.
Australian history is, after all, a shallow pool. And there are echoes at every turn.
The amazing thing about these stories, is that they have stayed with me always. They resonated deep inside me. And these days, with all the static filling our digital communications, we need to remember and re-craft the type of story that goes deeper. For ourselves and for our audiences. And this great collection of insight from Adam Westbrookwas collected by Martin Couzins – and may just provide us all with a direction worth following.
I have always been a fan of storytelling. But not everyone is keen to be a story reader. Or a listener. For in our time crunched lives, our own attention is our most limited resource. Accordingly, communication has been concatenated, shrunk, manipulated. We’ve got our 30 second, 60 second and elevator pitches down pat.
But a picture is worth a thousand words
As someone who loves language I have always bristled at the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sure a picture might be worth a thousand words, but they’d be indifferent words. They’d be rushed, debased, uneven. Or so lean that they lose the humanity, beauty and creativity that inspired them.
Fortunately, like so many things, words are a kind of fashion, and it feels like they may just be coming back in vogue. Witness the popularity of longer form writing like Snow Fall. And the growing popularity of newish text driven platform Medium.
From PowerPoint to SlideDocs
Nancy Duarte’s new Slidedocs book provides a great framework for us to reconnect with our love of text, storytelling and technology. And it does it using that old nemesis, PowerPoint. You can look through and download the book, interrogate its construction and authoring and apply it to your own needs. Sound like a plan? I’m hoping it’s the start of a whole new chapter.
And when you’ve finished, click on through to the Vimeo site and review the comments. One of the commenters explains that as the bottom is 663ft down, Guillaume is nowhere near the bottom. But the narrative, the frame and our own interpretation makes us believe that he did reach the dark, lonely depths.
So as you are planning your next campaign, storyboard or blog post, think about the story you’ll tell. Think about the depths that you want to trawl. And then take a deep breath and take us with you in your free fall.
Social media has a powerful ability to stimulate and create conversation. But when you are planning your communications, it’s essential to know your audience. And these days, “knowing” your audience isn’t just about mapping, analysing and researching. It’s about understanding their “pungent granularity”.
Pungent granularity and the social audience
To survive in a world where consumers expect one-to-one marketing and real time business responsiveness, we need to move beyond the simple targeting of our consumers. This means responding to:
The three forces of self-segmentation: Before we take an action, make a decision or puts our hand into our pocket to actually transact, we make a quick personal assessment. We self-segment according to our needs (does this “thing” solve a need state that I have), behaviours (does this “thing” reinforce, challenge or shift my behaviour) and attitudes (how does this “thing” make me feel?). Marketers must understand the nuances of this self-segmentation and bring this understanding to their efforts
What we already know about our consumers: Whether we capture “big data” or just quickly trawl the social web, we can quickly amass a detailed knowledge of our consumers. The challenge with this becomes not one of data collection but of frameworks for making decisions and taking actions. This is where I quite love Sam Gosling’s OCEAN framework. Moving away from the MBTI mappings, he suggests that Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism can be easily assessed via our digital footprints. And in doing so, we can plan our communications accordingly
When we pull together all this information, we get a deep sense of our consumers. We know not just what they say they “like” but how this influences their actions and decisions. We understand their connections, social graph and the way that they operate in a digitally-connected world. And deeply buried amongst all this is the “trigger” – what motivates.
The “trigger” is the kicker
Take a look at this fantastic video featuring “illusionists and entertainers”, Penn and Teller. It’s on the subject of vaccinations. It’s forceful and NSFW (with a few F-bombs scattered throughout). The language is direct, the message clear and in your face.
But will it achieve what it is intended to do?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will. The motivation here – not of the creator – but of the viewer is triggered by the same level of frustration shown by Penn. Those who are pro-vaccination will be keen to share and validate their own position. Those who are anti-vaccination will reject the facts, figures and approach outright. The frame is out of focus for the second group – and the argument will be based on the framing of the data as a way of disputing what is “true”.
This is why wheeling out big data will also be challenging. While the Mayo Clinic clearly states:
“Vaccines do not cause autism. Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven’t found a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted.”Mayo Clinic – Childhood Vaccines: Tough questions, straight answers (here)
… many still view this sceptically.
But if there really is a desire to change the point of view (or point of belief), behaviours and attitudes of anti-vaccination folks, there is a need to more deeply understand them.