Sunday, May 4, 2014

8 Essentials for Effective Brand Storytelling

Effective brand stories engage people in ways that drive real business results. 

According to Bernie Thiel, a marketing consultant and partner at the firm Corporate Narratives Group, effective brand stories possess these characteristics:

Relevance – Show that you know your audience - what inspires them as well as their needs and struggles.

Credibility – Leveraging your leadership and expertise gives consumers qualified reason to listen and learn ... and act with trust. 

Compelling – Artful selling touches the consumer's head and heart.

Persuasiveness – An effective brand story is like an informative trail that leads the reader to an enticing, actionable conclusion.

Timeliness – This goes hand-in-hand with relevance.  Evergreen stories may inform, but they don’t trigger immediate action.

Understandable – Don’t let creativity bury your pitch.  Have a clear story line with coherent messages and defined action points.

Informative – Great brand stories educate and cultivate consumers. 

Authenticity – Fakes reveal themselves and in marketing deception is a brand killer. Brand stories offer opportunities to share what’s real and worthwhile about a product, brand or parent company.

I’ve only paraphrased Thiel’s points so check out his excellent post published in Brand Strategy Insider

Friday, April 25, 2014

Google Street Views juxtaposed with historical paintings unite past and present

I admire a well-crafted visual that speaks volumes. Check out this series by British collage artist Halley Docherty, whose images create a fascinating moment in time travel by superimposing historical paintings onto present day Google Street Views.
Painting: Night view of Saruwaka Street (1856) by Utagawa Hiroshige. Photo: This view south in Asakusa, Tokyo, is in an area nearly destroyed in 1923, by the Great Kanto earthquake. Photograph: Halley Docherty

Painting: La Modiste Sur Les Champs-Élysées (1889) by Jean Béraud. Photograph: Halley Docherty

Painting: A Regatta on the Grand Canal (c.1740) by Canaletto. Photograph: Halley Docherty

Painting: The 9th of November, 1888 by William Logsdail (1890) A Lord Mayor's Procession passes through Bank Junction. On the left side of the canvas is The Old Bank of England, shown here 50 years before demolition. Photograph: shystone/Reddit

See images from the London series

See images from the Global series 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

5 Cool Photo Editing Apps

If you use a smartphone or tablet to take commercial photos, the editors at Business News Daily suggest these photo editing apps for iOS and Android available free or in premium versions at app stores.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Designed for on-the-go photo editing, Adobe Photoshop Express is an entry-level photo editing app that offers a handful of features for quick edits and automatic fixes. Basic editing tools include crop, rotate, flip and red eye removal. You can also enhance photos using slide controls to adjust clarity, contrast, tint, exposure, temperature and more. 

Adobe Photoshop Express can be downloaded for free at the Apple App Store and Google Play marketplace. In-app purchases deliver additional features, such as the Looks pack for additional filters and the Nose Reduction pack to remove grains and speckling. 


Acquired by Google in 2012, Snapseed is a free iOS and Android app that offers a slew of professional-level photo editing features. To polish photos, the Auto Correct feature enhances colors, exposure and contrast in a single tap. The Tune Image feature tweaks brightness, shadows, white balance, saturation and other effects, and the Selective Adjust feature also lets you highlight and focus specific objects or areas. Other features include frames, texture and tone adjustment, and sharing via email, Google+ and more. 

Photo Editor by Aviary

Photo Editor by Aviary is a full-featured photo- editing app for iOS and Android devices. In addition to being able to adjust photo quality — clarity, color correction, contrast, brightness, temperature and the like — Aviary lets users easily enhance and truly personalize their photos. Aviary also features a set of Cosmetic Tools, which gets rid of flaws and blemishes, whitens teeth, and removes red eye.


Camera+ is a powerful photo editing app equipped with several tools to transform images into works of art. One of Camera+'s standout features is the Clarity function — in one tap, Clarity corrects colors, adjusts contrast and brightness, and enhances details to bring life to dull, washed-out photos. 

Other features include digital flash to brighten dark photos; scene modes to create true-to-life photos based on your environment; brushing and layered effects; and borders and captions to for a personalized touch. Camera+ also comes with standard photo editing tools, such as rotation and cropping.  

Camera+ also syncs with iCloud, so you can easily take and edit photos between iCloud-enabled devices. 

Camera+ costs $1.99 for the iPhone and $4.99 for the iPad.


Repix lets you "remix" photos using a host of brushes that turns an iPhone, iPad or Android device into your own personal canvas. Using the tip of your finger, Repix's series of brushes lets you paint various decorations, effects, colors and artistic touches onto your images. 

In addition to style brushes, Repix features over a dozen design filters and a collection of frames to finish off your designs. Another plus: this app offers social media integration, enabling users to directly share photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, as well as email. 

Repix is available for free at the Apple App Store and Google Play Marketplace. Additional brushes and filters are also available via in-app purchases.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Billboard Effect: Sweeping Montage Puts a Human Face on Poverty in Rio’s Favelas

French photographer JR shoots provocative
black-and-white photos, enlarges them to 
billboard-size, then cuts and pastes 
them into sweeping narratives

Funny how the digital age has redefined terms like “billboard,” “cut and paste,” and “posting.” For our purposes here their meaning is strictly old-school and low-tech.  

JR is a young French photographer known for his provocative black-and-white photos, which he enlarges to billboard-size prints and then, working hurriedly under cover of night, cuts and illegally pastes them on large walls in public urban spaces.  Much of JR’s work makes a political statement, putting hauntingly real faces on serious social issues

For one project JR spent a year taking portraits of victimized women in Africa, Asia and South America. His goal was to showcase strong, courageous women struggling amid oppression and poverty. 

A profound example of this is JR's unauthorized 2008 “installation” in Rio de Janiero's infamous favela Morro da Providencia. These images are especially pertinent now as many favela residents are being evicted as part of Brazil's controversial "clean up" for the World Cup in June of this year and the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Images such as these need no written explanation.
Their scale and presentation make his message 
disruptive and thought-provoking. 

While some of JR’s installations are done legally, 
many such as this one are hastily cut and 
pasted up under cover of night.

Listen to this audio interview and you will find JR downright genial. Frankly, I’d expected someone angry and radical, but then I realized that JR's images are in the voice of a warmly compassionate storyteller. His artistic process includes using harsh, authentic settings because they give his images impact, context and relevance. It's interesting that JR began as a Paris graffiti artist and then gravitated to the billboard-like platform favored by advertisers.

Beyond words. One image expresses outrage 
and empathy for residents struggling invisibly. 

JR’s work reminds me that a compelling story can be told simply in a style and format that may not require words, sound -- or links. 

Monday, April 7, 2014


Definitely worth a quick read:  Indiewire’s Q&A interview with Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment and a leading figure in the emerging field of transmedia storytelling. Among his transmedia credits are major projects, such as "Avatar," "Pirates of the Caribbean," and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." 

What is transmedia? In Gomez’s words, transmedia is about delivering a big story across various media platforms so that the totality provides a richer, more dynamic and multi-channel viewer experience. 
There’s one central story in the form of a film or a TV or web series, but it is enhanced through supplemental side stories told via a mix of channels, possibly including an interactive book, a video site, video game, blog, Facebook community, Twitter news feeds, Instagram and Pinterest galleries, mobile apps, and more.  
The challenge with transmedia lies in funding, planning, producing and then choreographing the release of all this extra content.  But for popular, high profile franchises it may be possible to monetize each story stream with media and commercial partnerships and in some cases subscription access to exclusive material. 
On a smaller scale, could brands use transmedia for marketing? It's an intriguing idea. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014


An artist's sketchbook can read like a personal journal. These pages got me thinking ... what a great approach for telling brand stories - in print or digitally. 

Who could resist spending time snooping around? 

The art is totally engaging and I especially like the way the copy is broken into bits and bites. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


So interesting, this recent story in Adweek about high-end e-commerce brands using print magazines and catalogs to drive deeper fan engagement. 

You can't beat digital media for its touch-and-go immediacy, but there is something undeniably special about a good glossy pub - the kind you hang on to for months and leisurely re-read many times. 

Glossy print is expensive to publish of course, but for some brands it can be a worthy investment. I've long admired American Express for its very upscale Departures magazine - available exclusively to Platnium Card and Centurion members. 

This pub is world-classy - superbly written, beautifully edited and art directed, printed on quality paper stock - and it delivers real reader value with news, tips and feature stories that make you want to buy, buy, buy ... using your Amex card. 

Plus, each issue is plump with ads that command attention on the printed page. These ads translate well on screen, too, since Departures' members-only online edition is plenty luxe. However, the feel and smell of fine paper make them seem a lot more personal, if not more memorable. 

Yes, print is still relevant.  Costly no doubt, but Amex seems to monetize it just fine. Let's see how new players such as Porter do. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

5 Questions Help Filter and Align Social Content

Anyone managing a brand's robust social media program knows the pressure of pumping out continuous content.  

There are lots of ways to feed the content pipeline, like generating original material, re-purposing old content, tapping syndicated sources, re-tweeting, commenting on forums, posting news links, etc. Being flush with content isn't enough, however. It's important that every bit of content that's fed out connects back to the brand in a meaningful way.  

One way to keep content on-strategy is to use a brand filter against which all content - original or borrowed – can be judged.

Filtering brings focus and discipline to content management and an effective filter can simply pose five key questions:

1.     Does this content accurately position the brand?

2.     Is it relevant to our target audiences?  What value does it provide?

3.     Does this put the brand in proper, authentic context?

4.     Will it have traction in media channels that reach our targets?

5.    How does this content tie back to the business?  Does the message leverage brand news, a competitive attribute, keywords, or promote a measurable call-to-action?

 How do you align content with your communications and business strategy?  Do you use a filter? 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Instagram Hits 200 Million Users. But Will Any of Them Care About Your Brand?

Last week the social photo-sharing platform Instagram announced it had reached the 200 million monthly active users mark – doubling in size from just a year ago. Among those users are many well-known brands; reportedly 43% of the top 100 brands now post content on Instagram upwards of six times each week.
The highly viral nature of photo-sharing makes Instagram extremely appealing to marketers. Indeed, some brands see their content fly fast and wide on it, but in truth far more get little to no traction at all. Why not?  Consider that the core of Instagram’s estimated 75 million daily users is young – very young in fact. Half are females between the ages of 12-24, of which 20% are between 12-17. 
Is this group part of your target market? If yes, then certainly hitch your publicity wagon to Instagram’s success and give it a go. If not, your social marketing efforts are probably better spent elsewhere. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Filmmaker George Lucas: Great Illustrators Tell a Grand Story in a Single Frame

                                                                                                              Illustration by N.C Wyeth

Fascinating CBS Early Show interview with filmmaker George Lucas who said great American illustrators, including Maxfield Parrish, NC Wyeth and Norman Rockwell, inspired him to make movies. He talks about his admiration for illustrators and how they portray a rich and moving story in just a single image. As a youth Lucas aspired to become an illustrator - a dream dashed by his pragmatic father. But come to think of it, don't you see an illustrator's eye in his films? 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brilliant Branding: How 60's Ad Legend Mary Wells Launched Braniff and Changed the Airline Industry

Move over Mad Men. During the 60's (and for decades more) Mary Wells Lawrence was Madison Avenue's leading lady - famous for big ideas that got people talking and buying. She and other luminaries of her day, like Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, and Leo Burnett, were masters at commercial storytelling and it's worth rediscovering their work.

Case in point: Look at what Ms. Wells Lawrence did for the 1968 launch of Braniff International, then an unknown airline in an industry of bland carriers. 

First she teamed up with famed architect Alexander Girard; together they convinced Braniff's brass to paint each plane a bright acid hue. 

She then brought in Italian couturier Emilio Pucci to design ultra-mod uniforms for the crew, and used edgy decorators to produce chic space-age passenger terminals and aircraft cabins. 

From all of this (and more) she went on to spin advertising and publicity gold. 

Braniff debuted with a stunning ad campaign that heralded 'The End of the Plain Plane,' and indeed it was. Other carriers raced to slick themselves up, but Braniff did it first - and best. 

Braniff's launch was wrapped around a mammoth brand story - and it was integrated marketing way ahead of its time.

To get a sense of what Madison Avenue was really like back in the 60's, check out Mary Wells Lawrence's 2002 memoir, 'A Big Life in Advertising'. Also, check out Braniff's mind-blowing "End of the Plain Plane" TV spots.

Now that U.S. airlines are profitable again and with passenger satisfaction at an all-time low, perhaps it's time for airline marketers to study Braniff's playbook - or better yet, give Mary a call. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

5 Brand Story Essentials

Can you tell your brand story in under a minute? Of course you can (and indeed you should) with a pitch that's pithy, punchy and persuasive. Follow these steps to nail your message: 
1. Pain Relief: Zero in on the prickly sore spot your brand can relieve right now
2. Promise: In one sentence state your solution in "consumer speak" (no marketing jargon!)
3. Qualification:  In two bullet points or less, say why should we should believe you?
4. Relevance:  Put your pitch in context. What scenarios will your audience relate to? 
5. Dramatization:  Think carefully about your brand's voice. Are you friendly, funny or authoritative? Are you appealing to logic, fear or passion?  How might you tell your story visually, without words or sound? What sound bite or tagline will effectively brand your takeaway message? 
Madison Avenue used to churn out brilliant brand stories, like this classic commercial video for VW Beetle that sold frugality as mainstream chic. 


Good story in Fast Company about the value creative-minded people bring to the workplace - and not just for creative positions.  Author Bret Morstad, a successful food entrepreneur, makes the point that many creative thinkers are natural problem solvers - with an uncommon ability to see opportunities and challenges in unconventional ways. 

He adds that it's a mistake to assume that someone with, say a background in art or writing or music, would not do well in a non-creative role. Creative thinkers have a unique fluidity that lets them stretch their talent in unexpected ways - often with outstanding results. 

Peter Schultz, former CEO of Porsche, summed this up in a few words: "Hire character. Train skill." 

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Whole Foods Market does a brilliant job marketing via social media.

Grocery shopping as a topic can be deadly boring. Food talk can become heavy and preachy when it’s tied to issues like nutrition, health, worker rights or eco-friendly farming. Yet, Whole Foods embraces all of these and more - and does so in ways that are fascinating – even fun. How? Through upbeat, visually-driven storytelling.

Indeed, most of the company's posts are mini stories about a product, recipe, employee news, or issue. Presented with an appealing photo, some compelling copy, and a link to richer content archived on Whole Foods blog, each post aims to educate and inspire customers to shop, eat, and live really well.

Not that there’s not a lot of selling going on; every post is a sales pitch, after all. However, Whole Foods' style of selling is decidedly soft – consistently so across its social network that includes Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, YouTube, and more. 

The company does a great job tailoring its stories to each platform's strength. Let's look at how Whole Foods does this on Facebook:

Color, color everywhere 

Facebook itself is a pretty bland environment, which makes scrolling down a colorless timeline awfully tedious. That's not a problem for the 1.4 million fans who visit Whole Foods' main Facebook page for its vivid stream of posts featuring products, recipes, tips, news, promotions, and more. Photos are always intriguing and very colorful - so sharp and detailed they almost pop off the page. 

The same holds for posts that feature punchy graphic design. These posts catch your eye and then your imagination.  

Eye and appetite appeal 

You won't see slick advertising shots here. Food photos have easy-breezy eye appeal like what you'd see on a foodie blog. Recipes are meticulously styled, so every image is beautiful and appetizing. A short narrative gets you thinking, "Gee, I should make that." One click takes you to a related story or video on the company's blog that shows you how. Now that's integrated marketing.

"New on Aisle 5 ..."

Package shots are usually taken right in a Whole Foods store, not a studio. This post promoting a new bagged popcorn was shot smack in the snacks aisle. Yep, we like the package design alright - and seeing the photographer's hand adds a nice real-time touch. The accompanying story tells us this product contains Fair Trade ingredients - a Whole Foods mandate. Makes you feel good - and a bit hungry.   

Eye-grabbing Infographics 

Infographics on Whole Foods' timeline do double-duty, combining how-to tips with visual pizzazz. Case in point: This clever infographic teaches you how to cut a mango in 3 easy steps. Click on it and you land on a blog feature with mango recipes and more serving tips. Anyone who hasn't tried mangoes before certainly has good reason now. 

Visual Stories Sell Hard, Softly

Old-school TV and print advertising is relentlessly intrusive and self-serving. Marketing via social media requires a softer, more personal and engaging approach. Whole Foods succeeds at this by posting real, uplifting, and compelling stories that educate customers and get them excited about trying new foods, and eating foods that are tastier and healthier. 

Importantly, once you become a Whole Foods fan you won't feel much like grocery shopping anywhere else, right?

Job done. 

The next post in this series will look at how Whole Foods Market tells stories in pictures curated on Pinterest. 
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