I made a trek to China last month.
After 20+ trips to China since my first adventure in 1998, you would think they would feel humdrum by now. That couldn’t be further than the truth.
My senses still automatically jolt to high alert the minute I step off the plane. Inevitably, I will see something within 10 minutes that reminds me, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Splitting my time between Shanghai and Beijing, three snippets related to branding in China caught my attention.
LeBron James Gets This Branding Thing
Or at least his business advisors are switched on to the power of branding.
That’s why LeBron not only makes an annual trip to China, but leverages the time to spread the LBJ gospel through the Chinese media.
BQ Weekly is a lifestyle magazine that supplements Chinese newspapers.
The headline on the cover loosely translated says, “Like Me or Hate Me, You Have to Admire Me.”
Even if the line doesn’t resonate with you, you have to “admire” the consistency in building a brand that means the same thing across the world.
What Does Pricing Say About the Soup?
Our Beijing office sits in the Citic Building – also known as the “Chocolate Building” – with a range of restaurants within a 10-minute walk. One of my favorites is a Vietnamese Pho place. I’ve never paid much attention to the menu, instead pointing to the picture of the beef pho with a clever English comment like, “I’ll take this one.”
For whatever reason, I noticed the pricing on the menu when I was there last month.
You can see the small bowl runs 30 RMB while the large bowl runs 32 RMB or $4.93 versus $5.25.
Even I can do this math, figuring out that 32 cents gets you the larger bowl.
So what does the pricing say about the soup?
As best as I can surmise, they want you to order the large serving.
Which I did.
This Taxi Driving Takes Personal Branding to the Next Level
Many white-collar professionals in China choose English names to supplement their family-given Chinese names.
This makes it easier on Westerners who can struggle with certain sounds absent from the English language.
The driver we use for airport pickups/drop-offs in Shanghai demonstrates a certain amount of branding savvy in how he packages his name.
Dispensing with the first name, he simple calls himself Mr. Button.
Because he is.
On the button.3 comments
I enjoy leaving the realm of business communications once in a while for the purity of storytelling.
It doesn’t get more pure than the “Bookshop Santa Cruz.” Every time I step into the store a sense of discovery washes over me (and under me).
After spending the better part of a Saturday afternoon at the Bookshop – bought “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” – I decided to get in touch with Casey Coonerty Protti, who presides over the operation after taking the baton from her parents in 2006.
Casey was kind enough to answer some questions on the Bookshop’s story arc, one that has faced a few challenges in its time. You might have heard of this thing called the Internet.
Q. I know you grew up with the bookstore. Was there the “aha” moment in your life when you knew you loved books and wanted to point your career in this direction?
A. I was actually in graduate school studying nonprofit management when I realized that I kept relating every class lesson back to the bookstore. It was at that moment that I realized that I wanted to be part of something I believed in, that held roots for me and to be part of a community at its core.
Q. How do you define storytelling?
A. Wow … what a big question.
Q. I guess my interviewing style could use a little finesse. But please give it a shot.
A. I think at the core of storytelling is the idea that you capture someone’s imagination and allow them to find humanity and empathy in other people and places.
Q. When I was in the bookshop last month, I was struck by how the store’s organization seems fresh and so reader-friendly. Can you share some insights on your philosophy when it comes to organization?
A. Bookshop has many of the typical sections that any bookstore has, but we have made a few choices that I think speak volumes about our philosophy. The first is our “hardback wall” – a wall that takes up a large space in the center of the store. We decided to dedicate that wall to new hardcover books. As some bookstores put these books in their categories, we always felt that we need to make a statement about what is new and the value of a beautiful edition of a printed book. Which leads to our next choice – to try to arrange displays and features that allow readers to discover genres they weren’t looking for. The hardback wall is a compilation of many sections as are our displays and our staff favorite sections. It is our hope that someone who thinks they only like history will come to these areas and maybe find something in a different subject they didn’t know they wanted. We want our customers to expand their horizons in what they read. Finally, we believe that displays and organization should reflect our values and our community. We put up many displays about things/issues that are going on in our community, we promote local organization events, and we put up displays about topics that mean something to us.
Q. Is it fair to say that your staff reviews are the foundation of the discovery process for readers?
A. Yes. Besides our free bathrooms, it is the No. 1 thing that people comment on when they talk about what they like about Bookshop. What we can offer that Amazon can’t is a sense of discoverability and the core of that is our staff. Our staff loves books, and they love to share books with others. I hope one day I’ll produce buttons they can wear that say, “I am not an algorithm” to emphasize that their recommendations and conversations with customers are informed with a discussion and a creation of a relationship rather than a data mining experiment.
Side note: We decided to give Casey a running start on that pin.
Q. I love the levity in your store (as reflected in the photo below). How do you cultivate this fun vibe?
A. One of the best things about working at Bookshop is that the booksellers that work here are both incredibly intelligent and well-read, but also incredibly creative. I don’t know if it comes from strong imaginations created from reading books, but Bookshop’s booksellers love working with books, around other people who love books and they love finding each and any way to entice others to discover books.
Q. Is there a novelist that you think deserves more attention/readership than he or she currently receives?
A. My favorite book this year is by a debut author, Anthony Marra. His book, Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a heart-wrenching look at Chechnya through the eyes of a number of residents of one particular town. The writing is beautiful, the topic relevant and most of all, I can’t believe it is just a debut because both the subject matter and the approach are so mature. He is a rising star and the book was just named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.
Q. Is there anything you’d like to say about independent book sellers? It seems like you’ve cracked the code.
A. After a number of years when it seemed like every media pundit was talking about the death of the book, I am happy to report that many independent bookstores are not only holding their ground, but thriving. I think it is because they know their communities so well and have built relationships with their customers that their customers know they can’t find online. The Shop Local movement has flourished in the last decade which is directly tied to what we do. It is challenging to be a bookseller, but we are seeing that people still love books, and as long as they do and they value a physical place to shop for books, we’ll be just fine.
I can understand why Casey treats her role almost like the steward of a community treasure.
That’s exactly what it is.2 comments
There’s been much discussion including in this forum on the importance of storytelling techniques in social media.
Yet, the opportunity is bigger than just social media,. So many online interactions lend themselves to storytelling and ultimately fortifying the brand, even those that fall under the “mundane” category.
In fact, you could make an argument that the “mundane,” for example the confirmation for an online subscription, represents one of the best opportunities to stand out, since everyone else defaults to the status quo.
Is there any communication more dull than the out-of-office email?: “I am sorry I missed your email, but am currently out of the office (duh). I will get back to you when I return to the office on November XX.”
But author and customer service guru Marsha Collier crafts her out-of-office email with personality and pinch of levity.
A little bit of stage-setting –
Marsha got married last week.
An email trying to reach Marsha post-wedding triggered this note:
I am currently out of the office for my wedding and honeymoon.
I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return – but you know that’s only partly true. My devices will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I may need to interrupt my honeymoon from time to time to deal with something urgent.
That said, I promised my husband that after the wedding I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our honeymoon. So, I’m going to experiment with something new. I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:
- If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on my honeymoon, please resend it to ********** and I’ll try to respond to it promptly.
- If you think someone else at The Collier Company might be able to help you, feel free to email my assistant at ********* and she’ll try to point you in the right direction.
Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return …
In talking to Marsha, she made a point of saying her email was patterned after one crafted by Josh Kopelman. Recognizing storytelling gold is half the battle.
And congratulations to Marsha and Curt on their big day.2 comments
Judging from the comment in my post, “Can Storytelling Differentiate a PR Agency,” and an email that arrived shortly after (more on this in a minute), I appear to have gotten the attention of the National Storytelling Network.
They’re not pleased with me.
In my defense, I have come clean on numerous occasions making the point that the type of storytelling applied to business communications differs from pure storytelling and what professional storytellers do. Our approach “borrows” the techniques of storytelling to benefit the communications of our clients.
Here’s the email that takes me to the proverbial woodshed (with my commentary naturally):
As a professional storyteller, I continue to be frustrated by the misrepresentation of a very specific, age-old art form.
We’ve got the makings of a classic story arc with frustration serving as the crisis.
Storytelling is telling a story. Simple. Yet not.
No argument on this point. BTW, punctuation adds a nice touch.
For those of us who have honed our crafts, learned stories, traced their origins, polished phrases, worked on gestures and facial expressions all meant to entertain and edify a listening audience, the use of the word “storytelling” to describe any other process or product is just plain wrong.
It seems reasonable to have different types of storytelling. I don’t think anyone confuses oral storytelling or professional storytelling with selling pancake syrup.
PR agents are no storyteller. Ad execs are not storytellers. Novelists and film makers are not storyteller. Yes, what they do is an art form. But so is storytelling.
Advertising is not storytelling? You may convey a min story compressed into 1-2 minutes in order to sell a product. A vignette, perhaps. But not a story.
And certainly not storytelling.
Good to know there’s a time requirement for a story. And really? You don’t think Spielberg is a storyteller?
Our very identity is being hijacked. Our art form is being diluted and misrepresented.
Please, please, find another word. Be specific. About what you do. About what we do.
No one dislikes a hyjacking more than me. Let’s find the middle ground. I suggest you make an effort to use the phrase “oral storytelling” or “professional storytelling,” and I will be conscious of applying phrases like “storytelling techniques” and “brand storytelling.”
It truly makes a difference.
Check out National Storytelling Network, would you please? You will be delighted, entertained, educated. perhaps you will understand why this is such an issue to so many of us!
You got it! I’ll check it out!
L. Schuyler Ford
At this point, I could say I’ll report back on how this story unfolds.
But according to L. Schuyler, that would be “plain wrong.”
So let’s go with — if this lively debate takes another twist, I’ll be happy to share it in a second post.9 comments
Every PR agency touts its storytelling prowess.
When everyone gravitates toward the same shiny objective, it tends to lose meaning. You can start to get a feel for how this plays out through a simple Factiva (massive database of publications) search on the number of stories that contain the word “storytelling” going back 10 years.
I question whether the growing usage of the word makes for a happy ending because it causes the marketplace, specifically those who buy communication services, to perceive storytelling expertise as a commodity; i.e., all PR firms do this.
Yet, I view us as one of the few PR agencies that walks the storytelling talk, evolving the theory into practical techniques that get applied to client campaigns.
But have we baked this attribute into our brand?
The honest answer is there’s work to be done.
Years ago in a Q&A on storytelling, Kathy Hanson asked me, “While your blog focuses significantly on storytelling in business, your company’s website, www.hoffman.com, does not seem to play up storytelling. Is that a fair observation and if so, is there a reason behind not emphasizing storytelling on your agency’s site?”
At the time, I responded:
- That’s a fair statement. We’ve debated how much to emphasize our storytelling expertise on the Agency website. The challenge relates to economics. The amount of money that companies allocate to outside storytelling services is a tiny fraction of what’s earmarked for public relations services. In a world where labels often point the way, it’s important that people searching for PR services find their way to our doorstep.
OK, so I made a “slight” miscalculation, losing sight of this concept called marketing.
We’re now making a conscious effort to accentuate our storytelling expertise as a brand attribute.
If you search on “PR storytelling,” you’ll find that we show up on page 1 and usually in the top-three results (the intersection of SEO and PR).
We’ve also recently created an ad that delivers this message.
Looking to the future, we’ll be bulldozing our company website with hopes of going live with the new site in the April timeframe. We believe the new site affords the best opportunity yet to differentiate our brand, including our storytelling expertise.
It’s all part of our quest to be the cobbler’s kids who have shoes.5 comments