The Best Business Storytelling Posts from 2014 (Part I)

After 600+ posts, I feel that I’ve honed my voice. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every post hits the mark (or even gets horse-shoe close).

Still, I’ve strived to apply the same counsel we share with clients: Offer fresh takes that help those in communications.

As far as what constitutes the “best,” it’s a mashup of my subjective grade and number of views.

Here goes —

Puppy Love with Drama - video storytelling

And what happens to the same video when I remove the bad stuff?

Spoiler alert: The tension dissipates.

Puppy Love without Drama- video storytelling

  • Omnicom and Publicis Finally Agree on a Message: We’re Done! I thought this transaction was ill-conceived from the get-go. What I didn’t anticipate was the irony of the people behind the messaging morphing into the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. This headline gets my vote for the best of the year.

I’ll publish the rest of the list on Wednesday.

 

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This Word Visual Serves Up Thanksgiving Humor

I explored the concept of word visuals earlier this month as the perfect way for PR professionals to bridge into the visual world.

For those not familiar with word visuals, one “packages” clever words in a way that brings a visual dimension to communications. What’s key is they emphasize the words with the design element taking a subservient role in the visual storytelling.

The timeline is a natural frame for word visuals. If you can hold a pencil, you command the design proficiency to create a timeline.

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, what better time than to dust off one of my all-time favorites word visuals, a timeline called “Thanksgiving With My Family” by Scott Bateman (appreciate Matt Bors’ helping hand in finding proper attribution).

Thanksgiving Timeline “Thanksgiving With My Family” by Scott Bateman - visual storytelling

In reverse-engineering the timeline, a few points rise to the surface that can be applied to business communications:

  • Design: This is what I mean by requiring zero design expertise. The timeline consists of a bar, a line and words. A fifth grader could create this visual on a mobile phone.
  • Details Fuel the Storytelling: We don’t just learn that the Dad is in love. He’s set his sights on “that one checker at Wal-Mart.”
  • Show, Don’t Tell: Actions carry the narrative with the adjectives and adverbs accentuating select parts of the story.

Here’s hoping no one throws up on your shoes tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Side note: For more on this topic — design, not how to survive Thanksgiving with the family — check out the post “Helping Non-Designers Get the Visual Storytelling Religion.”

 

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Five Business Storytelling Lessons in a 75-second Video From Canal+

I came across this video “Never Estimate the Power of a Great Story” back in 2009.

Colleague and client Wendy Zajack recently brought the video to my attention again. After giving it another watch – even knowing the ending, the humor still slaps you across the face – I realized the video delivers a pain-free lesson in business storytelling.

Sure, the protagonist manages to escape death several times – machine guns, a cut-down tree, a waterfall that looks like Niagara Falls and a circular saw – but there are some classic storytelling techniques at work:

1. Creating drama calls for bad stuff to happen to the main character: Naturally, companies struggle with this one. Communication professionals are schooled in telling positive stories and when “negatives” do surface, the work goes into how to diffuse, not accentuate, the “negatives.” Yet, without the bad stuff there is no drama.

2.  Exaggeration: Whether it’s words or visuals, exaggeration catches the viewer’s attention. I call these “what the hell” moments. When the protagonist in the video is hugging the tree and you hear the chain saw scream to life, you’re thinking “what the hell.”

3. Incongruity:  The dictionary defines this word as “strange because of not agreeing with what is usual or expected.” I love this storytelling technique. When the video shows the protagonist down to his boxers being engulfed in some type of wooden box, it’s definitely incongruent. By the way, this technique is particularly effective in the B2B world where elements from every-day life are often incongruent with a given industry.

4. The unexpected: As you wind your way toward the conclusion of the video (second 54), the last thing you expect is our boy rationalizing to the husband how he ended up in the closet.

5. Levity: As shared before, I view levity as the killer app for business communications. Because companies tend to take themselves so seriously, giving the reader/viewer/listener a reason to simply smile is a winning action.

It’s true that the production quality of the Canal+ video also played a role in the narrative. Filming a guy dodging bullets takes serious money.

Still, the techniques in the video hold relevance for business communicators.

Side note: For more on failure in the context of business storytelling, check out the post “Removing the Tension from the Budweiser Puppy Love Video (literally).”

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Does Digital Savvy Pay Off in a Silicon Valley Political Election?

Ever since Barak Obama parlayed digital pyrotechnics into a stay in the White House, politicians have embraced the online world with the fervor of a Tuscaloosa preacher.

If digital could be a difference-maker in an election, it seems logical to think that Silicon Valley — the place where construction workers use Yelp to find restaurants, make the reservation on OpenTable and then tweet about the free canapés — would be that spot.

The perfect petri dish came to the fore in Ro Khanna taking on incumbent Mike Honda in the recent election for California’s 17th Congressional District, an area that covers a wide swath of Silicon Valley.

An Obama protégé, I assumed that Khanna would run a campaign heavy on the bits and bytes. But what I wondered was how much separation would this create with Honda who at 73 years of age sits at the far edge of the digital native classification.

My snapshot analysis starts with their websites:

Khanna Website - 2014 political election

 

Mike Honda Website -  - 2014 political election


Khanna’s site has the more switched-on look with the vertical scroll that works so well on mobile devices. Still, Honda scores points with a pop culture visual that borrows from Mad Men.

Turning to Twitter …


Khanna Twitter -  - 2014 political election

 

Mike Honda Twitter -  - 2014 political election


Khanna definitely brings a fresh look to his account. Plus, he gets the informality of Twitter with the closing phrase on his profile, “A little bit nerdy.”

Still, the numbers are the numbers, and Honda’s 14.7K followers crush Khanna’s 3,646 followers, which brings me to another point. Honda started tweeting in October 2008. Khanna joined in August 2012, making it appear that he viewed the social media platform as just another communications channel for his election campaign.

If someone could ever figure out how to roll back your Twitter start date like an odometer on a used car ready for Craig’s List, I’m guessing there are a few politicians who would buy such a service.

What about Facebook?


Khanna Facebook  - 2014 political election

 

Mike Honda Facebook - - 2014 political election


Again, I like the consistency of Khanna’s branding in his social platforms, and this time, he’s got the upper hand with 21,848 likes compared to Honda’s 11,510 likes.

Taking a look at Instagram …


Khanna Instagram  - 2014 political election

 

Honda Instagram  - 2014 political election


Instagram looks like a wash with neither politician emphasizing the social media tool.

As for YouTube …


Khanna YouTube  - 2014 political election

 

Honda YouTube  - 2014 political election


Like Instagram, neither candidate is exactly killing it. Most of the videos don’t crack the 100-view mark, and none of the videos receive 1,000 views.

My takeaway: While the stats reflect a growing appetite for video, a dull video is still a dull video. It also seems to indicate that integrating an amusing cat video into a political campaign would be high-reward proposition.

Back to the original question of much separation between Khanna and Honda when it comes to online presence — it turns out that my premise was wrong.

Not only did Khanna gain zero advantage from his online presence, but one could make an argument that the 73-year old Honda and his camp actually enjoyed an advantage on the digital front.

Just don’t expect a future Honda campaign to deliver a viral video of a cat coding a mobile app.

 

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What the Heck Is a “Word Visual?”

My post last Wednesday explored how non-designers in the communications business can get the visual storytelling religion.

While the vast majority of PR folks struggle to bring a visual dimension to communications, there’s a design technique that plays to our strength.

What I call “word visuals” come in three flavors:

  • Clever words that stand on their own: The words, sometimes in hand-written form, completely carry the day. Little or no design goes into this type of visual storytelling.
  • Speech cloud from a celebrity: I get a lot of mileage from this technique which is particularly effective for B2B companies where you don’t expect a Conan O’Brien to surface.
  • Replace the words in an existing visual: Take something that already exists and replace the words with your own.

Clever Words That Stand on Their Own

One of the best examples of this technique comes from Douglas Wray who broke down the essence of social media platforms with the help of a donut.

Donuts - Handwriting -visual storytelling- word visual

Again, a third grader could design this visual. The power comes from the cleverness in the words.

The imperfection of the handwriting actually adds to the visual appeal. Check out what happens if we take the same content, but package it with typography:

Donuts - Typeset- visual storytelling- word visual

Using type results in a less interesting visual. There’s a certain beauty to the rawness of handwriting.

Even a few words can create a powerful visual. BusinessInsider wrote a feature on Ben Silbermann, Pinterest CEO, that included the Venn diagram below

Venn Diagram - visual storytelling- word visual

Just three words with two overlapping circles and voila — a touch of levity has been added.

Speech Cloud with a Celebrity

I noted earlier that I deploy this technique on a regular basis.

When Jolie O’Dell, a journalist at VentureBeat, bitched about PR professionals accompanying executives in press interviews, I served up the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld:

No PR Person for You- visual storytelling- word visual

As a second example, a post lamenting the lack of budget information in RFPs riffed off of Jay Leno and his diction during his monologues when he hosted the Tonight Show.

Leno - Work with Me - visual storytelling- word visual

Replace the Words in an Existing Visual

Literally anything with writing on it becomes a candidate for this technique:

  • Books
  • Posters
  • Billboards
  • Movie posters
  • Signs
  • Even a soda can (more on this in a moment)

In a post that examined anecdotes in business storytelling, we found a photo of a person holding a sign at a football game and took the liberty of changing the sign to cheer on the Anecdotes (GIF toggles between the two):

Go Anecdotes - visual storytelling- word visual

I mentioned this technique can even be applied to a soda can. Playing off New Coke, we inserted Twitter predicting that a new version of the social tool would come to the market.

Twitter Cola - visual storytelling- word visual

Again, these types of visuals depend on words to do the heavy lifting.

Equally important, you can create them with minimal design expertise, though mimicking a typeface on a soda does require someone at the controls of Photoshop.

Word visuals at their best can trigger that “what the heck!” moment from the reader.

Side note:  In the right hands, crafting words in SlideShare can become a poor man’s video. The post, “The Beauty of Words Can Push into Visual Storytelling” includes an example of this.

 

 

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