Top Storytelling Techniques Posts ...

2010 top posts

It’s been a good year for Ishmael’s Corner.

Readership is up and WordPress still doesn’t charge.

No question, Steve Farnsworth’s invitation to participate in the #444PR forum (answer four questions over a four-week period) along with Paul Roberts and Todd Defren proved to be the biggest boost to bringing more folks to the site.

Reflecting on the past year, I’ve highlighted my personal favorites.

Here’s the first half of the list:

1) Open Letter to Toyota Customers Hits Pothole

Toyota dominated the business headlines for several weeks, never quite able to hit the right communications note to diffuse the crisis.

Its open letter to customers set a tone that I dissected in what was the most-read post in 2010.

The second line can only be described as Clintonesque:

I am truly sorry for the concern our recalls have caused, and want you to know we’re doing everything we can – as fast as we can – to make things right.

Notice that Toyota stays away from apologizing for an accelerator that seems to have a mind of its own. Instead, they’re sorry — no, make that “truly sorry” — that they caused heartburn from implementing the recall.

This type of language gamesmanship causes the customer to check out before getting to the part that matters – that Toyota is going “to make things right.”

2) Storytelling 140 Characters at a Time … Not

I conducted an experiment in micro-storytelling, reworking the first graph of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” into a tweet stream.

No nomination for a Pulitzer was forthcoming.

Nonetheless, an excerpt follows:

Here’s another proof point- the boy always goes down to help the guy carry his coiled lines.

If it’s pathetic, it’s not functional. If it’s functional, it’s not pathetic. That’s my deep sea thinking for the day

I saw the sail … pathetic #tiger.

I agree with @ernest- saw the boy help carry the gaff and harpoon and even the sail furled around the mast.

Pathetic but functional #rachelray.

Everyone criticizes the American education system for not keeping pace with the rest of the world.
Refuting this claim, I shared writing from actual high school essays.

“Long seperated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.”

On one hand, you shouldn’t feel like you’re taking the SAT to figure out a love story. On the other hand, the ambiguity pulls you in because you can’t be 100 percent sure when the lovers will actually collide.

4) The Wall Street Journal Prints Lame Name-calling Article

No one can ever accuse this blogger of only depending on the kindness (content) of others.

The Journal deemed Google poaching a Sun employee who had criticized Apple in his personal blog as worthy of an article.

This prompted my own digging.

“It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers,” Mr. Bray wrote on his personal Web site. “I hate it.”

Perhaps with Madoff fading into the background, The Journal has a surplus of investigative bandwidth.

Can you imagine?

A company criticizing a competitor.

5) Storytelling in Warren Buffet Shareholder Letter

I’m hoping there’s a correlation between Warren Buffett’s gifts to make money and storytelling.

His 2010 shareholder letter provided the fodder for this post:

Long ago, Charlie laid out his strongest ambition: “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” That bit of wisdom was inspired by Jacobi, the great Prussian mathematician, who counseled “Invert, always invert” as an aid to solving difficult problems. (I can report as well that this inversion approach works on a less lofty level: Sing a country song in reverse, and you will quickly recover your car, house and wife.)

I just tried this with a Merle Haggard tune and it works, a sad reminder that no matter how many times I played the Beatles song “I Am The Walrus” backwards, I could never make out “Paul is dead.”

He’s right.

6) Storytelling in Social Media and Traditional Media

This post came in second to the Toyota customer letter in terms of popularity.

After speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing on storytelling, a Chinese magazine interviewed me on the topic. This post encapsulates my answers.

The vast majority of people have been programmed to think business is serious so their communication must be dry and boring and, yes, serious.

On the positive side, if you can create a personality, it literally becomes a differentiator in this sea of sameness … which is where storytelling comes in.

Storytelling can become a powerful tool in creating a company’s personality.

I’ll share the remaining six tomorrow.


  • Mark Fidelman

    Thanks for surfacing these stories from the past year again. Can’t wait for the next 6.

  • Lou Hoffman

    Appreciate the positive words.

    I went back and forth on what constitutes “top,” the amount of views or my perspective.

    Finally decided to use both definitions.


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