Jordan Bower: Embracing a Different and Better Approach to Brand Storytelling

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Every company (well, most companies) wants to tell stories that engage, entertain, educate, and encourage.

It's what drives and differentiates their marketing and sales.

But developing and delivering stories that make an impact is a challenge.

In this episode of Marketing Spark, Jordan Bower and I take an in-depth look at how companies can approach storytelling and why storytelling has everything to do with the customers and the experiences that a product or brand delivers.

Hi, it's Mark Evans and I'd like to welcome you to marketing spark, the podcast that delivers insight from markers and entrepreneurs in twenty minutes or less. But today's show talking with Jordan Bauer, who runs transformational storytelling in Vancouver, which does training, Consulting and coaching around communication strategy. Welcome to marketing spark. Thanks mark, having to be here. It's great to have a fellow storyteller on the podcast. I've been waving the flag about storytelling for all the last at least the last five years. I wrote a book about storytelling. It's finally good to have to connect with kindred spirits. I'm really excited to have you on the podcast. Let's start with the sixty four thousand dollar question. What is brand storytelling? Why does it matter? Because you hear an awful lot these days about brand storytelling. What I've found this year in particular is that as conferences have disappeared, storytelling seems to become embraced more enthusiastically. So what do you see out there and what is the value of brand storytelling it at the end of the day? Well, I'm dating myself because I can't even remember the sixty four tho question. Well, used to be a game show a long time and imbire remember, I think. I mean when you started the first principles. What storytelling is is basically symbolic language, and Symbolic Language stands in contrast to literal language, which is often the language of business. Right. So when we talk about data, we talk about features, we talk about benefits, we talked about logic, but we're talking about is like explicit facts and figures that we can analyze understand. And so storytelling stands in contrast to that. And so when we talk about storytelling we're talking about meaning, we're talking about emotion, we're talking about the more nebulous aspects of what something means, that you know, the fact says what and then the story says why. And I think there's been two big trends in storytelling that they shifted over the last little while. One is design, and so you know, if you think if it was the s and you wanted to order open a coffee shop, your options are quite limited, right. There's only going to be a certain set of tables, a certain set of chairs, a certain set of cutlery and so on that you're going to be able to purchase. Now, of course, we have a much more unlimited, or literally unlimited, set of choices, and so we can think, well, what's the type of coffee shop we want to make? Is it a vintage coffee shop? Is it an not that to coffee shop? Is it a modern coffee shop? All of that is in the realm of narrative, because what we're saying is, well, how do we want to position this particular product in someone's mind? The second thing relates to content distribution. You know, you think thirty, forty, fifty years ago, the number of channels that we had to tell our stories was exceptionally limited, but now there are again an infinite number of channels and an infinite number of storytellers who are telling stories all the time. So the old stuff, the kind of jingles or even the TV commercials, just don't fly anymore because audiences expectations are much different. So there's a need not just to educate the customer but also to entertain the customer, to galvanize the customer, to bring them on board with a mission that you're working towards. Those are totally different functions in storytelling and in marketing. Than existed even five or ten years ago. So when you...

...look at the marketing landscape in two thousand and twenty, given what's going on, do you think that brands are approaching storytelling differently, or do you think that they're considering storytelling in different ways? I mean, what's the what's your feel out there about the way the storytelling is being leverage or the different ways that companies are approaching storytelling and, for that matter, how business leaders are approaching storytelling? Obviously, social impact issues I have jumped to the forefront. You know, when we what we saw what happened with George Floyd in earlier in the summer, there was no option as business leaders and businesses to not take a stand, and that's something that was totally unprecedented. Right. So suddenly we have to say not just what our stand is, but we also have to back it up. You know, I see all the time people who are criticizing companies because they're about us. Page is full of white faces and White Mail faces. MMM. So suddenly there's all this pressure to not just believe in something but to express that belief through the way the company actually operates. So the narrative can't just be a marketing narrative. It's got to be a narrative that runs through purpose and strategy and operation simultaneously. It's a way different way to think about what story means. It's not just entertaining someone, but it's actually saying like, Hey, we're working towards some kind of a better world and by purchasing our product or work with us, you're going to be participant, you're going to be part of our mission towards building that different world. If I was from from the outside looking in, if I wasn't a storyteller and I didn't sort of understand the concepts of a brand storytelling, that strikes me as a bit intimidating because all of a sudden you're saying that storytelling and different narrative should be weaved into your corporate DNA, is that it's not only the marketing department that should be telling stories, but sales and HR and corporate leaders, and that's a lot to ask an organization to embrace, because it obviously doesn't happen overnight totally, and I think we're just at the dawn of awareness around us, because obviously they're this stuff still happen in the past, like all those different non marketing functions, like sales and like the executive and like operations and finance. We're always telling stories about their goals and so on, but they weren't ever, they weren't under put under the microscope in the same way. But suddenly the microscope has increased and the expectations of the world and society of that have increased too. So yeah, it makes total sense to me why an outsider would be daunted about this, and what I would say to someone like that is this is the world we're moving into, whether we like it or not. So there's a real need to adapt and to build our skill in this area because then, when you think about where the future will be a business and society in a couple months, let alone a couple years, this is the action that we're all heading and think one of the realities is that in the past and traditionally, marketing have has been the storytellers, were the ones who do the creative and write the...

...words and paint the pictures, and that other departments have not been storytellers, at least not front center, like sales, for example. I mean sales guys and sales girls are the good ones are natural storytellers. They they're not so much hawking products as opposed to talking about the experience in creating that narrative. But now the entire organization has to embrace ambrace storytelling, and that's the question is, how does it? How does that happen like? How do you how do you start as an organization to recognize the value of storytelling and then not only talk the talk but walk the walk? Well, I think, I think what you said is really insightful. So I just want to make one point explicitly clear to your to your listeners, that the product is the experience now, which means that the product is the narrative. When we purchase a product, we're also purchasing that company, social media, social media language. We're purchasing the relationships that they have to other companies and other partners in their sphere. All of that is embedded in our in our purses decision. So I think it's really important that the first step in terms of moving forward with this is just letting that that be real, that the narrative and the story is the product right now. Once we can understand that, we can move to step too, but that's a really easy set to kind of drift over quite quickly and makes sense. Completely makes sense because when I talk about the best storytellers, brand storytellers and I and I often come back to experience, because it is about the experience that you're trying to convey to a consumer, about what happens if they use your product. So I often use air being B as a perfect example. So are being be technically allows people to book places to stay online wherever they want to stay, but their marketing and their brand narrative is about the experiences of travel, the people that you meet, the foods that you that you eat, the different places that you'll visit, and has nothing to do with an online booking service, and I think that's all about the experience and the product. You're right, the product is the experience and I'm not so sure that a lot of companies really sort of get it or embrace it. They're still sort of telling traditional, straight ahead stories about the product as opposed the product and the experience. Do you agree with that? I do agree with that and I'll tell you, like I'm a sports fan, so I watched a lot of hockey and basketball through the bubble recently and what I noticed, which was so strange, is that companies would have hit me with the same advertisement over and over and over again. So they would make me watch the same commercial like in the same like there was no story there because it got boring over time, and so they kept thinking that the story they're telling is this one thirty second piece. But you know, after I've seen it thirty time times, it actually backfires and it makes me feel a sense of aversion to the brand rather than the sense of connection to the brand, even if it was a really great story. So for me, the way I think about this is like, well,...

...what is the experience? The experience is a combination of the product, the content that we put around the experience and then the personal or the human element to it. And ultimately it's those three things, like a ven diagram, that come together to create this kind of deeper, what I called before, symbolic narrative that we associate with a product. And I mean are bingb is a great example. Like you're saying, Air BMB, on one hand is what it's like to be in somebody's home, but it's also the way that the product is designed, right, like the product is designed in such a way that I can't, as a host, make a judgment on whether or not to take someone based on the way that they look, because I don't get to see their picture until after they've booked. So there's a social or a kind of racial element that's built into the way that the product is designed, and for certain people that makes me feel better because I know I'm participating in something that's bigger and it also helps a define. Well, what kind of content is there? Baby putting out it? But itself, they're not. They're saying, yeah, we create great experiences, but we also create experiences that are building towards a world of greater belonging for people, and it's that kind of higher order offering that raises the game. So it's not just like you're saying, is not just a booking site, it's actually a site that's moving towards more progressive world through creating bookings and inhome experiences. That's a much more nuance and deeper and therefore more valuable story. So, aside from hiring a consultant like yourself, and I'm sure there's lots of good reasons why, people who want to hire you to train their staff and to provide a coaching how does a company get started with storytelling? If they recognize that storytelling is important, that they buy into the the precept, the product is the experience, but they don't know where to start. It just not native to how they've done marketing, sales and hr what are the first steps that they should take? Well, I think the first step is to ask themselves what style of experience do you want to create? And I mean everyone experiences such a buzzword these days, but you know, think of in the world. There are such a vast array of experiences. Every time you want to go out to a restaurant, you know you asked your friends, your partner, your kids, whoever. What type of experience should we have? Do we want like busy family restaurant? We want romantic experience? I think companies need to think the same way about their experience, and what I always suggest is to do this visually rather than literally, because if you do this literally, you're going to come up with the same things. We want our customers to trust us, we want our customers to find value, we want our customers to be happy, like all that stuff is really good, but it doesn't mean anything as long as it's simply facts. So the challenge is to transition it into a more and imaginative, creative and emotional space. So one simple exercise that I do is I go to Google search and I search for something abstract, not like if I'm a store, I don't search for beautiful stores. I might search for backyard barbecue and I would go through the image and...

I would say like yeah, I want this, but I don't want that image. And so having that image and, if I can say it differently, having that visceral vision of what the thing should feel like and look like in my mind can then become almost like a north star that influences all my decisions around what the experience is like. Does that make sense? Yeah, makes sense. You're hearing a lot more these days, at least what I'm reading, is about the impact of emotions and how people feel about a brand or a product or, in many cases, the experience that a brand is promising. And I one of the softer parts of marketing that I'm seeing these days, along with the focus on brand storytelling, is that we're recognizing that we're not numbers or not, we're not these entities that you can track and pump into a database. We are actually living, breathing people who make rational and a rational decisions about the products that we buy in the brands that we love and that you know. There's lots of different variables that go into brand and marketing and sales and emotions and the experience are one of them. It's a really fascinating landscape right now because I think in some respects the rules of engagement are changing. The fact that we can't interact facetoface to drive those transaction and just really forcing companies to operate differently totally. And I would add you know, and this might be heresy to say to a group of marketers, but branding as an exercise is dead, and I say that because in the old days that those were the tools that we had. We had a logo, we had certain colors, we had certain typography and so on, even a website. But an experience is a three dimensional thing. It's both what we see but also what we feel while we're experiencing the product, and so we as marketers need to be able to move into this extra dimension, this deeper dimension, where we're really thinking through what do we want someone to feel, not just happy, not just satisfied, like those are kind of like entry level emotions, but we need to be able to take our customers into a deeper emotional feeling around things and we, as the marketers, need to be able to speak with sophistication around the stuff. So it's definitely going to be a challenge for us, but it's also the next growth edge of were marketing is going. The other word that I like to use some kid of time is delight it goes back to your your notion about how we feel about a brand, how how we experience a product. When I think about the consumer brand relationship, I think of how do you delight somebody right from the beginning? How do you create that experience that it involves using your product, that every single touch with your product from beginning to end is delightful? So the advertisings delightful social content, and then when you finally attract a customer and you on board them, that experience of having them crossed that little chasm from non customer to customer is delightful and that sets the stage for everything. And so I think there's a lot of soft parts to marketing that that as marketers, we really need to change how we emphasize and focus on different things. And I would say to like delight is beautiful, but something that delighted you...

...yesterday isn't going to delight you today. You know, imagine you have that delicious cookie at just the right time and you're eating the cookie and it feels great, but if someone immediately served you a second cookie, then your desire for it goes down. And so the challenge is to figure out what is, you know, in your language, delightful in the moment and it almost in an improvisational way. And I think that's the deeper challenge for us and organizations, is that we try to systematize the stuff, but you can't systematize delight, you can't systematize joy, you can't step intest his systematize empathy or authenticity, and I think what we have to challenge ourselves to do is to start to shift the way we define these words so that we ourselves as marketers are more creative, more improvisational, more attuned to the in the moment needs of our customer, rather than just trying to get one boilerplate email that we think is delightful because again, it might be delightful the first time, but subsequent times is going to be less and less delightful. Like that add I kept watching during it. Right. Well, let's wait into something a little more controversial for people like you and I, who are obviously focused on the brand and the and storytelling side of the side of the fence, and that's about the the ability that everything is measurable these days and because everything can be measured, it should be measured. In marketers are making decisions based on microscopic changes in website traffic and conversion rates and heat maps, and that we've almost become automated and how we how we make decisions and the things that we do, and we're not thinking out of the box, we're not being as creative as we should be were we're almost being robotic, and I think that's a really sad state of marketing, is that we've we try to quantify everything to justify how we're doing our jobs. Yeah, I agree, and I would say just again to just get specific language around it, it's explicitly manipulative and so when we are going out to manipulate our customers, like sure, sometimes it works. If we're trying to build our funnel or engine or whatever it is, but the feeling of it is manipulative, and so we need to find a way to both systematized stuff, because that's what business does and that's what makes us effective, but we also have to find ways to balance the systemization with the humanization and the humanize it sought. The humanized side of it is that we hate being manipulated as human beings. So how can it bring, how can we bring more authenticity, more improvisation, more creativity, more of what you're calling this soft stuff, into counterbalance the need to structure everything and systematize it and control it, because in a certain sense it's that desire to control that creates a huge revulsion on the side of our customers. I hate feeling controlled and so when I get that systematized email, it's like screw a high and subscribe right away. Well, I think of marketing as a pendulum. We've gone from the days of the S, you know, with madmen and the awesome creative and the ingenuity and the marketing genius is like Dave Ogilvie, and we've got to the other end of the spectrum where it's all about data and it's all about metrics and Kpis and benchmarks and all the data...

...stuff. All the Daty Geeks love that stuff, and I feel like the pendulum is starting to swing back. I feel like consumers are backing at being tracked, of receiving this slurry of automated messages that are hide themselves behind this whole idea of personalization simply because they put your first name in an email. People are starting to see through that robotic automation, you know machine, and starting to realize that I want marketing to be about me. I wanted to be authentic, I wanted to recognize my aspirations, my dreams and the experiences that I want, and that's as big change in marketing as I think we're going to see in a while and it's much needed to be in my opinion. I think you're completely right and I would say if you're a marketer who's listening to this right now, the real marketing you need to do is internal marketing to sell this idea across the organization and say the folks like Hey, this is the reality, not just of the future but also where we're at today, and that fundamental change seems to shift not just in our external messaging, but in the way that we all work together. Like that's the that's the threshold that we actually passed when covid started. So we're already in this world, but I I don't think inside organizations folks have their ears to the ground enough to notice that that's happening. So there's a real need for people who were talking to customers to reflect that idea back in the organization so that the organization had start to shift. One final question. I think this is a difficult question to answer, but I'm going to ask it anyway. How can you tell if your storytelling efforts are working out? We've talked a little bit about data and quantifying everything, but when it comes to being able to assess the success of brand storytelling and creating narratives that engage, educate and courage and motivate, what did the metrics for success like? How do you say yes, our stories are selling, storytelling efforts are working and they are successful? I'll answer that question and just let me take a little bit of a detour, slight one, and let me talk about Disneyland. Like, if you've ever been to Disneyland before, you know what's right in the middle of Disneyland is the Magic Castle, and the Magic Castle is a focal point. No matter where you are, you always see it and it's something that draws you forward. It draws you as a customer forward, but it also is centering for everybody who works there, and so I think the same thing. When it comes to storytelling. It's really important that the story is taking you and your customer somewhere. Are you just trying to like use that terrible word better, better, fast, quicker, bubble, bubble Blah like that's that doesn't actually help your customer get somewhere meaningful. So the question is, number one, have you constructed a clear castle that you're moving towards and do you and everybody inside your organization know what that is? And secondly, do your customers know what that castle is? And to give you an example, like I we talked about AIRBNB before. The castle is belonging and equity. That's what that business is designed towards. With a business like Tesla, the castle is beating climate change and getting everyone in the world driving an electric car.

And so as long as everyone sees the castle, you can reflect the castle back inside and outside. That's effective or brand storytelling. If you can't name the castle, then whatever you're doing is just churn it's distracting and it's that doesn't have the level of focus that you need to move people in that direction. That is one of the best analogies about storytelling and marketing that I've heard in a long time. Just want to thank you for this conversation. I may have done the podcast for about three or four months. All of the interviews have been great, people off for a great insight, but for some reason this really this conversation, really residuent, resonated with me because I think it's it not only talks about brand storytelling, but it really talks about the intellectual side of marketing, getting inside the the heads of consumers and not treating them like entities that our data driven and we can control an automate all our marketing, and I appreciate your inside I think it's a really different perspective on the world and much needed in my opinion. Thanks mark, and I would say to people if you haven't seen the movie already, there's a great movie called the Social Dilemma, which is all about what it feels like for us is the world to be analyzed all the time and you know, out there in the world this is the biggest challenge that we're all dealing with as human beings, is like how do we map what we experience online with what we're experiencing like in real life? And it's going to continue to be an enduring challenge that we as marketers are going to have to adapt to. As we speak to like people who are really upset about what's happening on facebook and twitter and all these other things. It's the your narrative of our time. So, Jordan, to people are interested in you and your services. Where do they find you? Where's your blog? Where's your website? You recently launch a new training course, so maybe you can plug that as well. Sure. So, I'm Jordan Bower, Jourda and bower. You can find me online. I don't have any social media, I just have linkedin. What I do is I work specifically with folks, both individuals and organizations, to help them find compelling and emotional ways to tell their story. So by all means, find me there and reach out and I'd love to have a chap. If you enjoyed this conversation, leave a review and subscribe by Itunes or your favorite podcast APP. If you like what your herr, please write it for show notes about today's conversation and information about Jordan. Visit Marketing Spark Doccla blog if you have questions feedback. Like to suggest a guest. Want to learn more about how I help be tob companies as a fractional CMO consultant and advisor, send an email to mark and marketing sparkcom. I'll talk to you next time.

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