Arnie Schwartzennegger ‘s stirring speech starts with his story of his first hero, the Russian weightlifter Yuri Vlasov, and finishes up with his new heroes protesting at the Ukrainian war. It’s beautifully constructed, as you’d expect from anyone with impeccable Hollywood credentials. It shows how a story within the storyline can be used to not make it feel like a celeb lecturing anybody.
For anyone who has ever typed in the wrong URL address, the number 404 will spring to mind. In the beginning of the internet, some twenty odd years ago, a number was all you got: a bald 404 referring presumably to an error code. Some slightly more enlightened sites added a little more to the experience: “You’ve 404’d, dude.” The line still assumed a tech knowledge that was beyond most people at the time.
Gradually companies who cared just a little more about their customers reading experience wrote a few emollient words to help assuage the pain of error and feeling lost in cyberspace. But the Telegraph, which seems to be a class act in terms of its user experience seems to have done a lot better. A simple cartoon by Matt which is suitably funny and on point.
Rather than asking “What are you trying to say?”, it helps if you ask: “If you had a magic wand was is it that you’d ideally like to achieve?” For example, one of the most useless messages in the world is “Give up smoking!”
So if you stop and ask what are you trying to achieve, the answer is obviously helping people to give up smoking. You then decide what you have to say in order to achieve that. The magic wand question focuses people on the change in behaviour, not the message. Creating the right message is a seperate part of the process.
You might come up with a much more powerful piece of communication than just “Give up smoking!” You might approach it from a more strategic direction, like this campaign by Richard Foster at AMV BBDO to make people become responsible for passive smoking.
This process also allows you to break down a mammoth task into much more manageable chunks. For example, create a patch trial initiative, as one part in a four part process. In which case your change in behaviour is picking up a patch from the chemist. Once you give up the notion that’s there’s something to say, and think in terms of a change in behaviour by things you can say, you can become a better communicator.
There are your best case histories from five years ago, whose important features now look stale or no longer relevant to the problems of today.
Then there are other case histories which while showing brilliance on the part of your organisation remain so classified and secret you can’t breathe a word of the brilliance to anyone.
And there are still more case histories which while very good are quite incomplete or partial. Somehow telling them seems to feel like the story ended too soon, or started too late or other players did the important chunks of it and thereby stole the thunder.
It’s often very difficult to curate a decent show from what’s left, after you’ve culled the ones that won’t see the light of day. The result is many case histories become short and inconclusive; others are hard to follow, and leave a reader, or new business prospect, none the wiser.
So how do you create convincing, engaging case histories that don’t drop anyone in it and feel like they belong to today?
Write 3 seperate drafts
One really simple approach is to split the task into two or three clear and distinct phases, each of which needs its own mind-set.
The first mindset you’ll need is an investigative historian or journalist.
Use this to write a Warts-and-All version first, on the sacred internal understanding that you’re showing it to absolutely no-one externally. But get a case or set of cases written so they’re clear, readable and true without having to worry about other considerations. If necessary, interview the people involved with a tape recorder so you can fully concentrate on what they’re telling you and ask questions that probe what really happened.
Then, when that’s done change your hat to that of a doctor; rewrite your Warts and All text as a sanitised version.
Change the client names, the product names, the industries.
No confidences betrayed, no clients made to look stupid. Transforming it in that way isn’t always a straightforward task but it’s much easier to do when you’re at least clear about what actually happened.
After you’ve written the sanitised version you are free to go one step further.
The hat you need now is a dramatist and or teacher.
You can work backwards from what clients have started to ask the business for. This is the idealised version where you combine different elements of cases that you’ve successfully managed in the past and bring them together so demonstrate solving the problems of today.
Make up the presenting problem, roll two elements from different cases into one, exclude confusing subplots, streamline the story. Do what ever it takes so the story while not literally true is authentic. You may need to write a disclaimer for this, but your audience will usually understand this automatically anyway, just from the genre.
There may never have been a case exactly like this but all the essential features are your company’s bread and butter. The fluency with which you describe the cases communicates your mastery over all the issues, and that’s the real point of the writing.
You will need to give yourself some creative licence to do this, but it’s a good way of showing just how much knowledge your organisation really holds.
When you’ve finished this not only will you have a valuable new business tool for future business, it will also serve to educate new people starting today the triumphs of the past.
In David Attenborough’s short trailer he demonstrates how to launch an argument and sell in documentary in just a few powerful seconds. If you’ve done the Copycourse you’ll recognise the structure he uses a mile off.
David Attenborough: I am David Attenborough and I am 93. I ‘ve had the most extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. The living world is a unique and spectacular Marvel. Yet the way we humans live on earth is sending it into a decline. Human beings have over run over the world. We are replacing the wild with the tame.
This film is my witness statement about my vision for the future. The story about how we came to make this, our greatest mistake. How if we act now we can yet to put it right. Our planet is heading for disaster. You need to learn how to work rather nature rather than against it. And I’m going to tell you how. In cinemas 2020.
One of the problems mobiles responsive sizing gives us is that we’re never sure exactly what is going to appear as the final result. Pictures have to be created so that the subject of the picture is in the centre. That limits things considerably. And there’s even more trouble when you start putting type messages in respsonsive situations.
You want the message to appear as Acme is proud to sponsor World Aid . But what you actually see in certain screens is different.
Acme is proud to ponsor id. The truncation is worse than meaningless. It makes the brain work hard to guess something that probably wasn’t very interesting in the first place. The Two Ronnies nailed the experience with this classic sketch.
Until Linkedin produces responsive banners the advice has to be don’t put type in the banner head.
Saying one thing well is always more interesting than a rag bag of non sequiturs. Even if you’ve got lots to say, the trick is to bring it all under one singular theme. This man makes a bunch of observations about how we use just one word in the English language.
“The ad made headlines all over the world when it came out. It was such a bombshell, one of the most controversial ads ever. There were questions in Parliament about the propriety of running such an ad, especially in the government’s name. It made a furore all around advertising and beyond, all over the world.
The client was delighted, even more so after it had made such a fuss, because that put it on the map. I hope it did some good. It’s weird to me that it’s made such an impact and still makes an impact. Because in photographic terms, what is it? A picture of a bloke. I find it pretty baffling really.”
Alan Brooking was the photographer of “Pregnant man”
How do you get the pregnant man from a proposition that says “Be more careful about getting your girlfriend pregnant”?
Answer: Start with every related idea around pregnancy. Especially the ones that are so obvious you no longer see them.
Especially the rule that says men don’t get pregnant. Turn this upside down.
Then exaggerate it so they get very pregnant – just like a woman close to term.
Finally, make it look the most normal thing in the world. To sum up: Start with a trope, invert it, exaggerate and normalise.
When the above process is done, you’ve created a symmetry across the impossible. On one hand your brain sees the logic of it and on the other it fights the impossibility. The power of the communication comes from this.
In another example of creating ideas by creating symmetries is shown in the following idea for Robinson’s Barley Water. This is a sketch of the ad.
The idea starts with mapping out the form of a tennis ball on an orange and then normalizing it. The visual is such so closely symmetric you hardly notice the orange dimples on the tennis ball.
All you have to do is pick one of these Mr Men characters and imagine you’re going to take him on a test in one of the vehicles.
Your role is the chief driving examiner and also licensing authority for whatever vehicle they’re getting tested in. Decide what they do on their test, and report what happened, so their suitability can be assessed.
Tom picked Mr Fussy and the Ice Cream van, but you’re free to pick any combination at all. All that we ask is that you produce something clear simple and well structured. You can use the following template if it helps.
What has prompted this report?
What is the question or problem your report needs to address?
What are the possible consequences of these observations?
What do you recommend the licensing authority and does or withholds from the individual?
Masters of story don’t start with a simple fact or assertion, they weave a story that does the same thing.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks could have begun his speech by simply saying something like “all faiths have similarities, but they also have interesting differences.”
That would have been a perfectly coherent way to start a speech at an interfaith dinner. But by starting with a story that demonstrates the same thing, he does so much more than assert a first beat.
He demonstrates mastery of the story form, establishes his own character as a player at Government level, and also brings some laughs to the room. But the story is always in the service of demonstrating the first beat of the rest of his speech.