This post is the presentation that I just gave, along with Jon Franko from Gorilla76, to a group of internal and external communicators within Ag Biotech giant Monsanto. I'm sorry I couldn't figure out how to add in the visuals from the presentation file.

Dating back to the earliest recordings of man, storytelling and dialogue have been at the core of howwe communicate with one another. So why is it that this natural form of communication, so fundamentallyhuman, seems so unnatural and is so rare in corporate communication?

Most corporations spew out facts and data without weaving in the human story. Additionally, theytend to talk at their audiences, opposed to talking with them – chiefly because such communicationwas difficult to conduct. Now, however, all thanks to the Web, we have new tools popping up daily thatprovide for real dialogue in a mass setting.

So what opportunities does this create for corporate communicators and marketers?

Let’s explore.

Why should we strive to use storytelling in communication?
• Memorable
• Personal
• Puts things in context
• Root of human communication

Some examples:
• Jim Collins (Good to Great, Built to Last)
• Steve Jobs (Macworld)
• Sesame Street (fun learning vs. institutionalized)
• Best teachers we had in school

Another example:
Coconut oil in movie popcorn from Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. If you haven’t read this book, you should. It’s really, really good.

"Art Silverman stared at a bag of movie popcorn. It looked out of place sitting on his desk. Hisoffice had long since filled up with fake-butter fumes. Silverman knew, because of his organization’sresearch, that the popcorn on his desk was unhealthy. Shockingly unhealthy, in fact.His job was to figure out a way to communicate this message to the unsuspecting moviegoers ofAmerica.

Silverman worked for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit group thateducates the public about nutrition. The CSPI sent bags of movie popcorn from a dozen theatersin three major cities to a lab for nutritional analysis. The results surprised everyone.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that a normal diet containno more than 20 grams of saturated fat each day. According to the lab results, the typical bag ofpopcorn had 37 grams. The culprit was coconut oil, which theaters used to pop their popcorn. Coconut oil had some big advantages over other oils. It gave the popcorn a nice, silky texture, and released a more pleasant
and natural aroma than the alternative oils. Unfortunately, as the lab results showed, coconut oil was also brimming with saturated fat.

The single serving of popcorn on Silverman’s desk — a snack someone might scarf down betweenmeals — had nearly two days’ worth of saturated fat. And those 37 grams of saturated fat were packed into a medium-sized serving of popcorn. No doubt a decent sized bucket could have cleared triple digits.

The challenge, Silverman realized, was that few people know what “37 grams of saturated fat” means. Most of us don’t memorize the USDA’s daily nutrition recommendations. Is 37 grams good or bad? And even if we have an intuition that it’s bad, we’d wonder if it was “bad bad” (like cigarettes) or “normal bad” (like a cookie or a milk shake). Even the phrase “37 grams of saturated fat” by itself was enough to cause most people’s eyes to glaze over. “Saturated fat has zero appeal,” Silverman says. “It’s dry, it’s academic, who cares?”

Silverman could have created some kind of visual comparison-perhaps an advertisement comparing the amount of saturated fat in the popcorn with the USDA’s recommended daily allowance. Think of a bar graph, with one of the bars stretching twice as high as the other.

But that was too scientific somehow. Too rational. The amount of fat in this popcorn was, in some sense, not rational. It was ludicrous. The CSPI needed a way to shape the message in a way that fully communicated this ludicrousness.

Silverman came up with a solution. CSPI called a press conference on September 27, 1992. Here’s the message it presented: “A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings — combined!”

The folks at CSPI didn’t neglect the visuals — they laid out the full buffet of greasy food for the television cameras. An entire day’s worth of unhealthy eating, displayed on a table. All that saturated fat stuffed into a single bag of popcorn. The story was an immediate sensation, featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN. It made the
front pages of USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post’s Style section. Leno and Letterman cracked jokes about fat-soaked popcorn, and headline writers trotted out some doozies: “Popcorn Gets an ‘R’ Rating,” “Lights, Action, Cholesterol!” “Theater Popcorn is Double Feature of Fat.”

The idea stuck. Moviegoers, repulsed by these findings, avoided popcorn in droves. Sales plunged. The service staff at movie houses grew accustomed to fielding questions about whether the popcorn was popped in the “bad” oil. Soon after, most of the nation’s biggest theater chains — including United Artists, AMC, and Loews-announced that they would stop using coconut oil."

This is a great example of how to take relevant “data” and convey it in a way that is simple, unexpected,relevant, easy to identify with and creative so that the message “sticks.” After all, our ultimate goal as communicators is to positively influence our audiences.

• Who are your audiences?
• Why is your topic important to connect with them?
• What do you want them to do and what perception do you want them to have regarding Monsanto?
• What opportunities are there to tell stories?
• What other influencers are there that could tell stories (trusted 3rd party institutions like CSPI)?

At Monsanto, a big challenge exists due to your history, complex science and personal nature of your product – altering food!

Aim to make a connection that is human vs. corporate.

Communication is no longer one-way – like it or not. The Internet has armed anyone who wants a voice with a microphone. So how can you capitalize on this and embrace it?

We should embrace and encourage dialogue because:
• Two-way communication allows us to learn and react
• Opportunity to engage our audience and get them more vested in our story
• Allows us to get smarter about what audiences think, perceive and do

Perceptions and opinions will be formed by:
• Skeptics
• Fanatics
• Disgruntled customers and employees

Do you want these people on stage telling YOUR STORY?

Help guide the conversation:
• Dispel myths
• Establish credibility
• Positively impact perception
• Call out positive things vs. playing defense

Tools for such engagement include:
• Facebook & MySpace:
• YouTube:
• Twitter
• Ning:
• LinkedIn:
• Blogs
• Flickr

Use traditional media to drive people to engage, then react, learn and weave into future communications. Don’t think in terms of “campaigns” but ther “conversations.” Not a clear beginning and end – continuously evolving.

Obama example from Fast Company:

"His key tool was MyBarackObama.com, or MyBO for short, a surprisingly intuitive and funto-use networking Web site that allowed Obama supporters to create groups, plan events, raise funds, download tools, and connect with one another -- not unlike a more focused, activist Facebook.

MyBO also let the campaign reach its most passionate supporters cheaply and effectively.By the time the campaign was over, volunteers had created more than 2 million profiles on the site, planned 200,000 offline events, formed 35,000 groups, posted 400,000 blogs, and raised $30 million on 70,000 personal fund-raising pages.

There is no beginning and there is no end to storytelling and dialogue. It is an ongoing cycle that an organization must commit resources to. Adapt what you say, how you say it and what means you use to communicate it. All these are interwoven making it challenging for large organizations with many departments to stay on story.

Therefore – come up with theme guidelines that inform everyone who may be communicating. It creates commonality and a sense of order. Be sure marketing, sales, public relations, corporate communications all are cued in. Does each group
have a social networking coordinator? Are you evaluating how you can make your communication more story-like and facilitate and enable dialogue? Have you clearly answered the question of who are you talking to and what do you hope to achieve before jumping in to the blogosphere and world of Twitter and Facebook?

Find ways to tell positive stories and engage your audiences. Then listen and react.

Ad Age Digital
Business Week Exchange

Taking your brand viral - As easy as 1 - 2 -3

Nice post from friends at Gorilla 76 who co-presented with me today to a group of communcators at Ag Biotech giant Monsanto.


Success through Measurement

By guest blogger Chris Hackney from WebMD

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” - John Wanamaker

Although the words above were first uttered over a century ago, for many brand managers they still represent one of the key marketing challenges faced today. The tools at our disposal are more advanced, but more often than not they are still limited. With the downturn in the economy we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the marketing strategies of the biggest marketing companies in the country (Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Coca-Cola to name a few) as well as smaller players that we work with. Many are freezing or cutting budgets, while some are charging ahead in a play for market share. None are standing still and all of them are applying greater scrutiny to each line item of their budgets.
In general terms we are seeing the proverbial hatchet being taken to two broader categories of spending. High profile partnerships (entertainment integration or stadium naming rights for example) are the first and represent a large line item in many marketing budgets. On the other end of the spectrum, experimental programs (like in-game advertising) are also seeing pullbacks. While disparate in nature, both share a common issue: they are among the most difficult marketing vehicles to measure actual return on investment. Many high-profile events raise a brand’s awareness, but how does that translate into sales? And what exactly does it mean to my business that ten thousand people have “friended” me on Facebook? While this issue is most evident for these spending categories, in varying degrees the same point confronts every other marketing component.

In the majority of my recent client discussions with brand managers and agencies they have reiterated the following theme consistently - Marketing initiatives that can demonstrate measurable success will move forward. All others will fall out of the plan. Even though current economic conditions are driving the urgency behind this message, it’s not a bad philosophy if employed strategically.

In looking to properly institute this approach in evaluating your marketing plan, the three principles below should serve as a strategic foundation for your efforts:

- Objectives Point the Way – Do Not Deviate: The funny thing about strategies is that everyone has one, but few execute them well. Some of this owes to the fact that managers love the front-end of strategy development – ideation, brainstorming, & big pronouncements - but the real work is done in the trenches over the long-haul. Once a strategy is set each prospective initiative must be evaluated against the strategic objectives and judged accordingly. This requires rigor, but if applied consistently can be of great value. The shifting nature of your competitive landscape will always require course corrections, but it’s important to remember that a course correction should simply act as a detour towards the same destination (too often it unintentionally leads to a destination far removed from the original strategy). Adhering to this principle not only keeps you on the right path, but also gives you a long-term roadmap to measure the relative success of marketing efforts.

- Goals Dictate Measurement – Match Accordingly: Once initiatives have been green-lighted based on your strategic filter, then what you measure should be directly aligned to determine if the initiative succeeded in helping you achieve your strategic goals. In an ideal world all tactics could be directly traced to sales impact, but in reality this is rarely possible. Either a direct cause-effect link doesn’t exist or untangling the effect of various initiatives is too complex. In the absence of such a direct link marketers do have powerful tools at their disposal to measure the relative effectiveness of a campaign. In the digital world, much of the focus has centered on click through rates (CTRs) and related measures of action. Reliance on CTRs is a legacy of the early beginnings of online media and often is a misguided measurement for a program’s success. While actual sales data is usually unavailable there are plenty of measures that can be used much like guideposts to determine sales impact. Depending on the strategic emphasis of the campaign, measures such as awareness, brand equity levels and finally purchase intent can provide good direction. In addition, in the past year new measurement platforms, such as Nielsen NetEffect, have been developed that allow retail transaction level impact to be measured against individual online campaigns. Regardless of the measurement device employed, the key is to map out the goal first and then determine the proper means of measurement.

- Never Forget That The Whole Can Be Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts : In recent years the idea of an “integrated marketing campaign” has gotten plenty of buzz by marketers, but few have put together campaigns that are truly integrated. On the most basic level an integrated campaign should accomplish two things: (1) the campaign should convey consistent messaging (look & feel) across all consumer touch-points; and (2) it should embed hand-off points across the campaign elements that helps accelerate a consumer’s product adoption curve. An example of this second point is worth looking at:

- To properly employ point #2 you first need to know how consumers use media in evaluating your respective category (for example, the brand adoption curve and information sources employed is very different in considered purchase categories such as automotive versus a common staple category such as breakfast cereals). This knowledge will give you the guidance you need to build the proper hand-off points. Various media vehicles, in broad terms, have different strengths when it comes to consumer marketing. In general terms research shows us that TV and Print are strong awareness generators. Meanwhile, many consumers now research purchase decisions and rely primarily on Online for this information. Finally, there still is no better venue to close the deal on a purchase than Retail itself (via in-store messaging and packaging on shelf). With this knowledge in hand you can then construct a TV campaign that directs consumers Online to learn more and then an Online portal that helps consumers locate a Retail location for your product. This also should serve as a two-way street – your Retail messaging can be utilized to drive consumers Online for additional information or tangential value.

If an integrated campaign accomplishes both of these objectives then it will benefit from the fact that each element has a distinct purpose that ties each together. In our work with consumer companies we’ve seen this consistently borne out in the program results recorded – in effect the impact of each consumer touch-point is amplified and works to drive the consumer through the product adoption process at an accelerated rate.

While we still live in a world where marketing can still be as much of an art as science, following the advice above can help improve your decision making process and give you a competitive edge in your consumer messaging campaigns. In tough times such advantages can make all the difference in the world.

Chris Hackney is Senior Director of Strategic Development at WebMD where he oversees the development of the company’s CPG portfolio, partnerships & internal strategy. He previously worked at The Coca-Cola Company as Brand Manager for the Coca-Cola brands. In this capacity he set brand strategy and key activation, including retail marketing and brand integration with American Idol and the Olympic games.


Social Networking for Corporations: Make it Personal

The new era of social media has made communication more personal than ever before possible. With tools like Facebook, Twitter, Ning, Linked In and many more to come, it is so easy to create a very personal dialogue with many many people. This is complete white space for corporations looking to find ways to use these mediums to connect with their customers. Unfortunately many companies jump into these waters and just try to be cool or just start spewing off press releases. What companies need to do is think through what kind of dialogue they are trying to establish. My former partner at bigwidesky, Eliot Frick, used to preach this all the time. Don't talk at people, talk to them - and listen. Listen to what they are saying and respond.

Ask yourself the question, what am I trying to communicate and why should people care? Don't move forward until you understand this. Also, how can I make this more personal and come across more human vs. corporate?

To me, these social networking tools are a prime way to get a sense of what your customers really care about. Where else can you get this kind of information without spending tons of money on market research, focus groups and other more traditional means. You can also use it to attract more attention to issues that are important to you and your organization. Everything is connected these days to a quick sentence and link on twitter, can direct someone to a more extended blog post that may allow people to learn more from a media article or something on a website. Additionally its a great way to humanize your company. Show that there are real passionate and good people behind that logo of yours.

If this plays out like most things in marketing, the big B2C companies will throw a good deal of money at this and experiment, some success stories will surface and others will follow the lead. Eventually the B2B companies will start to experiment as well. Any B2B companies that do jump into this early may really discover a real competitive advantage.

I've been experimenting with Twitter now for a couple weeks. I found an interesting post called 5 reasons why people won't follow you on Twitter. Its a good set of guidelines on what to do as well as the common pitfalls.

Are there any B2B companies out there using social media very effectively? Please share if you know - send me a link or catch me on Twitter if you don't want to post here.


Not for profit fundraising: the Obama lesson

Its a very tough time for not-for-profits here in St. Louis and everywhere. Due to the uncertaintly of the economy and stocks at their lowest rates in decades, companies and wealthy individuals have pulled back on their support of the organizations that do the most for thier communities. That is not a good thing. These groups do good work for people in need and the betterment of society. They tend to work with slim budgets and have many people working for much less than they could earn in a for-profit entity. So budget cuts mean staffing cuts, and program and services cuts.

In my experience, most development executives at these not-for-profits focus most of thier time on those individuals and organizations the give the most. Remember that 80/20 rule? Well in these uncertain times, it may make sense to reverse those figures for the next twelve months of so. Go after the 80% that historically gives 20%. Its time to try to get a small amount from many vs much from few.

Look at what Obama accomplished in his run for President. It was the most successful fundraising campaign in history. And the kicker is that a huge percentage (I don't recall the exact percent) was from donations of less than $1,000 and many of those at less that $100. He accomplished much of this by using internet strategies focused on social networking and providing tools and guidance to many organizers spread throughout the country.

I think it boils down to this. Someone that my have give an annual check for $25,000 that has their assets tied up in investments can probably only give a fraction of that until the market and economy recovers. However, someone that gave nothing or maybe $25 as part of their annual membership fee, may very likely give another $25 if they were told how much it was needed and asked. If your own budget is tight and a relative or friend asked you to give them $5,000 you would likely say no. But if you knew they really needed it and they asked you if you could give $50 you probably would. There is much less sacrifice there and you feel good about helping out.

I'm not saying to give up on the big doners but am saying that with today's communication technology it is feasible to reach thousands very easy. Those that embrace this philosophy and make a concerted effort to set up programs to reach new members and small donors will find a new revenue stream that helps them get buy in tough times and really thrive when the economy recovers and those big donations start coming in again.

Check out the feature story in this months issue of Fast Company and learn how Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook helped Obama do it.