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Storytelling for Non-Sexy Brands


I do a lot of thinking and talking about brand storytelling, because a big part of what I do entails helping brands tell the stories of their who and their why — not just their what. For some brands (like nonprofits) the story is a bit clearer from the start. For other brands, however, it takes a little digging. But once the story reveals itself, you get a whole new perspective on an old thing.

Case and point: the humble pay phone.

6 Brands Killing It On Instagram

A wise person once said, "Don't use two words where one will do." Thanks to Instagram, that age-old grain of wisdom seems to be undergoing a revamp, and now advises: "Don't use words where a picture will do." Brands know that Instagram is where the action is, but many are struggling to figure out how to make it relevant to their brand. Sitting squarely at the intersection of artistic expression, inspiration, information and celebration, it's the place to be. But where to begin? Read on for a few examples of brands that are doing Instagram right. But first, a few statistics:

  • 70% of Instagram users check their feed at least once a day, 35 % several times a day. 
  • 71% of the world's top brands are on Instagram.
  • Instagram photos with faces get 35% more comments than those without.
  • Instagram is more popular than Twitter amongst US smartphone users.
  • 57% of the top brand marketers are averaging at least one post a week.


Let's be honest, it's not easy being a humble cup of yogurt in a scoop-of-ice-cream world. Nonetheless, Chobani does a steller job of using Instagram to only showcasing their product, but also to tell a story about the Chobani lifestyle.


Jeni's Ice Cream Speaking of ice cream... With a penchant for unusual flavor combinations like goat cheese + red cherries, sweet cream biscuits + peach jam, and sweet corn + black raspberries, Jeni's Instagram feed reflects the same sense of creative vision, unexpected delight and passion for food the brand is known (and loved) for . (Warning: may cause sudden cravings.)


Billiam Jeans What's more quintessentially American than a pair of jeans crafted in Greenville, South Carolina? Nothing. As a self-professed "company made up of trial and error manufacturers," once glance at their Instagram and it's not hard to believe that this is a brand "learning from rolling up our sleeves and trying to make sense of the process."


Sharpie Everyone loves a Sharpie. No really, everyone. Arguably one of the most recognizable names in pens, Sharpie takes a decidedly different approach compared to most brands. Rather than celebrating their product, their Instagram stream is an ongoing celebration of the things their product empowers fans and brand loyalists to do.


Kittie's Cakes It doesn't take a lot to sell people on the joys of really delicious cupcakes. Convincing them to engage with your brand on Instagram? A little bit harder. Columbus, Ohio-based bakery Kittie's Cupcakes has made Instagram their primary stream for communication. Much like morning announcements in elementary school, each day Kittie's Instagrams photos of that day's baked offerings (they change daily). By 2 or 3 p.m., it's not unusual to Kittie's post a notice that you've missed the rush ... and they're all sold out.


TSA Cupcakes and ice cream were born to pose for photos. But what about a less obvious brand? While the public seems to have, um, mixed emotions about TSA, the agency has started using Instagram as a way to invite the public into their world. Scroll through their stream and you'll discover that it's not all pat downs and body scans...but you will have to leave your cat-shaped brass knuckles at home.



4 Awesome Examples of Visual Brand Storytelling That Will Make You Want to Hit Replay

Storytelling. We all know it can make (or break) a brand, but there is a reason it’s often referred to as an “art.” In a world where our brains are bombarded with an estimated 3,000 – 20,000 messages per day, humans have gotten really good at tuning the noise out. Breaking through the grey isn’t just about delivering solid content, it’s about making the ho-hum remarkable, entertaining and memorable. Seeing is believing…





And on a micro-level, nobody tells the story of their ingredients quite as gracefully as Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams…


Stories Are The Currency of Human Contact

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” | Robert McKee Earlier this week, I stumbled across a spot produced by Thai telecommunications company, True. As I found myself fighting back tears (and failing) by the 0:40 mark, I couldn’t help but reflect on the power of storytelling.

As a brand, you have a choice. You can produce an ad or a commercial…or you can tell a story with the content you put out into the world. I know which one I would place my bet on every time.

Check out the True spot below and let yourself be carried away by story for the next three minutes. After the jump, chime in and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear what other brands or organizations you have seen harness the the power of storytelling.


This post originally appeared on 

How a woman named Thelma changed my views on marketing...and helped me clean up my act.

mrs. meyers soap radish When I was little and we would leave a restaurant, two things would inevitably happen. My dad would pop a red-and-white peppermint in his mouth before we had hit the door, and as soon as we climbed in the car my mom would roll down the window, gasping for fresh air. I always liked the smell of mint so I never understood her aversion, but the day I walked face-first into a friend's vanilla candle-laden home, it all started to make sense. I felt like someone had smeared my nose in a cupcake. And while I love a cupcake just as much as the next girl, I'd rank artificial cupcake scent somewhere between "wet dog" and "dorito feet" on the olfactory offensiveness scale.

Among all the wonderful things I inherited from my mother, it seems  I also inherited her acute sense of smell.

Which is precisely what inspired my first purchase of Mrs. Meyers hand soap. Actually, that's not true. The design drew me in, the scent sold me. I'd like to say "the rest is history" (because that would make for an epically succinct blog post), but it wasn't so. That afternoon, standing in the soap aisle at Target, was just the beginning of a true love story about to unfold.

There aren't a lot of brands I'd profess to love. Even fewer I would say make me feel giddy with joy. Mrs. Meyers is both of those and more. And as someone who so feels enraged over paying $12 for a pack of toilet paper that she has to text her sister to express said anger from the store, pledging allegiance to a $4 bottle of hand soap is kind of a big deal.

Months after becoming a Mrs. Meyers fan, I finally moseyed over to to check out Thelma's website...only to discover a mecca of marketing excellence. (I'm only sort of joking when I say I tiny digital branding and identity angels descended on my screen...)

Beautiful, clean, on-brand site design! Amazing execution of brand storytelling! A tagline that integrates the phrase "like the dickens!"

And that's when the music began. 

Had I found the Holy Grail of  marketing done right?

So here we are. You be the reader, I'll be the writer. And we'll spend the next couple weeks worth of blog posts taking a look at a company that is more than just another pretty smell.

Cupcake huffers need not apply.


est est est wine Last weekend a group of us headed out to celebrate my bestie's 33rd birthday. Noticing a wine claiming to hail from an Italian region referred to as "EST! EST!! EST!!" our waitress asked if we knew the story behind the unusual name.

Depending on who you ask, sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries,  a Catholic bishop was traveling through Italy on his way to Rome. The bishop sent a servant ahead to scout out village taverns with great wine. When the servant found a satisfactory wine he would scrawl EST (Latin for "it is") on the door. Legend has it that the servant was so impressed with the wine being served at a Montefiascone inn that he enthusiastically scrawled Est! Est!! Est!!! on the door.

Several days (and several glasses of wine) later, the story is still sticking with me.

Storytelling matters.

Cin cin!

Brand Fans, Storytelling + Video Tape

disney world mickey Before you dig into this post, take a moment to reflect on the last time you saw a really great, really memorable, really brand-endearing produced television commercial? With the exception of perhaps Dollar Shave Club, I’m hard-pressed to come up with an answer.

I recently read a statistic that noted by age 65 the average American has watched more than 2 million television commercials. At 30 seconds a spot, that boils down to 1,000,000 minutes of life. If my math is correct, that further breaks down to 694 days. This means the average adult has spent nearly two years of their life watching television commercials by the time they blow out their 65th birthday candles.

There is a quote from Mumford & Sons that goes something like, “Where you invest your time, you invest your life.” I don’t know about you, but I can think of plenty of better ways to spend two years of my life than watching lukewarm tv commercials.

Your bran's fans and customers share their passion for your brand through stories about your brand. Whether you’re asking people to give up 30 seconds of their life to watch a tv spot, or hoping they’ll invest 30 years of their life as a loyal fan, your brand’s best stories aren’t those that clever marketers create, they’re the stories you empower your advocates to tell.

The proof is in the VHS.


Are you in the giraffe business? You should be.

giraffe ritz carlton A couple weeks ago, a pack of BOFers had the opportunity to join our courageous clients at Anytime Fitness for their annual conference in Chicago. I could write ten pages of blog post about how inspiring the event was and still barely scratch the surface, so instead I’m going to share an interesting tidbit that stuck with me.

While in Chicago, we had the opportunity to sit in on a session with Alexandra Valentin, Corporate Director of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. During her talk, Alexandra recounted a customer service story that made all 1,400 people in attendance gasp and “aww” in amazement. After doing a little digging around online, I found a video post from the gentleman who received said outstanding service…and wanted to pass it on. If you don’t do anything else today, take a few minutes to watch this video. It will change how you think about customer service and the customer experience.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we don’t just work in the (insert your industry here) business. We are all in the people business. I wonder what would happen if we stopped treating customers like customers and started treated them like friends and family?

Anyone can surprise and delight. I challenge you to find your giraffe and create a remarkable experience for someone this week.

CHIME IN: Have you ever been on the receiving end of surprise and delight?

Touchpoints Matter

Evelina Children’s Hospital was the first new children’s hospital to be built in London in more than a century. The hospital was designed with a goal of “making a hospital that didn’t feel like a hospital.” Accomplishing this required hospital designers and staff to create a patient experience that included touchpoints fostering a sense of inspiration and wonder – in addition to healing - for children throughout their stay. Perhaps the most remarkable touch point of all comes from an unexpected source: the hospital window washers. As part of their contract, Evelina requires that hospital window washers dress up as superheroes while cleaning the hospital windows. Bedridden, sick children delight in seeing Superman, Spiderman and Batman dagling just beyondf the glass. The window washers report the superhero visits to Evelina are the highlight of their week.

Touchpoints matter. To your customers. To your staff. To your brand.

Be Remarkable

A man sat in a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During the rush hour, it was estimated that more than 2,000 people passed him, most on their way to work. Three minutes after he started playing, a middle-aged man noticed the musician. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, then hurried on. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip. The woman threw the money in the hat without stopping and continued on her way. A few minutes later, a man leaned against the wall to listen, but then glanced at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The person who paid the most attention to the musician was a three year-old boy. His mother was rushing him along, but the child stopped to look at the violinist. So the mother nudged the child forward and the child continued to walk - turning his head back toward the musician along the way. This scenario was repeated by again and again by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced their children to keep walking, hurry up and move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About twenty gave him money, but continued walking on. The musician collected $32 in total. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most renowned musicians in the world. Two days before the subway serenade, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston at a seat price of $100 per ticket. That morning in the subway station, Bell had played one of the most intricate pieces ever written on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Joshua Bell's incognito performance in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. They sought to answer several questions. Mainly, in a  commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour do we perceive beauty? Will we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

If people do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

In a busy world, message matters. It is estimated that on any given day we are exposed to 3,500 to 5,000 marketing messages. Is your brand Joshua Bell playing for a sold out crowd? Or are you just a guy in the metro playing a violin?

In order to thrive YOU MUST BE REMARKABLE. In order to be remarkable, YOU MUST CREATE REMARKABLE EXPERIENCES FOR OTHERS. You must have passion and a point of view. You must elevate people, invite them to the table and empower them to share your story - by making your story their story, too.