Business

The New Army of Two: the CMO and CIO

CIO CMO

According to this IBM survey, 70% of CMOs felt unready to handle the explosion of big data. Marketing is no longer just about the traditional tasks of generating creative and public relations. Instead, today’s CMO is very involved with data-centric marketing activities. CMOs use information and data to stay competitive and understand their customers more thoroughly.

Deloitte CMO David Redhill explains why a combination of information technology (IT) and marketing are key to winning business through thought leadership: “…the company’s reputation is enhanced when it is able to deliver a professional service that crosses the gamut of traditional accounting, knowledge-based consulting and strong digital analysis. And that, he says, is down to a strong mix of marketing and IT.”

CMOs now need to work much more closely with CIOs to make use of this data. Building new armies of two, by aligning the CMO and CIO, is viewed as so important that there are entire initiatives designed to advance this process.

CIOs’ Enhanced Responsibilities

CIOs have matched IT solutions with the company’s challenges; this ability is the reason they have seats at the C-level meetings. However, the scope of a CIO’s role is expanding beyond the traditional responsibilities of cost efficiencies and process optimization. CIOs need use their knowledge to influence product development and improving communication to potential customers. These two functions used to primarily be the marketers’ responsibilities; now, the CIO works together with the CMO in order to make smarter, metrics-based marketing decisions.

According to this IBM whitepaper (PDF), an overwhelming majority of CMOs cited market research, analytics, and customer feedback to be sources that influence strategy decisions. Each of these sources are affiliated with the CIO and the organization’s IT team. The buzz around “big data” and its potential applications toward advancing marketing and product decisions puts much weight on the CIO. When it all boils down, the CIO will have to help solve a major problem that CMOs aren’t typically equipped to deal with.

Capturing Marketing ROI

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

While marketing resources and budgets were mysterious and extremely difficult to track in Wanamaker’s era, the advent of analytics solutions make it possible to gauge the success of marketing initiatives.

This type of analytics may seem as though it takes a lot of time and effort for marketers to collect; however, much of it may already be available within the organization’s IT department. As SAP’s Wilson Raj points out in this blog post, “52 percent of marketers and 45 percent of IT executives believe functional silos prevent the enterprise-wide aggregation of big data–thus hindering customer centricity.” In order to create the most precise measurement of marketing ROI, the CMO’s teams will need to collaborate with the CIO’s teams and gain access to the data that is so essential to this measurement’s success.

“We have the data to be able to see whether what we’re doing is resonating and how we can optimize it, but we don’t collect customer data from people who have purchased from us—the IT organization has that information,” writes Adobe’s SVP and CMO Ann Lewnes in eMarketer. “That’s what is drawing the CMO and CIO together more. Technology is very important from a marketing standpoint.”

To assist with the management of information and technology solutions, marketing departments have appointed their own technical roles. Known informally as “the CIO of Marketing,” or the “Chief Marketing Technologist,” this role involves making the final decisions with the marketing team’s IT budget and IT resources. For example, this chief marketing technologist would lead initiatives such as managing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions.

This role usually is a technology-centric marketer, and not a marketing-centric technologist. As Christiane Pütter writes for SAP, “In the Gartner survey, marketers described their IT colleagues as slow, unwilling to change, and fixed on costs. Marketers who made IT decisions found themselves, on the other hand, to be sales-driven, quick, and inspired by challenges.”

The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer

Not specific to the marketing department, technology research firm Gartner predicts the development of alternative role, the Chief Digital Officer, that will either work side-by-side with CMOs and CIOs, or will simply be the evolution of the CIO role.

Gartner predicts that companies’ technology spending outside of IT will increase to 90% of the total by 2015. Comparatively, at the turn of the millenium, technology spending outside of IT was at a mere 20%. 25% of organizations will have CDOs by 2015 in order to help them adapt to this drastic change in spending.

“The Chief Digital Officer plays in the place where the enterprise meets the customer, where the revenue is generated and the mission accomplished. They’re in charge of the digital business strategy. That’s a long way from running back office IT, and it’s full of opportunity,” writes David Willis, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Wall Street Journal guest contributor Irving Wladawsky-Berger agrees with Willis’ perspective, and believes that the rapid development of this new role creates many opportunities attractive to many of today’s current IT leaders and CIOs.

Leadership firm Russell Reynolds’ Rhys Grossman and Jana Rich defines the CDO role more specifically, emphasizing e-commerce and transactional expertise, online marketing and social media expertise, and transformative product and technology capabilities (e.g., making the transition from analog to digital), are keys to finding a CDO to get the job done. As you may have noticed, the first two fields of expertise are marketing-related and the final one is more of an IT-related responsibility.

Closing Thoughts

Whether it’s the CMO and the CIO becoming an army of two, or the rise of a new role like Chief Digital Officer, both fields of expertise are converging to tackle the same problems. (In fact, here’s a recent example of a CIO-turned-CMO.) CIOs’ responsibilities are expanding beyond simply solving IT problems, and CMOs’ abilities to gain insight and data require a hand from CIOs. This new army of two needs to cooperate and work together in order to usher this age of digital change; otherwise, they will fall behind.

Image Source: CIO/CMO Agenda Conference

How Behemoths like GE, Adobe, and SAP Tell Their Stories

SAP’s SVP of Marketing also serves as the company’s Chief Storyteller. This is just one of the many pieces of evidence indicating how crucial storytelling is to marketing and brand equity for large enterprises.

We all love stories. We are raised with stories from a young age, and many of these narratives become the pillars of our lives. Companies have recognized the power of storytelling for decades, and are now using storytelling to change how potential clients and stakeholders perceive them.

GE Adobe SAP

Here are how leading enterprises such as General Electric, Adobe, and SAP share their stories:

General Electric and the Image of Invention

Conglomerate giant General Electric faces a challenge that many larger, mature, companies inevitably have to deal with: How is it possible for the company to maintain a consistent image when they provide services for such a wide variety of customers in so many different industries? From appliances to jet engines to financial products, General Electric serves a series of drastically different niches and stakeholders.

As such, their story has to accommodate different types of audiences; conversely, their various content niches and microproperties also need a congruent overarching theme for effective branding. How can they do this while maintaining the interest of all parties with their content marketing initiatives?

Linda Boff, executive director of global digital marketing at General Electric, said in an interview with Digiday: “We are GE, a large primarily industrial company. We manufacture things in both traditional and advanced ways. We are fascinated by technology, innovation, discovery and invention. We have a clear compass as to what it is we find interesting and what our voice is in our space. We have a curious, passionate and optimistic voice.”

They embed these themes of technology, innovation, discovery, and invention not only their own content, but in their social media strategy as well. How can you make these vague themes interesting to the mainstream masses?

General Electric uses its own science-centric visuals, such as graphics from its laboratories, to entertain consumers. For example, their Pinterest board features various photos of interesting 3D printing, installations at GE-sponsored events, or progress on one of their latest projects. They created a mobile game for iOS, called Patient Shuffle, that tells the story of a hospital and helps the user understand the importance of logistics and what General Electric’s products are used for.

General Electric leverages visuals on YouTube: it features content such as visuals of their factory and quirky or unusual science-centric video shorts on blooming social network Vine. By sprinkling the themes of technology, innovation, discovery, and invention in the many types of content they share, General Electric maintains a cohesive theme while still tailoring their content to their many types of audiences.

Adobe and Cutting the Marketing BS

Reminiscent of how 7UP was positioned as the UNCOLA in order to stand out in a saturated market, computer software company Adobe created an unusual campaign to target CMOs and digital marketers for their digital marketing solution.

As Forbes columnist Steve Olenski shares in this article, Adobe’s story for this campaign started with their discovery that global advertising is not effective on marketers. Instead of simply explaining their product features in detail, which is exactly what their competitors were doing, Adobe told a different story in order to cut through the noise. They decided to take the brutally honest approach to appealing to marketers and created a campaign called, “Marketing is BS.” Adobe’s solution to platitude-filled meetings is their product, which helps marketers make sense of data. (For example, have a look at their video titled BS Detector.)

The campaign resonated extremely well with marketers, and the “brutally honest” approach to telling this story paid off. Adobe’s CMO Ann Lewnes said in this article with The New York Times: “‘I think Adobe is not known for being provocative or bold,’ Ms. Lewnes said. ‘We’re ‘a nice software company.’ But in this crowded space, with a lot of competition, the intent is to break through, jolt the market,’ she added.”

Essentially, their campaign was about eating their own dogfood when it came to the advice they were preaching: “The frankness of the campaign also signals that Adobe Systems (and their agency) realized that ‘if we were flowery, overly clever, jargony, the more it would feel like we were doing the same thing we were saying people don’t need to do anymore,’ Goodby, Silverstein’s Keith Anderson also added in The New York Times article. (Note: Goodby, Silverstein was Adobe’s agency for this campaign.)

SAP Powers Sentimentality

Operations and logistics software giant SAP faces an extremely difficult challenge in their marketing. While their solution is extremely essential, and effective, and crucial in their clients’ day-to-day activities, their product is also a background service doesn’t make for the most interesting or remarkable topic. How can SAP make Enterprise Resource Management and streamlining processes more understandable and interesting to potential key decision makers and stakeholders? First and foremost, SAP leverages sites like Forbes to host and distribute their content. On their sponsored column, SAPVoice, marketer Todd Wilms demonstrates the potential power behind the story of SAP. Wilms frames SAP as a service that helps their customers deliver:

  • 72% of the world’s chocolate,
  • 70% of the world’s beer,
  • 82% of the world’s athletic footwear. 

SAP follows the 22nd rule of Pixar’s rules of storytelling: “What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.” At its core, SAP is the service that enables companies in all industries to bring joy to its customers and stakeholders. As such, it’s able to tailor its story to different types of customers by simply explaining its different niches.

“For example, at the New York Fashion Week, we are going to capture people talking about fashion and how it impacts their lives,” said Julie Roehm, SAP’s SVP Marketing and Chief Storyteller in a Campaign India interview. “A world ‘run better’ for them might be their clothes fit them every day and they don’t have to worry about their appearance constantly. What does that has [sic.] to do with SAP? Well, we created technology for Levi’s that helps them to image a person and suggest which Levi’s jean is going to be best for them to put on. So, when people put the right one on without going through the hassle of going through multiple pairs of jeans, they feel good about themselves.”

In order to take their storytelling to the next level, SAP created a mobile app that would share the stories of their various customer journeys. While the primary purpose of this mobile app is likely to assist SAP sales teams during presentations, it doubles as a presentable collection of stories and case studies for any potential clients that are interested in SAP.

Closing Thoughts

With decades of experience in branding and marketing, these companies are industry-leaders in the art of storytelling and how storytelling techniques can be used to increase brand awareness and sales. As General Electric, Adobe, and SAP demonstrate, the greatest stories can be told through content marketing by using imaginative themes, speaking frankly with your customers, and connecting with the sentimentality of your product. 

5 Content Marketing KPI to Keep Your Eyes On

How do you know whether your content marketing is working or not?

Five Content Marketing Tips

According to a whitepaper by Rebecca Lieb of Altimeter, measuring content marketing success is often described by marketers as “all over the board.” From the perspectives of enterprises, coming up clear metrics is subjective because of the broad range of stakeholders, including marketing, sales, and communications. There are no standardized sets of metrics that all teams converge upon naturally: for example, one team could be expecting lead generation, whereas another team could be hoping to drive deeper engagement from the same content initiative.

As Peter Drucker once said, “What gets measured gets managed.” The solution is to only measure several Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), because there is NO one-size-fits-all set of metrics. However, you’re worse off not measuring at all than not measuring properly (at least your team will get into the habit of tracking), so here are some fundamental content marketing KPIs to keep your eyes on and the principles behind them:

1. Reach

One prerequisite to content marketing success is ensuring people are actually consuming (e.g., reading, watching, listening to) your content. You can measure this by calculating your reach.

The most valuable metrics are pageviews and unique visitors. These two metrics have been used by advertisers and publishers since the dawn of the internet because they are most simple and representative way to measure how many people saw your content.

The reach metric comes with one caveat: optimizing just for pageviews is a poor method for measuring content marketing initiatives if you create content that is popular, but lacks relevance with your audience. Especially in B2B marketing, you must still preserve the content integrity of your brand.

When experimenting with distribution to increase reach, such as paid advertising or social media, you may also want to consider some of these KPIs that social networks look at (e.g., here are Facebook’s): impressions and clickthroughs, number of social shares — and in B2B, if your prospects shared your content. What better reason to get in touch and start a conversation?

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you have created the world’s best content but no one is around to read it, is it valuable? Philosophy aside, let’s just make sure you never have to debate this question with your content: keep an eye on your reach through pageviews and unique visitors.

2. Brand Lift

From a more qualitative KPI focused around branding, you can measure performance in one of these primary areas of brand objectives:

  • Awareness
  • Attitudes
  • Favorability
  • Purchase intent
  • Preference

Awareness can be measured through reach, but the other four points may require some deeper prodding. Companies use focus groups and surveys to measure attitudes, favorability, and preference, and you can also measure these by using social media sentiment analysis. This can be done by using free tools like Social Mention and by keeping a close eye on hashtags, Google Alerts, or through your social media agency. (For further reading on using social media to listen  and gauge consumer opinions, check out Converseon’s whitepaper, Listening 2.0.)

To measure purchase intent, you can use your analytics platform to examine how far down the sales funnels visitors from your websites are going, when they arrive at your site through a content initiative. You can also use a marketing automation platform to give credit to attribute leads to specific sources of content.

3. Business Growth

In order to measure business growth, look at how much revenue is being generated through each content initiative. Depending on your business, this could be measured through lead generation, or the number of new e-mails collected within a certain timespan.

If you want a more comprehensive look at business growth created through content marketing, break down the revenue generated based on each of your content marketing efforts — was the revenue mainly through new customers or was it from increased revenue from existing customers? This will help you better understand your content initiative’s strengths and weaknesses, and whether it’s aligning to your goals (e.g., new customer acquisition vs existing custom retention?).

4. Reader Engagement

In addition to business growth, reader engagement is another KPI that will gauge whether or not your content is relevant and of high quality. Reader engagement and business growth balance out the reach KPI.

To measure reader engagement, look at metrics such as bounce rate, time spent on page, blog stickiness (average pages per visit), comments per post, and even explicit client feedback (e.g., through e-mails or blog comments).

5. Special Metrics

Your organization is unique — while it may operate using certain best practises or principles, it’s certainly not completely cut out of a cookie-cutter mould. Similarly, your content marketing KPIs should reflect this uniqueness: what aspect of your organization is this content initiative designed to help grow or improve?

Dell used to be well-known for its terrible reputation amongst consumers (have a look at what journalist Jeff Jarvis had to say about it, and how many readers that critique resonated with, several years ago). Dell knew what they had to change, and proceeded to adjust accordingly.

As the Executive Director of Online Marketing for Dell’s Large Enterprise Business Unit, Rishi Dave, highlights in this interview, Dell would look at metrics such as loyalty, brand reputation, impact on costs (for example, through customer support). These metrics are extremely customer centric and focused on retention and improving the reputation.

Dell uses a metric called the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which according to Dave, “measures the loyalty of your customer base and lets you identify opportunities for increasing your overall brand health. It also enables you to recognize how you can enhance your customers’ perceptions of (and loyalty to) your company.”

You must ask yourself, “What is your organization’s priority? What is its greatest challenge or strength, and which are you trying to improve or refine? Pick a KPI to measure this.

Closing Thoughts

Don’t get caught in analysis paralysis: if your content initiative isn’t being tracked and measured using the proper KPIs, you’ll never have an idea of what needs to be improved and whether the initiative is working for your organization. Even if the metrics are not meeting performance expectations, at least you will know if your results are improving or getting worse. Having the proper metrics in place will allow you to determine the next course of action, whether it’s to cut your losses, continue on course, or tweak and optimize for more effective content marketing.

 (Image Source: Flickr)

The Blurring Lines Between Journalism and Content Marketing

According to The Guardian, 86% of viewer skip TV ads. Mashable tells us 44% of direct mail is never opened. Companies have adapted to the decrease in advertising interest and scarcity of consumer attention, and instead are starting to refocus on new methods of customer acquisition.  There are three aspects to this shift: embedding the marketing message within the content through native advertising, hiring journalists with strong relationships with external press, and building media properties instead of relying on traditional press to attract clients.

Let’s start by delving into the progress of native advertising, where companies create interesting content to attract readers of traditional press.

Blurring Lines Between Journalism and Content Marketing

Native Advertising

For those unfamiliar, native advertising is similar in concept to sponsored content or the advertorial. It is a method of marketing designed to attract consumers by providing valuable content.

Financial services consultancy Capco created an interesting, relevant, and well-designed native advertisement for the Monocle magazine (seen in slide #6 of this Slideshare). In this case, Capco’s advertisement comes in the form of an article that talks about how factors such as investment contribute to urban regeneration. (It doesn’t hurt that Monocle can work closely with its sister branding agency Winkreative for creative work.)

In other parts of the world, the relationship is much more direct and difficult to discern; for example, this New York Times article highlights the practises of Esquire in China, which at the time of investigation charged around $20,000 per page. Any business leaders that wanted a profile to appear in this magazine could simply pay the fee and buy their way in. While it may not appear to be a big deal, this press appearance could have significant implications for seemingly unrelated metrics, such as stock prices.

The Executives are Editors of the Press

A couple of years ago, Salesforce’s founder Marc Benioff recruited veteran technology journalist Steve Gillmor to become the company’s Head of Technical Media Strategy. At the time, Gillmor was as the founding editor of TechCrunchIT, and still retains a contributing editor role with the company.

This presents an interesting opportunity for Gillmor to break Salesforce news first to TechCrunch to gain more exposure (should he choose to), and for him to continue observing how the state of technology and media is changing directly from the front lines. He can also continue crafting articles for TechCrunch and link back to Salesforce’s CloudBlog, which presents the opportunity to attract curious readers.

A quick word on Salesforce’s structure: Salesforce also has Peter Coffee as the Director of Platform Research (formerly from eWEEK), and Bruce Francis in the role of Chief Messaging Officer and VP of Corporate Strategy. Messaging and strategy, as Salesforce sees it, are intertwined.

Salesforce is far from the only company recruiting former reporters and journalists to help their cause. Hubspot recently hired Steve Lyons, better known for his writing under the name Fake Steve Jobs and as the former Editor-in-Chief of ReadWrite.

Building Media Properties

As Hubspot CMO Mike Volpe writes, “No one wakes up and says ‘I want to see an ad.’ Why do marketers wake up and say ‘let’s make an ad’?” Instead, Hubspot and many other companies focus on building media properties themselves and using it to attract customers. Marketing is evolving to the point where every company is a media company.

This is clear in the responsibilities and past histories of each media team’s leaders. Intel hired Benjamin Tomkins, previously the managing editor of InformationWeek.com and editor-in-chief at InformationWeek SMB, to be the managing editor of their media property called The Intel Free Press. According to Digiday, Cisco has over 15 journalists contributing to its technology news site, The Network. According to Business Insider, IBM recruited Ben Edwards, a former reporter at The Economist, as their VP of Global Communications to help grow its Smarter Planet property.

Journalists and reporters are leaving traditional publishers to take up similar editorial and publishing roles at corporate-sponsored media initiatives. Will this transition from editorial interest to corporate interest be a cause of concern?

Closing Thoughts

As former Businessweek columnist (and now a regular contributor to companies such as NVIDIA and Cisco) Steve Wildrom writes:

“But the world of journalism that I have known for all those years is dying fast. We are going to have to find new models to survive, and, unless a miracle occurs and we can find a way to get readers to pay directly for content,  those models are going to have to include sponsorship arrangements of one sort or another. In truth, journalism has always involved sponsorship. In the old world of advertiser-supported conventional media, an elaborate infrastructure separated the sponsors–advertisers–from the sponsored–journalists. The arrangement was never as pure as we liked to believe, but for the most part it worked.” [Emphasis added.]

Traditional press no longer commands the advertising money it used to; rather, corporations are shifting their spending into building their own media properties and connecting directly with their audiences. Corporations are finding new ways to attract attention in the press, journalists are finding new roles as marketing or communications leads at companies, and companies are building the media properties themselves. The convergence of journalism and marketing has already begun taking its first steps, and following this trend is the key to continued business success.

(Image Source: Flickr)

How a Startup Gained Hundreds of Customers with a Few Blog Posts

How can you bring thousands of readers to your blog and convert them into customers? Here’s how one entrepreneur, without any prior content marketing experience, did it.

Shoplocket Thalmic Labs

Katherine Hague is the CEO and co-founder of eCommerce platform ShopLocket. In early June, Hague launched a new content marketing strategy to replace ShopLocket’s earlier blog initiative. The new publication is called Blueprint, and it investigates the stories behind hardware entrepreneurs. Despite its infancy, Blueprint started off with a bang; its first post reached the top of Hacker News and gained thousands of views within a span of hours.

While Blueprint is experiencing early success and is different from most content marketing strategies, that’s not to say Hague is a veteran or one of those self-proclaimed “gurus”. In fact, she doesn’t pretend she’s an experienced content marketer, which is exactly what makes her story interesting. She is an anomaly.

Let’s have a look to see what she’s up to, how she got such early traction with Blueprint, and what action steps you can take today to change your content marketing strategy’s trajectory.

The First Steps

“It was good content, but it wasn’t really driving any particular traffic and it wasn’t different from anything out there on the web,” says Hague, referring to ShopLocket’s first attempts at content marketing. Previously, ShopLocket’s content marketing was based around its WordPress blog with general themes around customer service and marketing. (The most recent articles titled, “We’ve partnered with Automattic to offer the first ecommerce integration for WordPress.com, starting with Enterprise and VIP customers,” and “The Absolute Hardest Thing to Tell a Customer”). The weekly effort had tapered off with two posts between the months of March and April.

Shoplocket Original Blog

Hague had a problem; her content marketing strategy wasn’t working. She wanted to engage consumers in a different, unique, and interesting way. She knew there was an abundance of interviews around the web with software founders or the next big internet startup but she also observed a knowledge gap for companies building real things and shipping hardware to customers. There remained a silent niche for readers wanting to learn from entrepreneurs who have created hardware products and physical products.

It was time to make a change in that direction. Initially, Hague and ShopLocket started off with one interview and sent it to a few friends for feedback. This sample consisted of customers, fellow entrepreneurs, and people Hague and ShopLocket would want to interview. Hague wanted to validate her idea and gauge: what did they think? Did they think this was interesting? Hague also sent her friends mockups to give her friends an idea of what the blog would look like.

After hearing positive responses to Blueprint, Hague decided to launch it. Prior to launching, Hague already had 3-4 interviews queued up. When she was speaking with me, she advised content marketers to aim for consistency — and shipping content in regular cadences.

Despite not having an entire strategy fleshed out, Hague didn’t impulsively decide to install WordPress and start a blog. She had a very clear idea of what her vision was (articles that would seem like sitting down for a 30-minute coffee with someone) and validated it with different samples of readers before moving any farther. She already had an idea of what the reader wanted even before she started, which put her work ahead of the rest of the content out there.

Checking the Scoreboard

Blueprint’s first post, an interview with Thalmic Labs co-founder Stephen Lake, had clever timing. Hague knew Thalmic Labs was going to be making a major announcement; the day Thalmic Labs announced $14M in funding, Hacker News picked up Hague’s Blueprint post and it became the most upvoted. This led to over 10,000 people reading Blueprint’s first post.

Hague adds that the timing came with the risk that the momentum and noise from Thalmic Labs’ announcement could drown out the Blueprint interview, which wasn’t specifically related to the funding announcement. Fortunately for ShopLocket, the risk paid off.

A large number of visitors reaching the initial Blueprint link also visited ShopLocket homepage. A few hundred people signed up for ShopLocket as a result of Blueprint’s first few posts. Hague points out ShopLocket logo at the top as the most effective one that drives visits to the ShopLocket homepage.

Hague continues to look for feedback. This is partially done implicitly in the metrics: she looks for feedback in newsletter list sign-ups, and Twitter shares and mentions. She also considers more explicit feedback, like e-mail responses. A side perk: Blueprint was a great way to build relationships with people who she was interviewing — who happen to be influential people in their respective spaces. Hague could now ask them for feedback and advice.

Blueprint’s greatest sources of traffic have been Hacker News, Reddit, and StumbleUpon. Hague plans to expand through content syndication partnerships and StumbleUpon advertising.

The ShopLocket Process

Hague does all the interviews, and each Blueprint interview takes around 30 minutes. She does it over Skype, or in-person if she’s around the area. She also sends them a few questions over e-mail that appear in the more candid sections of the interview (e.g., “When and where were you the happiest?”). Hague saves a lot of time and typing by getting the conversation transcribed on SpeechPad.

The interview is transcribed and pasted into Google Docs, which Hague shares in case the interviewee wants to veto anything.

“Cumulatively, it takes us about the collective time of about a day to do an interview,” says Hague. The majority of this is in the hands of the designer, which doesn’t come as a surprise — each Blueprint page is beautiful, and built to delight readers.

Shoplocket Blueprint Interviews

The long-form content remains in an interview Q&A format because Hague wanted to convey the interviewee’s personality through his conversational diction and choice of words. Similarly, in order for the reader to learn more about the interviewee, Blueprint is decorated with graphics that detail the interviewee’s rituals. High-resolution photographs keep the reader scrolling through the post and complement the text.

Hague was careful to build something that ShopLocket could be proud of, and this principle extends to content. “Put yourself in the shoes of the person that’s going to read it,” she says. There are tons of blogs on the very broad genres of social media and the different types of selling. As you’re publishing your post, think carefully: would I want to read something I’m about to write? Often times, Hague notices entrepreneurs and content marketers simply creating filler content to fill up the editorial calendar.

Models

Blueprint was inspired by visually-appealing, magazine-style blogs and publications, says Hague. It’s built on two principles: extremely strong content, and having it be very visually appealing. She mentioned Ryan Holmes’ Work/Life article as an example.

Don’t underestimate design, advises Hague; it has the ability to extend people’s attention spans. Design can be used to hook readers into the interview, and make them curious enough to begin scrolling down. “If you don’t come to something that doesn’t look great, you’ll probably click away,” says Hague.

In terms of models, Hague advised reading blogs that excel at content marketing, such as KISSMetrics, Buffer, and Clarity.

What can YOU do Today?

Content marketing is all about understanding the customer, emphasizes Hague. Instead of reading content marketing books, Hague recommends having a look at Delivering Happiness by Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh. It is a book about understanding customers and delivering better experiences.

Fundamentally, Hague believes that content marketing isn’t so much about mechanics of writing content, or designing the blog, but figuring out what your customers want and what would be interesting to them. Align your writing styles and voice, as well as the aesthetics of your blog or content marketing initiative to match those of your readers’ tastes.

If Hague were to give you a crash course in content marketing, she would suggest:

  • Reading blogs that are doing it right (Mentioned above)

  • Talk to 20 of your most active customers

  • Talk to 20 of our least active customers

  • Talk to someone who writes content for a living

  • Talk to someone who does PR for a living

Figure out: what does good content, in your niche, look like? What do your customers or potential customers actually want to read?

Closing Thoughts

“What works for us won’t necessarily work for you,” reminds Hague. That means replicating Blueprint’s strategies and tactics may generate some different results for you and your niche; you have the information now, and it’s up to you to test it, and see what sticks and what doesn’t. The crux of content marketing success is to understand the customers’ (or readers’) desires, priorities, and preferences. If design is a priority to your readers, figure out what devices they are reading from (Blueprint features responsive web design), what styles they prefer, what feelings the design elicits, and what attracts their attention.

You don’t have to be a content marketing expert to deliver content that consumers and customers will love and talk about. Ship content regularly, adapt accordingly, and build something that will make you proud.

The Golden Age of Mobile Publishing is Here

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The year is 1920 and a group of reporters at a small, virtually unknown Detroit radio station are about to make history. They’re about to conduct the world’s first ever newscast – reporting live results from the primary elections. As the station would later describe, the event would turn out to be prophetic, a sign of times to come:

 In the four hours that the apparatus, set up in an out-of-the-way corner of The News Building, was hissing and whirring its message into space, few realized that a dream and a prediction had come true. The news of the world was being given forth through this invisible trumpet to the waiting crowds in the unseen market place.

 I just love that quote. The language, aside from being so rich and evocative, has the tone of great importance, assured of the radio’s crucial role to come in mass communication. But it would take over thirty years for radio to realize that dream. Until then, it went through a series of twists and turns.

Mobile today is a lot like radio in the 1920s. There’s a general, optimistic feeling it possesses the keys to the future of communication and content discovery, of broadcasting, of publishing, of information. But the training wheels have only just come off, and mobile is still very young. What is mobile’s character? What will it look like in 30 years?

To understand exactly where mobile has come, and where it’s headed, it’s helpful to first take a step back to see how an older medium, radio, grew into its current role. It’s a story many in the tech industry have heard about already – a common anecdote to describe how mass media slowly shapes itself to catch up with changing technology and societies, and vice versa. But it’s worth a revisit.

How Radio Got its Voice

During the early years of news radio, nothing could have been further from revolutionary. Reporters simply read from newspapers, unaware of the magnificent potential the new medium would have to transmit instant, timely news better than print ever could. In fact it got so bad, with reporters ripping headlines from the papers, the papers had to implement a blackout on radio stations from reading their stuff on air. The ban only lasted two years.

It wasn’t until World War Two radio truly came into its own. As public thirst for immediate information grew, radio delivered the fix with on-scene reportages, interviews and the sharp, easy-to-digest syntax of the modern newscast we are all so familiar with today.

By the 1950s, radio was no longer a new medium ripping pages (literally) from the old. It was a vibrant, instant way to capture the world’s attention and feed it information. The prophecy in that quote from the ‘20’s had come true. Radio was its own force with its own characteristics and style.

So what does this have to do with mobile?

The history of radio news sheds light on the current evolution we’re seeing right now with mobile’s (gradual) upheaval of the online reading experience. Just like radio, in the early years of mobile content publishing, old habits were adopted from older media, and continue to be relied on to this day.

The early days of mobile (including today)

Much like radio, mobile content’s early days are defined by the characteristics of older media.  With the explosion of the iPhone and iPad between 2009 and 2011, the App Store was the first place publishers and brands looked to snag the attention of a newly important, massive mobile audience. One way of getting their content to those eyeballs quickly was by re-purposing PDFs and calling them “apps.” Magazines, businesses, newspapers all did it: packaging up their PDF’s into an app, perhaps adding some slightly intriguing bells and whistles (html links, video pop ups, even a fake page flip animation) and that was that.

Around this time, we also saw the rise of the first mobile sites. Mobile sites became increasingly important as the battle between web and native apps started to reveal that most people prefer getting content from the web and not closed apps.  But mobile sites, in the early days, were not so much borrowed from the old. They simply fell short of mobile’s potential to tell a compelling story. They reduced the content experience to a bunch of single line summaries, very little visual information and an overall ugly, slow and difficult reading experience.

Finally came a great and clever solution, responsive design, which is probably one of the most discussed mobile strategies circulating publisher boardrooms and marketing departments today. The issue again is that responsive design is simply a reshuffling of the old, in this case the desktop web, into the new.

Responsive design makes it easy to fit all your content from the web onto smaller screens, and to do so with a simple, build-it-once approach. But it doesn’t bring out the true character of reading on smartphones and tablets. It relies on navigation built for the click and scroll world (back buttons, very little swipe), it relies on constantly reloading pages, which is a bigger problem on small devices with less speed, and it doesn’t provide new, immersive advertising and engagement models that give mobile its potential to not only change the way we read, but change the way publishers and content producers grow their business.

Mobile coming into its own

In the past few years, we’ve made tremendous leaps in defining exactly what mobile can be; we’ve had our 1920’s radio moment.

The most successful, trail-blazing apps for reading content on tablets and smartphones are the aggregators, that take your content from a feed, and from social networks, organize it in a relevant way (curated content) and then serve it up to you in the very best mobile experience possible. Think of Flipboard, of Zite, or Pulse. These addictive mobile experiences are all about swipe, full screen, clean layouts, and immersion – they let you keep flipping, and discovering more and more content.

We know from Pressly data this kind of experience is not just pretty – it is much more effective. Users will spend far more time with content on small devices if they can swipe around, rather than the hunt and peck of old mobilized or desktop sites.

We’ve also witnessed another major transformation of the mobile medium; the rich web experience. With FT leading the way in 2011 as the first major publisher to deliver a native-like experience directly from the web, many saw this move as a way to shirk Apple’s hefty 30% revenue cut. But it was so much more than that. FT saw the web was the future of content distribution, not app stores. So it built an HTML5 powered app and it proved you could offer the same rich experience exalted in the app stores, directly from the browser. The years that have passed and FT’s bold move has proven to be ahead of the curve. Publishers are now moving en masse to find mobile web solution, where they know their audience is growing, and the luster of the app store is dimming.

Further, publishers have found better ways to engage their audience, and finally unlock the potential of mobile to provide a new monetization strategy. With full screen and swipe, comes the opportunity to insert full-screen ads. No longer do publishers rely on clutter, such as banners, but they can add a rich experience, while you surf content. These ads don’t interrupt from the aesthetics of mobile reading, while giving the reader potentially something enjoyable and entertaining on its own (often the full screen ads are beautiful and highly engaging, with video, animations and so on).

This new method of advertising also gives content marketers a model to improve their conversion on their content marketing properties. Instead of ads, they insert call to action screens in between articles: download this ebook, sign up for our newsletter, request information, and other forms of lead generation.

The next few years for mobile

What is effective on mobile is finally starting to become clear. Now what’s left is for mass adoption and the sharpening of the tools we already have. We know the web will be the hotbed of content distribution, we know it makes life easier for readers if all your content is a single Mobile Google search away. We know that works for publishers and marketers too. Yet a majority of publications still do not have an adequate modern mobile reading experience, one that takes advantage of all the strengths offered by the touch screen device.

We’ve also yet to uncover all the characteristics that will truly define mobile as its own force of nature. Remember, reading on these devices is so much more than just smaller screens. It’s an entirely different context: you are on the bus, in bed at home, walking in a park. How will publishers shape mobile to be more effective in these local contexts? This is certainly early days, but it seems like a natural progression for the medium.

We’ll also take strides in eliminating the jarring chasm between desktop and mobile reading. Responsive design is a step towards this, but so far, most mobile reading lives on a separate island, meanwhile desktop reading stays mostly unchanged. As mobile continues its evolution, we will see cleaner, tighter integration between small screens and big, and much more play between them. This might simply be Flipboard reading from the laptop, but it might also be “second screen” experiences, where the mobile device grows as the enhancer of non-mobile content, rather than the alternative.

The next step for publishers and marketers in mobile

Just as radio had its moment in the 1920s, the glimpse of hope for what the medium would hold, we’ve already had ours with mobile. Mobile is perennially a top priority in editorial boardrooms and marketing war rooms across the world. It’s clearly the key. In the last few years we’ve uncovered some fragments of what works on mobile. Swipe. Web. Full screen. Curation. Mobile is getting its voice.

And now, we are entering the golden age of mobile reading, this is the turning point, a time that will define mobile’s personality as a mass communications platform. The technological and social uses of mobile in will continue to evolve.

Marketers and publisher play a crucial role in shaping and adopting this future, or risk being left behind, reading those headlines over the airwaves.

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Don’t wait. Just Begin: The Key to Creativity

start_sprint“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.”
(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

The hardest part of writing this blog post is writing this sentence – this one right here, the one you are reading right now. The starting point of any creative task is always the trickiest part, the part that slowly, painfully builds up in you, until you’re about ready to burst. It’s the one thing you keep putting off, escaping temporarily, to peruse your email, to do more research (who are you kidding), and get it “right.”

But the act of finally starting, especially when your idea doesn’t seem perfect, is the most fundamental rule to creativity. It’s not just in writing fiction or blog posts that this rule applies. The act of starting is hailed in all walks of creative and artistic life, as well as in business and the world of the entrepreneur. From the tenets of the lean startup, the teachings of the world’s best writers, to Steve Jobs’ philosophy of “always be shipping”, the world’s most creative and successful thinkers all knew how crucial it was to simply start.

Start and Beautiful Things Will Happen

The idea for this blog post came when I was watching C.C. Chapman, a self-help author and social media buff, speak to an audience in Toronto about how to live an amazing life. He gave some useful advice about how lead the life you want to be living, which he’s written about in his book Amazing Things Will Happen.

But the most memorable encounter of the evening for me was not from C.C. at all. A woman in the audience raised her hand and she said his talk reminded her of an old Goethe quote she’d heard long ago, a quote that had changed the way she lived her life. This was the lengthy, but powerful quote which she knew by heart, and recited to the audience:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

As a side note, there has been some questioning over whether Goethe ever actually said that. But the source of the quote is less important than its message. The fact is, you find fragments of this quote all over the web. It’s stuck around and is so popular for a reason: it feels absolutely true.

What the quote reveals is that when you finally commit your life to a path, only then do the things you need to make it successful emerge. Many of us struggle to make decisions in life. We pain over quitting our jobs, starting a novel, putting things off to a later date when everything will make sense. What this quote strikes you with is the idea that waiting for a better time is a mirage. There is no time where everything will be perfect and you’ll finally start without fear.

Your only duty is to start, and from there, the path will become clear and fruitful. “Providence” kicks in. Connections get made. The path always makes more sense looking back. But you had to take that first big baby step in the offset, or else none of it would have ever happened.

The Ego and The Psychology of Procrastination

“The easiest thing in the world is not to write.” (William Golding)

Previously we talked about Steven Pressfield in our tips to live life more creatively and his discussions of resistance. Resistance, he says in his book The War of Art, is that powerful force inside of you, preventing you from living your true purpose and following your dreams. This resistance can be felt every day, getting in the way of what we know we should be doing. It’s that desire to check emails before starting your real work. It’s the sneaking out for early lunch when really you should have your butt on the seat. Drinking with friends on a Wednesday, love making, yes that too, even putting your family first at the expense of what you want to be doing. Some of these things feel natural to you, and they are all good to an extent.

But much of these distractions come from something inside you that actually doesn’t want you to create what you feel you need to create. The ego.

We are psychologically wired to avoid trying to create, argues Pressfield, because when you finally set something down, you risk rejection, you risk failure. This is the ego protecting itself. We deeply identify with our sense of purpose, so if we screw it up, then who are we?

This is why creation is often discussed as a kind of death. It is the death of your fears and your ego, it is an evolution to a next stage. And that is scary. We seek comfort instead in the temporary retreat of not doing that big thing we should be doing.

But you must keep in mind these distractions will never fulfill you. Putting off your true purpose is one of the most numbing, painful things to live with, but you do it because the fears of the ego are even bigger. Facing these fears is incredibly tough and it’s why starting is so difficult.

Forget about perfect and go

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
(Margaret Atwood)

One way to cope with this constant resistance is to face it directly, and simply try and forget about it – or at least ignore it.  Much of the time, we are too critical of our initial abilities to create, so we avoid starting, waiting for a moment when all the dots will line up.

The truth is, the most successful people don’t think they’re perfect. Shakespeare probably didn’t sit around waiting until the perfect sonnet jumped into his brain. He just began and he didn’t stop. The power is in knowing how imperfect you are, and to run with it anyway.

Susan Cadley, a licensed psychotherapist and writer, discusses on her blog how she faces up to her imperfections right from the start.

I acknowledged the initial feeling of disappointment and the inner critic voice telling me “you’ll never get a creative spark again”. “Thank you for sharing” I tell the inner critic and I let her know that I know better. I remind her that creativity is not always an instantaneous combustion of fireworks and ideas. Some creations take time and mistakes and detours create more layers, complexity and depth. I gently confronted my inner critic and suggested that we “play and see what shows up next.

Instead of giving in to her inner critic, she personifies it, and she tells it to go take a hike. When you’re on a mission to create, you should do the same. Ask your self, are you really just scared this idea isn’t perfect? Then realize it never will be, and feel free to just begin.

The Power of Starting in Business and in Life

“Real artists ship.” (Steve Jobs)

These days, it’s not an exaggeration to say people are in love with the idea of being a startup entrepreneur. From the Holywood blockbuster The Social Network, to the billion-dollar Instagram acquisition, striving to be a software kingpin is the new cool.

It’s interesting to note this entire culture of the startup is completely based on the idea of just getting started long before you’ve ever figured out what the hell you are going to do. The agile or lean startup method was arguably first set in stone by Steve Blank in his seminal Four Steps to the Epiphany. But this methodology was popularized by Eric Ries, a student of Blank’s, in his best seller The Lean Startup. “Lean” has given us a whole new vocabulary, one that gets thrown around in board rooms across the world, and tossed up on whiteboards, in all those fancy new venture-funded startups.

Lean is all about starting with just a hunch and going from there. You set down your hypothesis, then go out there and test it out. You don’t even expect it to be right. In fact, you’re happy when it’s proven wrong because you’ve just learned something. Ego plays a big role in startups, of course. But it’s never welcome when it comes to finding product market-fit. This concept is summarized by Blank when he says “inside the office there are no facts, there are only opinions.” To grow your start up, you need to get outside and you need to make mistakes.

And while Apple Computer certainly seems to believe in perfectionism – Steve Jobs was infamously a control freak – the company also seems endowed with the DNA to constantly be delivering. They have dependable ship schedules for new phones and computers, sticking to incredibly tight deadlines to push out the greatest, world-changing tech. And they keep doing it over and over again. The Steve Jobs quote above, that “real artists ship,” is a perfect summary of this idea. You sit around waiting to be perfect, or the perfect time, you’ll never be an artist. You’ll never create something worthwhile. You need to commit to starting and shipping, and you need to acknowledge upfront that there is no such thing as perfect, only hypotheses that beg testing.

Getting Started

There’s never been a better time to get started on that project that’s been bugging you. In fact, there is no other time. What is important to understand is that the procrastination you face daily, preventing you from beginning your creative task, is deeply entwined in a psychological fear of the ego. But what is clear, from the advice of entrepreneurs and writers, is that starting is the most important act of all. It won’t feel perfect. You might not know where you are headed – and that’s all good. When you finally arrive, all the steps you took will make sense.

To pull once more from the quote above: Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

Changes in Google Ranking for Smartphone Web Traffic

google-now-galaxy-s4Smartphone traffic is at an all time high, and this comes with both challenges and opportunities for media companies and marketers with heavy web traffic.

As part of Google’s efforts to improve the mobile web, the search giant recently came out with some useful recommendations to avoid some serious, experience-hindering mistakes which web masters often make. The information they’ve circulated is a bit technical, but extremely useful in making sure you are treating your web visitors to the best possible reading experience.

In a recent post, they also outlined the two most common mistakes and how to fix them. The first is faulty redirects, and that’s when you send users looking for a certain desktop page, to an unrelated mobile-optimized page (for example, they are looking for your about page on an iPhone, and you send them to the mobile homepage instead). The second major mistake is smartphone-only errors, which is when you show an error page to someone just because they are on a mobile device, though the page actually exists. Google implores that it’s always better to show them a non-optimized page, if you don’t have one, than to send them to an error page.

As the mobile revolution continues to grow, knowing these trick and best practices from Google will be crucial in ensuring your web traffic is as strong as possible. Take a look at the full article, here. 

Marketers Have Found a Way To Use Vine

Wolverine-VineWe’re always on the lookout for new trends in mobile marketing, and one of the latest examples of this is with Vine, the popular video sharing app. Back in May, we had a guest post at the Content Marketing Institute, which described how Vine had broken Hollywood history with the first ever six-second movie trailer for The Wolverine.

Now it seems mini-movie trailers on Vine are a full-blow trend, according to AdWeek.

“The limitations of six seconds can actually lift the storytelling,” explained Gabrielle Kessler, accounts manager for Something Massive, which manages social media for Regal. “You get to home in on those emotionally engaging moments that both marketers and filmmakers are after,” she said. “We are really encouraged with the engagement the app is producing so far.”

Want to see how marketers are using Vine? See the full article here.

The Art and Science of Good Story Telling

brain_heroimage_dynamic_lead_hero_imageTelling a good story can be a powerful thing.

Most of us remember being read to as a child, that warm feeling of listening to our parents tell us about magic, imagined worlds. A great film or novel can stick with you for days, and often a lifetime. In business, good stories can land you a new job, or rally your team behind an intimidating new project.

No doubt, for content marketers and brands especially, great story telling makes all the difference. While improving your creativity is all about discipline, the psychology of how your creative efforts are experienced is important to understand and apply to your day to day life. After all, it doesn’t matter what your company is doing, if you aren’t telling your story well, who is listening?

Story Telling and the Brain

To start let’s take a look at what’s going on inside our heads when we are given a story. As Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich points out in his Lifehacker article on the science of story telling, the reason we feel so engaged when we hear a story, read a novel or see a play – whenever we experience a narrative – is quite simple. When we are being told a story, our brain experiences it as if it was really happening to us.

For years, we’ve known the centres for our brain used in decoding language were instrumental in understanding a story. But what gives the story its deeper impact is a wonderful, explosion of additional brain activity, totally unassociated with language or logic. What happens is all areas of your brain that would be activated if the event was truly happening to you, get turned on when hearing the narrative. Your brain lives it like it was real.

In a 2006 study, researchers asked participants to read words with strong odour associations, while they were wired up to a brain scanner (MRI). What researchers saw was the subjects’ olfactory cortexes lighting up. When subjects saw words like “chair” or “table” those same areas stayed dark.  Similar studies showed the same impact when subjects were given phrases that had action in them, such as “John kicked the ball,” the motor cortex associated with “kicking” lit up.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. (Source)

 

Story and the Power of Motivation

Other studies have suggested the story isn’t just causing additional brain activity – but it is one of the most powerful ways to actually influence thought and behaviour.

In his book, Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, Peter Guber argues that humans aren’t moved to action by “data dumps,” PowerPoint slides, or spread sheets. Rather, humans are moved by emotion. And the best way to get at people emotionally, he says, is to tell them a story.

Science has backed up Guber’s argument in recent years. Psychological studies repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by the story. The more immersed you are in it, the more you turn to putty in the story teller’s hands. What is happening is the way you process information gets altered radically. Your defences drop, and you even ignore inconsistencies that you’d notice in an otherwise less-stimulating story.

This helps explain why “data dump” presentations are so ineffective in inspiring change. Our brains simply aren’t wired to casually accept a message when presented dryly. To the contrary, when we are given those big bullet lists, we become skeptics. We prime ourselves to do everything but whole heartedly get involved with the idea being presented. A good story makes those defenses drop, which is why Guber uses the metaphor of the Trojan horse throughout his book. It’s a way to sneak past the gate keeper.

 

How to shape a powerful story

It’s great to know why we experience stories so deeply, and it’s helpful to know just how powerful they are. But how can we become better story tellers?

While there really is no formula for good story telling – otherwise, Hollywood wouldn’t put out so many costly flops – there are some useful tips and concepts to keep in mind.

One of the biggest culprits in bad story telling is the use of stale, cliche language. Words have the power to elicit emotion, but it’s been shown that certain phrases and metaphors can actually lose their power to do so over time. George Orwell, in Politics and The English Language, famously criticized the use of vague, cliched imagery. Any marketer can attest to this. How many times must we “optimize” something, and “leverage value”. These phrases are tough to avoid in our business. I’m guilty of it, too. But Orwell would point out that by relying on these pre-fabricated thoughts, we’re not just being lazy, we’re losing all the emotional potency that speech contains.

“[No one] seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. [...]  there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” (source)

Another author, Kurt Vonnegut, best known for Slaughterhouse Five, and Cat’s Cradle, had a great appreciation for the art of putting together a powerful story. He outlined, in a much quoted essay, his rules of writing (My favourite, #3: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”) But perhaps more interesting, and somewhat counterintuitive, was his rejected master’s thesis detailing a scentific method to creating a good story. Vonnegut put forward the idea of analyzing the story on a grid.  On the Y axis was the continuum of Good and Ill Fortune. The X axis moved from the beginning to the end of the story. Using examples from popular stories, he argued we can actually chart out the shape of stories, and that certain shapes show up again and again in popular culture. He says there should be no reason we can’t simply dump this information into a computer to spit out a good story.


vonnegut_boymeetsgirl vonnegut_cinderella vonnegut_maninholeVonnegut later presented this concept at a talk he gave, captured in this video – which is well worth the watch, if only to see his clever, hilarious ability to distill classic works of fiction down to squiggles on a chart.

 

Whether Vonnegut, in his usual wit, was just being ironic in his view on literature, or whether he truly believed that great stories are fundamentally just great formulas, is besides the point. It is intruiguing to note the emotional power of these basic shapes in stories. It allows you to step back and use this insight when crafting your own stories, speeches, slide show, or maybe just when writing your next email. As you build up your creative habits, understanding the science and art of storytelling is a great complement.