Fear is contagious. So is hope

The beauty and simplicity of the above quote struck me while reading an article by Mark Schaefer. I consider it an apt guide for crisis management of the times we live in. It occurred to me that as we face the global predicament created by COVID-19, we as leaders have...

A 4-step marketing process to score a home run

It happens in the movies. A hard-working guy slogs through the days failing to win customers. A chance meeting turns into the moment that becomes his breakthrough, and customers begin to multiply, turning him into a success. This may only happen for a very few of us –...

6 narrative strategies for business leaders.

If you lead your staff using proven narrative strategies, you’ll get results. Microsoft does it. Nike does it. Saatchi & Saatchi and the World Bank do it. Proctor & Gamble has hired movie directors to teach their executives how to do it. Motorola, NASA, 3M,...

What do Trump, Oprah and Steve Jobs have in common?

They each illustrate the power of an effective narrative. We may not like the narrative, but there’s no doubt that each rose to be incredibly influential – in part due to their skill in delivering a good brand story. So, what can we learn from their methods? First,...

What’s in your sacred bundle?

A two-foot long grizzly bear’s paw, a red flannel and an old twist of tobacco. These are a few of the items kept at the American Museum of Natural History in a sacred bundle that belonged to a Native American tribe. Sacred bundles were guarded as precious items and...

The terroir of branding.

In early November, Marlborough winemakers raised a glass to celebrate the trademarking of the Appellation Marlborough Wine (AMW) certificate in international markets. The AMW label ensures global consumers that 100% of the Sauvignon Blanc in that wine was grown in the...

The Law of Scarcity and the rebranding of the potato.

Here’s a tale from the 1700’s that beautifully demonstrates the Law of Scarcity. Old Frederick the Great ruled the Kingdom of Prussia for 46 years.  The the self-declared King of Prussia (nicknamed Old Fritz) had many military victories, was a gifted musician (he...

Powerful story beginnings that captivate.

Powerful beginnings are the thrust of any good story. I love spending a night out at the movies. The smell of the popcorn, the excitement in the atmosphere. The hush of anticipation when the lights go down. The opening lines, a powerful beginnings that take you on a...

Visual storytelling

My favourite thing on Facebook – and probably the entire worldwide web if I’m completely honest – is a group that is all pictures. But every one of those pictures tells a story – neigh, it MAKES a story. The group is called “As Seen Through Horses’ Ears” (now you can...

Are you telling overdog or underdog stories?

I attended a function recently and was introduced to a guy I hadn’t met before. He asked me what I did, and then cut me short and proceeded to spend 20 minutes telling me all about his wonderful life. How well his business was doing, his six-figure income that was...

I’m not a big popcorn eater but I do have a weakness for Sweet and Salty popcorn made by Sweet As Popcorn in Raglan, NZ. There’s something about the contrast of sweet and salty flavours and the way that they interact with my palate that I find intriguing and addictive. If I’m settled in for the night watching Netflix, its very difficult to stop halfway through a bag once I start.

I’m also a keen follower of the food series MasterChef. One of the comments that judges often make on the show about contestant’s dishes is that they need to balance the flavours better. Balance the sweet and sour flavours, balance the hot and cool, balance the crispy and smooth textures and balance the acidity and alkalinity. It’s the balancing of all these elements that makes food taste great, and it’s the creative and unusual juxtaposition of these elements that makes food exceptional.

Great storytelling needs to follow the same principles. Many B2B brands make the mistake of creating stories that are sickly sweet, have no flavour profile and are not engaging or memorable. Brand stories that are full of bragging and promising, talking about how wonderful their brands are and how successful they have been over time. These types of stories don’t resonate because they are not authentic, and they have no inherent tension or drama to bring them to life.

Like my favourite sweet and salty popcorn, great stories need to juxtapose contrasting elements to make them interesting. Every story needs a hero and a villain, opposing forces, contrasting settings, highs and lows, and struggles and triumphs to bring it to life. The reality is stories need inherent tension to move the story forward and keep the viewers or listeners interested.

The famous novelist Charles Dickens understood this principle well. Here’s the opening paragraph from his iconic novel A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Think about your favourite movies. Star Wars would not have been the same without the opposing characters of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Lord of the Rings would have been boring as hell without the treacherous journeys, opposing armies, battles, near death experiences and victories against the odds.

When you’re telling your brand story think about how you can use contrast and tension to really bring your narrative to life. Don’t just talk about your successes. Also talk about your failures. Identify the heroes and villains in your story. And add texture, colour and drama by setting your story in a rich, sensory world full of possibilities. At the end of the day it’s the delicate balance of the sweet and sour that creates depth of flavour.