Friday, June 13, 2008

Latest storytelling quote

From Stranger than Fiction: True Stories by Chuck Palahniuk:
Our technology for telling stories becomes our language for remembering our lives. For understanding ourselves. Our framework for perceiving the world.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Am I interesting ... enough?

I've seen a few blog posts recently about being interesting. They take different paths related to their target audiences, but the nutshell is, to be interesting, be interested.

Image via

Makes sense. And I'll throw my few cents into the pot, as well:
1 - Passion - I've always found that passion is what carries me through - what can help me shine in interviews, presentations both internal and external, in general conversations. And I do tend to get jazzed when talking about storytelling, community, new research methodologies aimed at getting better views inside customers heads - and giving them a better time while we're at it.

2 - Variety - A single focus makes you a great subject expert, but can also make you as dull as dirt. Perhaps it's a part of my multi-tasking, micro-attention-span side, but I find that the unexpected elements variety can bring make life, subjects, people oh, so much more interesting. I love throwing a monkeywrench into people's perceptions of me by bringing up factoids and interests that force them to shift their thinking. Here's some examples - I think they play off better when you meet me in person, but we'll give it a shot - do any surprise you?
  • One of my hobbies is smashing glass.
  • I only drink beer that you can chew.
  • My bookshelves include books on cities underground, the world's smallest man, Lizzie Borden, ghosts, women's roles in traditional fairy tales, Russian poetry, novels in French, Neil Gaiman, Eugene Onegin in verse, Alduous Huxley, etc. Umberto Eco is a favorite, as is Oliver Sacks.
  • I watch "Cops" to destress when home on Saturday nights.
  • My favorite flick is "Delicatessin"
Well, I think it's interesting, anyway.

3 - Freshness - Right alongside variety, you've got to keep it fresh. Not only keep abreast of what's happening in your product space and the nearby adjacencies, as well as in the field of social media and marketing, but keep an eye on News of the Weird, ethnographer's blogs, research in other areas like youth and trends. BrandFlakesforBreakfast, by Plaid, does this quite well, I think - watch the range of things they come up with.

In this spirit, I loved this post from Russell Davies. I plan to print the list and try to follow it for 3 months, maybe more.... It will help to bring my blogging and photo habits back up to speed. I already have ideas on how I can weave some of these elements into work tasks, too. Very excited. Stay tuned, things should be getting more interesting around here.

Update 6/13 - I didn't realize the Russell Davies post was from '06 until I printed it to start following the list. Ah, well - I think it's still good stuff.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Small shops in small tourist towns

We just returned from a family gathering in Cape Vincent, in the Thousand Islands region of NY and Canada. The towns in the area are small and have a highly seasonal population. One person in a larger town claimed roughly 13,000 residents in summer, and roughly 500 year round - the 2000 Census lists a pop of 1,088 - so that's probably a good guess on the actual year round number.

Wandering through some of the less touristy shops that were more my speed, I noticed a trend. Dual purpose retail. A coffee shop that also does interior design. A tea shop that also sells art prints and apparently manages apartments. It struck home the need to have multiple ways to pull people in if only a few hundred are around all year.

Both of my favorite examples have a web presence, but no real social media outreach that I can spot. Interested customers still really should show up in-person. Perhaps the impetus for the web pages is the prospective tourist, checking out the town before heading up for the summer rush.

But how could this change in a social media environment? The shops could arrange for TweetUps and MeetUps from around the region to happen on the premises, potentially enticing people to remember to stop back when they're in the area next. They could create a virtual group of experts in one of their varied areas of business, so when you go to their shop, you're really reaching out to a much broader community. Or they could link into social charity programs like Kiva to rally the community for a global cause at the shop door.

I'm not sure if any of these are a really spectacular solution. The most obvious step, I would think, to ensuring a steady customer base in a seasonal location would be to sell online - to break the restrictions locale has placed. I didn't get into conversations with these shop-owners about why they had not done this.

What do you think? Are there ways beyond the dual-purpose diversification to bring a steadier stream of business in a seasonal town? Are there social media opportunities - beyond simple web retail - that could keep some of these pleasant, non-chintzy places around, where you know so many have struggled and failed?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The storytelling theme continues

And as a writer, or as a storyteller, try to tell the stories that only you can tell. Try to tell the stories that you cannot help but tell, the stories you would be telling yourself if you had no audience to listen. The ones that reveal a little too much about you to the world. It’s the point I think of writing as walking naked down the street: it has nothing to do with style, or with genre, it has to do with honesty. Honesty to yourself and to whatever you’re doing.
- Neil Gaiman

I can't help but think about what an excellent guideline that is for brands! Storytelling and honesty as the ultimate expression of transparency. Some are moving that way ... slowly. Some are close.

As BusinessWeek said:
The extent to which you can create a sense of belonging, friendship, and dependability between your brand and customers is the extent to which you have a powerful brand asset.
How better to build friendships than to tell your stories? And, personally, I have a tendency to correlate honesty and dependability/ trust.

As a kid, I thought I'd become a writer some day. I'm an avid reader of a wide variety of authors. I have notebooks with teen Fantasy pieces in bits and pieces. And I'm terrified that I'll never have a really good idea - an idea for a story that will send people to buy/ download/ support an actual book.

Brands really don't have an issue here - they have stories to tell. I could see myself writing stories for several companies as I sit here (for those following me on Twitter (@eileen53), we won't have City Hall on that list at the mo, due to the passport snafu).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Not what I'd expect from...

...WalMart. Yep, a post about the massive store that I have to say I rarely visit, because at the store nearest me, some of the clientèle, they're pretty scary. The brand who has made classic social media blunders in the past, from the fake RV-ing blog, to the super-forced, and therefore totally rejected, teen "community" attempt.

They surprised me twice last week.

First, Kevin Roberts had a post about the December-new WalMart blog, Checkout. It features a core group of bloggers for different departments, real employees who also give movie reviews, talk about pets and causes and whatnot. I glanced quickly at it and the tone and content don't seem forced or fake to me - I also noted that their "most commented" posts get quite a bit of feedback. As always, I need to explore it further, stick it in my feeds and watch it for a while. But a Kevin Roberts endorsement goes quite a ways and it seems like they've done a pretty good job this time.

Then, I got a catalog in the mail for Canopy. I took a look, thinking this was a new store along the lines of Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel. Before anyone objects, I often peruse their catalogs, but besides a few wedding registry oddments, I don't ever get to shop there. The variety is more limited, but the presentation of the product was spot on, I thought. Only when I glanced at the fine print in the back did I make the WalMart connection. Google proved that I must have had my head in a hole in March, when the line was announced and many sites picked it up. I was neck deep in strategy data at the time, so I cut myself some slack.

So, maybe I'm coming to the game late, but moves like this, while still not as cool as our friend Target, do boost the brand in my eyes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More on We Tell Stories - or how I lost most of my weekend

Friday afternoon - I want to break up some work thinking, so I decide to check out the second story from We Tell Stories. In livejournal and twitter format, this one drew me in more than the first. The ending is quite a cliffhanger and the comments left by others were full of surprise and dismay - what had happened? where had the characters gone? could they be "brought back"?

I needed to know more. So I started by doing a quick search for details on the story, maybe there was more on a site I hadn't found yet. I found the Unfiction forum for the ARG and was sucked in.

Now, I'm coming to this a bit over a month past when the second story was unfolding. When I got to the forum, there were over 80 pages of discussion. And I started reading it all.

As players posted links to "cloos" and secondary info sites, I followed. I picked up some of the obvious leads. The Google searches and library culling for backstory info I left to those living the moments. For those who are interested, but not ready to read 84 pages of dialogue plus all the ancillary pages, there's a Wiki built to summarize it all.

Most of this deals with the 7th story, which I soooooo over-simplified in my previous post. What I had found at that point was the most obvious tip of a very large iceberg. The game unfolds across the 6 "official" stories - with clues interspersed. And it even crosses into the Real-World with meetups with key characters, where players exchanged hand-made gifts for artifacts containing clues - and a clue hunt at Penguin UK headquarters - and there's a live chat session at the culmination of the game - which was actually just this past Thursday.

Parts of story 7 get deep into a card game and I was never good at holding card point values, potential winning solutions, and all those sorts of things in my head. Smile and nod, Aprille, smile and nod. In other parts, the players are asked to submit stories to a wiki page that will give one character clues on what he needs to do next - quite some good work, there, and quickly done. Talented folk, these players.

All in all, it was quite fun, and just like the players were writing as I finally caught up to them when the game was declared "done", I was a bit sad to see it go. Although it is a brilliant day outside, and my garden deserves some attention.

My favorite bits come from story 7
  • First, from the Caterpillar - "We are playing neither chess nor cards. We are telling a story. A story that is a game, a game that is a story. Games have many rules and stories… have fewer."
  • Second, from a villain, Dr Doom - "stories aren’t just in books, not anymore. They’re everywhere. And the walls between stories and reality are getting thinner and thinner." - Love it.

PS - in the course of this, I found some discussion saying the wiki novel I mentioned last time was considered quite a flop, no rules led to chaos, I guess. I'll check that out another day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Participating in stories...

So many of the new toys today can be used to add to or build upon stories. Layer onto that social media, and you get an environment where the readers are pulled in, no longer passive – where they become puzzle solvers, commentators, contributors. It’s a frontier where the novel meets Alternate Reality Gaming. Oh, cool – Neil Gaiman could partner with Jane McGonigal – that would be awesome!

I’ve been playing with some of the latest. As usual, I haven’t yet finished fully exploring, but I’m very excited to check them all out - when I get a hunk of time.

One of the first examples I found was a Penguin wiki novel
Which reminded me a bit of Twittories, though the latter is a stricter, more linear contribution style.
But the best example is Penguin’s latest – We Tell Stories – where 6 authors told 6 stories over the course of 6 weeks. Each story has close ties to classic tale
  • Story 1 – A mesh of storytelling and Google Maps – follow the narrator on his crazy adventure.
  • Story 2 - Story of a young girl, told via her blog, her parents' blog, and Twitter streams.
  • Story 3 - Looks like a fill-in the blank/ mad-lib style story.
  • Story 4 - Written/posted real time over a week. In the moment, you could watch it unfold.
  • Story 5 - Page views of slickly designed pages stacked with factoids.
  • Story 6 - Choose-your-own-adventure style

There's also a mysterious 7th story lurking somewhere - I've found it, but don't want to spoil your fun - about a young woman named Alice....

I can see so many interesting permutations on all of this that I could probably keep typing all day - but I need to keep it reasonable. But just as the opportunity for public participation impacted journalism - maybe it will twist and tweak literature as we know it, too. I don't think novelists need worry - we'll always need their creativity and bigger ideas - this is just a fun offshoot.
More on this soon, I'm sure....

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Casual well wishes - fundamentally flawed

At San Diego airport, prepping to board a flight home, I hear an airport worker bid farewell to some Brits he had been chatting with while we waited:

"Have a safe flight!"

Why "safe"? Don't we have enough experience flying people to and fro by now that safety is pretty much assured? Once the fundamentals of service are covered, shouldn't the customary departure wish change to "pleasant flight" - "good flight" - "rockin' flight" - "kickass flight", whichever best suits?

When do you decide that the fundamentals necessary for the business to function are taken care of and give the customer clearer priority? (If I have to shell out $ for any signs of food on a 4 hour flight and I'm not warned of that at the last pizza place before the gate, maybe some fundamentals still need tweaking.) Too many companies don't give the customer a role in strategy at all, and that's plain scary.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A crowd of flashes

PSFK shared this post about a photo of a concert where the crowd are reaching to capture the moment and broadcast it, in their words "for social status", to their networks. The post goes on to say that the act of snapping the shot keeps them from participating in the experience.

I disagree. Long gone are the days when capturing a photo meant hiding behind a camera. Cameras are smaller, quicker, easier, more subtle. Capturing a moment in today's space actually becomes a part of the moment - people pose, gather, smile - all quick and casual and living the moment. Arms length photos bring the photographer into the frame. Camera toss, food photos, foot shots - all represent new, engaging ways of capturing life - easier to capture and easier to share today. You'll see stories about this repeatedly at Kodak's 1000Words blog and on Jenny's ljcfyi blog also.
These photographers are living the moment differently from those just absorbing it, doesn't mean they aren't getting just as much out of it.

Next - why are they broadcasting the images? Gets at the entire root of why people broadcast - why do they blog, microblog, tweet, utterz, etc? Yes, some are sharing to boost their cred, but others could be sharing with friends who couldn't make it. Or to let the world know what music they like or how they spend their time. Limiting to status-seeking is, well, limiting.

Maybe it's me, but seems like a very limited perspective.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What a little more thought can get you....

I've been a bit frustrated with search for a while, but have largely accepted that I have to deal with what is there. A Google search often takes me through 5 pages of results before I give up with my question only partially answered. I try to be selective and click only the urls that look like they may yield something, but it can be hard to distinguish when it all looks the same.

Someone sat in my office one day and asked "Will people ever get that Google doesn't cut it? Will they ever change their search paradigm?" At the time, I thought perhaps, but really didn't see where the next solution could come from.

Mahalo and Mosio have been on my radar for a while. People-powered search can have intriguing possibilities. Although I think if I turn to a group of people, I want it to be a group of people I know - ie those I follow on Twitter - so that I understand the perspective the answers are coming from. It depends on whether I'm searching for tilapia recipes or for data on the US foodie market and how foodies congregate online.

Now, I've started to play around with Viewzi - a new visual search tool - getting into the beta with a code from Marketing Pilgrim. For intense data searches, it doesn't seem to perform necessarily better than Google, but the real difference is the experience, anyway.

Viewzi has a few advantages that are fast winning me over:
  • The visual workflow is very slick - I like the animation, the way you move through results, and the screenshots and images are very well done.
    • Seeing the pages before you go to them is huge. I know other engines do this, but I haven't played with them. Viewzi also has a summary in the "frame" of the text on the page, that gives you a much better idea of the fit of the link than just trying to judge the URL.
- a Viewzi screenshot via Travis Isaacs' blog
  • I love that other categories of info are automatically included in each search. For example - a search on "tilapia recipe" pulls up standard search results, aggregate results from Google, Yahoo, , and MSN - and also two different types of photo results, video, Amazon, mp3, weather, Reuters, shopping, and TechCrunch.
    • Google has increased the ease of searching images and video, but they're all in separate tabs, so you have to think about it more. With Viewzi, I may find video clips or books related to dinner without thinking of that ahead of time.
    • MP3? Probably not so much. It did pull up some audio, like "Recipe for a happy marriage" from Gary Petty of Good News Radio.
The search for recipes actually got me many more options than I would have considered from a search that returned a text list - and the dish I picked was pretty yummy - bonus!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How I got here

In college, I ran through 3 market research internships & positions and still felt marketing was used car sales. Until my first quarter at B-school. In an economics class, one article, a single page from a magazine, stood out. It talked about a dress shop in DC that would send husbands notes around their wives' birthdays.
"Cindy's birthday is next week, and we happen to have the perfect dress in her size and colors in stock. Say the word and we'll gift wrap it and deliver it to your door."
...or something like that.

I was floored by the power of knowing exactly what a user needed and being able to communicate and deliver on it. I realized that marketing was where I wanted to be, after all.

Years later, I jumped at the chance to run my company's first online research community. As I started building relationships with our core community contributors, I was building an understanding of how people are communicating in this participatory culture.
My coworkers questioned the motivations behind blogging - was it a fad? are bloggers just sadly unsocial and need lives? - so I started informal research among those in the office who were already in the blog space (including Jenny). Jenny and others encouraged me to start blogging myself.

And I've been jumping in and trying new social media tools since.


Before any of this, my love of languages clarified into a passion for exploring the different ways people/ societies express themselves. As a French major, I was fascinated by a class in Caribbean literature - Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnifique, Maryse Conde. The evolution of Haitian and Martinican creoles - melding languages in order to form one way to best express your experience and that blend becoming as legit as any language itself- some of the earliest mashups! Gullah is another example.

Clay Shirky, of NYU's Interactive Telecommunications program declared the "Creolizaiton of media" in talking about the attitude of Gen Y to sharing online (Say Everything by Emily Nussbaum). I see it more widespread, but love the phrase. So that's what we're talking about here. I'm hoping to get my thinking on modern storytelling and voice out of my head and into a space where it can contribute to the conversation.