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.