Archive for category branding
When I graduated from college at New Mexico State University (in Las Cruces) I had no traditional business skills or experience. My degree was a Bachelor of Independent Study…mostly theater. So, I started a theatrical production company cranking out a new production every 4 to 6 weeks non stop for 5 years. I applied for no grants, didn’t have a day job and lived in a part of the state where theater was pronounced thee-a-ter. I was a clueless entrepreneur surviving on my ability to persuade business owners to let me use their venues to stage plays. It could be a steak house, an old adobe movie theater, a rodeo corral, a dive bar, or a warehouse. I used a lot of untrained performers (bankers, teachers, construction workers) who—after a long day at work—committed to rehearse 3 hours a night and perform on the weekends for no compensation.
White and blue collar workers bolt for the door at 5pm and come work for me for free until it’s past their bedtime. Why would people do that? Sure I was persuasive, but it wasn’t me they were saying “yes” to. It was shared purpose. It was the journey. That we were going to do something difficult together because we believe in the story, we believe in each other, and we want to connect with the audience around the meaning of this story. We were trying to create something beautiful.
What I do today, is help you make your story compelling and authentic enough to attract like minded people to its message. What we do in theater, or Hollywood, or Madison Avenue is tap into Universal truths that remind us of our humanity. I’m selling Mythology, the most powerful form of storytelling. It’s been around since the dawn of human kind. What I offer isn’t a proprietary process that only the partners of an agency and their layers of account management can execute. It lives inside our collective unconscious.
Let’s return to…Why would people work so hard for no money, and be judged publically on their performance? Because in theater we call the hard work we do play. That shift in context matters. We are judged on our performance like business people, but unlike business–and this is key–we are allowed to take risks in rehearsal and learn from our failures before we engage the public. Every night for a month we make bold choices and learn to get rid of what doesn’t work. How we make choices is based on the parameters set out in the story. After a couple of weeks the ensemble begins to operate with a common intuitive sense of what’s right for the world of the play we’re committed to. This is branding. Legendary brands use story to dictate the approach, design, themes, signifiers and metaphors used to connect with audiences. Story simplifies creative and strategic decision making
I am the only brand strategist in the Mid Atlantic who writes and directs plays. I’ve cracked the code how to forge a committed ensemble (workers) and help them to connect with audiences (customers). I’ll show you how it works. You’ll learn to create like a playwright, lead like a director, and perform gracefully and honestly under pressure like an actor.
Since my last post I’ve separated from my wife, moved to a new part of town, am having a ten-minute play produced by Fells Point Corner Theater, and I’m writing and directing a new original one-act play called BREADWinners.
I’ve completed three full branding engagements: a leading edge program within the school of Social Work at the University of Maryland, a nationally recognized (60Minutes) public school debate league, and a beloved Baltimore cultural center. I also completed a focus group with the board of a regarded classical orchestra.
I’ve been writing a theater column for What Weekly, an online magazine documenting Baltimore’s culture and art renaissance.
The concept for the column is conversations with talented, smart, passionate people who tell stories mostly in a theater or in a theater style. Actually, the conversations are more like interviews. And the interviews are more about branding, leadership and vision, than they are about theater. Which leads to some interesting theater insights.
The branding engagements overlapped. My mind was continuously occupied with the branding process, which leans heavily on synthesis as its driver. I invited a talented theater performer and director Barbara Geary to work with me as an associate. She attended the orchestra focus group and helped me document, highlight and synthesize what was said. This was new and it worked.
In one of the engagements I re-learned the wisdom of silence and the value of patience. A client asked a difficult question I had no answer to. I asked for a moment to think about it. We were silent for almost 2 full minutes. 30-seconds into the silence I was beginning to panic. I was desperate for something smart to say. I kept breathing and hoping something would bubble up. I tried to remember the exact question. I couldn’t. Then I concentrated on the client as a person, and as a leader. Finally, I changed the subject. I gave her a compliment about the way she navigated politics and bureaucracy. She was grateful, and restated what I had said in a much different context. Bang! In a shot the conversation was now alive with new insight and energy, and we got around to a place where she could finally see that her power comes from her gift for strategy, not her heartfelt earnestness.
Meanwhile, the separation has been difficult. You divvy up memories, stuff, money and friends. And to make the most of it, I enlist the Universe for help. I make reasonable requests every now and then, and sometimes when strange and contrasting things work well together or something logistically or sequentially too-convenient happens. I think the Universe really is listening.
Everyone should have one. Explain your concept and how it works. Share your worldview, and what you believe in.
Care and Dare
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Look for beauty…create it if you can
The big hard questions are found in art and the answers to most questions are found in nature.
Create contrast or the clash of opposites–go to extremes and see what happens
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Don’t be too literal or logical…the facts and truth of it aren’t necessarily the same
Keep the facts change the context
Invite objective and creative outsiders look to at it and give you fresh insight
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A Leader uses Story as Strategy and uses Design to tell the Story
Don’t be too attached to “strategy”
Strategy and logic are over-rated
There is no one right way…keep finding what works
Look for patterns
Find the fringe
Find a place where failure is encouraged. In theater we call it rehearsal
Exploit the forces of change
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Give big and take small
Buy low and sell high
Back by Popular Demand — The Creative Alliance presents
The Power of Stories: A Crash Course in Branding
Baltimore, MD—June 4, 2011—Peter Davis, brand strategy consultant with Better Brand Story, returns to Creative Alliance to deliver a third crash course in branding workshop.
Saturday, June 4
1pm – 4pm
Creative Alliance At The Patterson (3134 Eastern Avenue)
Advanced registration $100, $85 members. Walk-in $115, $100 members.
Call 410-276-1651 or visit
The class is hands-on and limited to ten people who each get personalized attention elevating their personal or organizational story.
Testimonials from the last branding workshop include: “transformative,” “I’ve been thinking about it ever since,” and “in the 6 years I’ve been attending workshops at CA this was by far the BEST experience out of all.”
This workshop is designed to help you understand what branding is and what a high-performing brand can do for you. In this workshop you will:
- Identify what is interesting about your story to the people you do business with
- Learn how to tell a more compelling story about what you do and why it matters
Leave with a killer workbook and a head buzzing with actionable ideas.
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What system do you use to manage the meaning of your brand through good times and bad?
What archetype is most like your brand and how can you harness the power of that eternal and universal truth to deliver your brand promise to the front line in tact and with impact?
The best system for the management of meaning is the first system–mythology.
Mythology is the most powerful form of storytelling. All societies use mythology and archetypes to deliver meaning. Archetypes are forms or images of a collective nature which occur all over the world. An archetypal brand identity speaks directly to the deep psychic imprint within the consumer, sparking a sense of recognition and of meaning. The unconscious power of an archetype is immense. If the archetype is a conscious system of categorization, then you must be in the correct category or you will lose to the competitor with the better story
The excellent book, The Hero and The Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark & Carol S. Pearson outlines 12 archetypes that are applicable to brand building and how to leverage the one that is most like your brand. Buy it. I’ll help land on your brand archetype and teach you how to anchor your communications strategy with it.
Your company story changes many times before it reaches your employees, customers, investors, and stakeholders. Your message gets weaker as it moves farther and farther from the source.
As a leader, you are your company’s principal storyteller. Employees, customers and investors all look to you to set the theme and develop the plot. Tell a great story and they all want to be characters in it. Every business transaction becomes charged with meaning and drama. In a good story, threats and setbacks are sources of narrative suspense, motivating the protagonists to fresh feats of ingenuity and daring. If you want your employees to act like heroes, you’ve got to provide them with an epic.
Your story brings people together. Crafting a compelling story and nurturing it over time is your most important job.
So what story are you currently telling? Is it keeping your audiences on the edges of their seats? Is it inspiring your employees, enticing your customers, holding your shareholders in thrall?
Anchoring a brand in story isn’t buying into the latest management fad. The client isn’t buying a proprietary process and at the mercy of agency “experts” to translate the process. By emphasizing story (mythology and archetypes) you’re harnessing a living force, primal impulses as old as humankind. It is both old school and cutting edge. Bold yet familiar. It is profitable because the modern world is based on logic and practically fetishizes efficiency and homogeny. Now more than ever people crave the experience of being truly alive and relentlessly search for meaning, even if they have to ritualize it in the form of commerce.
I can help you to craft a better brand story, elevate your brand promise, and signify the meaning of your story across a variety of integrated new world media.
What could be better than a successful business person making the Power of Stories case? From an article in the New York Times Business Section. Writer Michael Cieply talks with Peter Gruber (former Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment).
But Mr. Guber, 68, who throws off ideas the way a storm hurls bolts at the prairie, has finally found a pattern in what can seem to be the brilliant disorder of his own thinking. Along the way, he’s also spotted a few things that the movie industry can teach the rest of us.
“I decoded it, I didn’t invent it,” Mr. Guber said — well, shouted, actually — as the energy of telling lifted him several inches above his seat in the second hour of a conversation about his voyage of discovery.
“It’s like a Seurat painting. Lots of dots,” said Mr. Guber, who talked of his wildly eclectic life in the sports and movie industries, as well as a decades-long commitment to teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the dawning realization that something more than nervous energy held it all together.
“But the logic of it is clear to me now,” he said. That logic has to do with story, and how we are wired to organize our lives around it.
His coming to grips with narrative as a force in his own and others’ lives is the stuff of “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph With the Hidden Power of Story,” to be published on Tuesday by Crown Business.
Stories connect author, actor and audience. They also connect business stakeholders, workers and customers.
Harnessing the power of stories is the most effective way to answer the questions: what do you do, why does it matter, what makes you different, where are you going, what stands in your way, and what does change look like when you accomplish your mission?
Theater is the process of signifying and cuing an audience to the meaning of the story. I bring the best practices of theater to business, in order to help you signify the meaning of your brand.
That’s what I think I do.
Peter Bruun, Founder of Art on Purpose, described what I do in this way:
“You’re an interventionist helping organizations with an identity crisis. You’re like an executive coach only for organizations. You help organizations find their soul. Your unique process allows everyone to speak. You synthesize the feedback and use your insights to ask the most difficult questions that the organization has been avoiding.
You’re focus on narrative (versus strategy) is important because the narrative helps the leader get internal buy-in. The narrative also acts like an external beacon to attract talent, funding and resources. I’m not sure what you do is branding. I’m sure that your process is the most valuable deliverable.”
You’re audience or customer owns your brand. What you think is important pales in comparison to the experience they receive.
Lately I’m thinking about design and trying to better understand the relationships between story, strategy and design. Those organizations that artfully weave purpose, passion, performance and aesthetic have high performing brands.
In theater the script is story, the Director provides the strategy, and design permeates every sight and sound the audience experiences. Nothing in theater is arbitrary…nothing. The fewer resources you have the more creative you are. Instead of creating realism on the cheap, you take away everything non-essential to the world of your play. It’s easier to maintain artistic unity with less clutter. What’s left looms large and the meaning of each symbol is clear, if not to the audiences brain, then to the universal subconscious. This is what you want your brand to do. Connect down deep where people make important decisions…emotionally. Value design, it matters. Design helps clear the path so customers can validate their connection to your brand.
Ida Cheinman is the Principal and Creative Director at Substance 151, a Baltimore-based regional strategic brand communications firm. Her article, Rebranding: The Moment of Truth is excellent. I want to share it with you. The premise is that you need to “begin with the end in mind,” have a clear vision of the rebrand goals and outcomes. The story of change comes in many forms. This is one.
Ida and I got acquainted last summer over a cup of coffee. I like how her firm, Substance 151 integrates design, story and strategy.