Welcome to Brilliance@Work, a series of profiles about stellar communication professionals and their best practices at work.
Jim Signorelli is a marketing thought leader, speaker and expert on the subject of StoryBranding. His articles and interviews are featured in magazines, newspapers and on radio talk shows throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.
During his 35-year advertising and marketing career, Jim worked at highly acclaimed agencies throughout the U.S. on major accounts including Citibank, General Electric, Toshiba, Kraft Foods, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, The American Marketing Association, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and many others.
Jim is the founder and CEO of eswStorylab Marketing, cited as one of the top 25 agencies in Chicago by Crain’s Chicago Business and was named to the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing independent companies in the U.S. for three straight years. His agency is dedicated to helping clients build strong brands based on the process outlined in his award-winning book “StoryBranding: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through the Power of Story.”
Jim’s second edition, “StoryBranding 2.0: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through the Purpose of Story,” was published in February. Read on to learn how Jim’s StoryBranding technique can help you create a meaningful purpose for your brand and gain customer loyalty:
Peggy Bieniek, ABC: How did you come up with the title for your book?
Jim Signorelli: Actually, “StoryBranding” was not the original title. I wanted to title the book “Storyselling,” because I thought it was clever. However, my publisher found out that the word Storyselling is trademarked. Not being able to title the book “Storyselling” was a blessing in disguise. I soon realized that my effort to be clever instead of clear could have created a huge misunderstanding. Storytelling can be an effective sales technique, but both “StoryBranding” and “StoryBranding 2.0” have less to do with storytelling and more to do with story principles applied to the process of creating engaging brands.
PB: What is the main message you want your readers to understand?
JS: The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing. It feels like a story. One of my favorite quotes is by Hannah Arendt who said, “Stories persuade without getting in their own way.” As I discuss in the book, many marketers trip themselves up by telling people what and how to think. People would rather be given things to think about. The latter is what stories do and what marketing should do to become more effective.
PB: What kind of research did you do for this book?
JS: I read everything I could on story logic, character development, plot and theme construction to better understand the mechanics of narrative. I attended storytelling classes conducted by Doug Lipman, an excellent storytelling coach. I attended seminars conducted by Robert McKee, the famed author of the book “Story.” I interviewed Kendall Haven and Annette Simmons, who are regarded as authorities on the subject of story. And I used what I learned to draw the parallel between stories and brands. I’m still not done studying. This subject has become an endless source of fascination.
PB: What did you learn from writing this book?
JS: First and foremost, I learned how much my wife must love me. Writing a book while running a company can put a strain on any relationship. However she was incredibly patient and supportive. I don’t think I could have done what I did otherwise. Second, I learned a great deal about myself. I say in the book, “If you have a birth certificate, you are a brand. And if you are a brand, you are a story.” Writing helped me to get in touch with the story I’ve become and the one I will hopefully grow into.
PB: What were your goals and intentions for this book?
JS: A friend of mine who I greatly admire is Joey Reiman, owner of BrightHouse, a global consultancy based in Atlanta, and the writer of numerous books, including my favorite, “The Story of Purpose.” In it, he says, “A brand with a purpose is no longer distinguished by a point of difference, but by a point of view.”
The more that marketers can understand what he means, the more positively they will be able to contribute to their bottom lines while also contributing to our economy and our society as a whole. Joey and I are big fans of the notion that it’s time to put the tricks away. The most successful marketers have learned that there’s a very big, untapped market for meaning.
PB: What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
JS: Hopefully it’s more than its bold black and red cover designed by my colleague, the astoundingly talented Joe Pryzbylski. (Sorry, I had to plug him since he worked endlessly on the design.)
Storytelling has become marketing’s new hammer and everything is a nail. There are plenty of books, articles and blogs that talk about the persuasive power of storytelling. However, storytelling to me, is a communication technique – albeit a very powerful one – but a technique nevertheless. My purpose is to go beyond the use of storytelling as a selling device – to use story function as a branding tool.
PB: How can organizations use StoryBranding in communication programs?
JS: Two words need to be fully understood by anyone who communicates for a living. The first word is “story.” What I found in a book titled “Story Proof” by Kendall Haven is that “story is the scaffolding for a narrative about a character dealing with an obstacle to achieve some goal.” Brands work the same way. A brand’s challenge can be overcome and insights can be won by defining each of the story elements Haven identifies.
For instance, if we cast our brand in the role of the character, who is he or she? What is his or her motivation? And how does that motivation manifest in what that character does? What are the obstacles to be overcome to achieve the brand’s goal? And what is the best goal that any brand should set out to achieve?
The second word is “relationship.” The more we can relate to prospects and customers, the more likely we will establish a relationship with them. However, many marketers believe that relating to their targets is telling them how wonderful, cool, sexy, or powerful their brand is. Brands, governments and anything else you might risk calling an “organization” relate to their constituents on the basis of shared beliefs, values or ideologies. If there is little or no sharing, what we have is an acquaintance, not a relationship.
At the heart of every story is an intention to relate to its audience. The logic of story is a learning laboratory for understanding how relationships are created and sustained.
PB: What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about advertising that they need to know?
JS: Advertising cannot change attitudes. It’s not that powerful. Rather it works because of confirmatory bias, which refers to our tendency to believe what we want or need to believe. No matter what the facts, nobody is going to change our minds unless what they communicate can line up with our truths. Seth Godin puts this very well in a quote I borrowed from him for my book: “The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure and reminded that they were right in the first place.”
PB: What are your current projects?
JS: One that I’m truly excited about is a research methodology that I’m developing in conjunction with a consultancy in Boston called SixQ. One of the things I talk about in my book is the use of archetypal analysis as a way to asses a brand’s character persona. However, to my knowledge this type of analysis has not yet been operationalized or validated. We are in the last stages of an assessment tool design that will help brands (and people) better understand what I refer to in the book as their “inner layer” or the belief structure that is responsible for all behaviors. In the next month, you’ll be able to read more about it on my company’s website www.eswstorylab.com
At the same time, I’m working on an audio version of “StoryBranding 2.0.” This should be completed by next month and available on Audible.com.
PB: What are some of your favorite resources that inspire your work?
JS: In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, I’m now reading a lot of fiction, with greater appreciation. For instance, I’m reading Ernest Hemingway and developing a greater understanding of what he referred to as the “principle of the iceberg.” For me this principle has tremendous application for advertising. We don’t need to be told everything. In fact, it’s often best to leave it up to our audience to fill in the blanks.
PB: What is your contact information for questions, comments and ideas?
JS: Jim Signorelli, CEO, eswStoryLab Marketing, 910 W. Van Buren, Chicago, Illinois 60607; email: jims@eswstorylab; websites: www.eswstorylab.com and www.jimsignorelli.com.