Marketing Storytelling Is All About The Timing

I recently saw this TED talk by Kelly D. Parker, a marketing professional who calls herself a storytelling strategist.  Her talk was on the power of storytelling and there were a number of points in her presentation which sounded very familiar.

For instance:

You know, I believe the worst story of all is the one that is told too soon. And truly, this is a very common mistake that aspiring storytellers make. We launch into a story and don’t know the first thing about who we’re talking to. Before you’re qualified to tell anything, you must deeply understand your audience’s problem and pursuit

This is very much in line with Ruth Hartt’s Jobs to Be Done practice which Ruth talks about in terms of identifying a target audience’s problem and offering a solution to it. She worked up a quick draft customer-centric video with stock images/video to illustrate classical music programming as a solution to hectic life.

Kelly Packer cites a similar example in a Nike ad where she discusses how the ad is very specific while being focused on customer need rather than product features:

Now specific doesn’t mean long and drawn out, it just means you want to include some distinguishable characteristics that your audience can relate to. It’s the reason why Nike’s ads with LeBron James don’t include a bunch of close up shots of shoes they’re selling. They don’t need to. They found the perfect person in LeBron James to represent a specific, relatable challenge, namely overcoming obstacles to beat an opponent. Then they utilize specific imagery to represent a specific progression of feelings, like defeat and discouragement, to hope and victory and resilience. And once you’ve been gripped by a story like that, doesn’t it almost go without saying that you want to wear the same sports gear LeBron James does?

Packer goes on to discuss the stage where marketing storytelling proposes the next step to audiences. Although she doesn’t mention it specifically identifies a practice which is often called out as being problematic in the arts – expecting commitment too soon which often takes the form of asking people to subscribe or donate after they attend one show.

But too often, we expect our audiences to commit too soon. Well-placed stories slow down the process just enough for you to build credibility and trust…. Good stories position us to be givers before we expect to receive. Not only that, stories make proposals irresistible because they allow us to build connection. Stories masterfully infuse a human element into our businesses, our brands and our programs that draws people in. So much so that by the time you do go in for the ask, like any good proposal, it simply feels like the next logical step.

It is interesting to think that despite being told that people’s attention spans are so short that an ever decreasing window of opportunity exists to make a connection, telling your story well can slow things down and create the space needed to develop a connection to a point where commitment is a foregone conclusion. I am fairly sure she isn’t expecting one ad to do all this work. It likely means different types of stories presented in different formats experienced in different contexts.

When The Marketing Department Is Expected To Do A Lot Of Heavy Lifting

I know I have been citing Seth Godin a lot lately, but he has had a lot of posts that seemed relevant lately. One of his recent ones addresses how marketing is expected to do a lot of the lifting for a company.  In his post, he suggests that it is because no one has clearly defined the boundaries of what marketing is supposed to be doing.

This is just an excerpt of the full list of roles he identifies:

That’s the first part of the confusion. It’s a group of people who can’t decide what the thing they do is supposed to be.

Is it:

Making the logo pretty
Maintaining the status quo and not screwing up
Keeping the website running
Community engagement
Customer service
Customer delight
Branding (whatever that is)

And seven other things we could name and argue about…

If people are confused about what they do, perhaps that’s why it’s hard to move forward. What’s this meeting for? How do we know we’re working on the right things? What’s important?…

I have been preaching that marketing is everyone’s responsibility on my blog since the early 2000s. Apparently, I have been preaching it a lot in real life too because one of the marketing staff at my job named the folder in which all staff members can place images, videos, stories, etc they collect during events “Marketing Is Everybody’s Job.”

While there should be clear boundaries about what the marketing staff is expected to accomplish, the concept of who contributes to the accomplishment of those goals shouldn’t be siloed. If the message being broadcast via different media channels is that You are the audience we want, the all members of staff need to know they have to reinforce that message when they encounter the potential audience.

More Untruth In Advertising

Over the course of the years, I have written on the practice of chopping up reviewer quotes and fitting things back together to make it sound like the critic enjoyed the show. It is called contextomy, by the way.

Thanks to Rainer Glaap who sent me another great example written by reviewer and columnist David Benedict for The Stage.

Benedict cites one example where Ben Brantley, former critic for the New York Times and Jesse Green, the person who replaced Brantley, were both recently had reviews of a show quoted even though Brantley left the paper over three years ago.

Beneath the words “True art sparks debate”, the ad quoted opposing one-liners from two Times reviews: “A stirring blockbuster” – Ben Brantley and: “An overeager blur” – Jesse Green.

….But Schulman smelt a rat, not least because Green succeeded Brantley as the Times’ theatre critic more than three years ago. Brantley’s review was for an earlier incarnation of the show way back in 2018.

It gets worse. None of the words quoted from either critic appeared in print consecutively. Those phrases were assembled from words that weren’t originally even in the same paragraph, let alone sentence.

Benedict recounts an instance when he was having lunch at a friend’s house and told the other guests about how he was misquoted in an advertisement for a show in which he wrote:

“The Sweeney Todd sequence is built around the rhyme: ‘He’s got a chopper/ Oh, it’s a whopper.’ If schoolboy innuendo is your bag, book now.” Passing the Duchess Theatre a little later, I was less than pleased to see my name outside accompanied just two words from my review: “Book now.” After my complaint and much-feigned innocence and wringing of hands, the producers finally took it down.”

The twist to this story is that apparently that specific anecdote was used in the development of truth in advertising law for the European Union–only now that the UK has left the EU, it isn’t applicable.

To my astonishment, one of the lunch guests piped up: “It’s you! I know that story because I drafted the EU directive on false advertising. You’re cited in European case law.” The trouble is that post-Brexit, EU directives no longer apply.

Getting All Eyes And Minds On Accessibility

Yesterday, the Western Arts Federation (WESTAF) sponsored a webinar on accessibility lead by Betty Siegel, Director Office of Accessibility and VSA at The Kennedy Center.

Siegel was absolutely fantastic. Her presentation was dynamic, full of relatable examples, and humor. One example she gave as the best sources of information about the history of accessibility was Comedy Central’s Drunk History episode on Judy Heumann’s early advocacy for disability rights. She frequently claimed the Drunk History series was a primary source of information for her.

While she did talk about legal and human dignity issues associated with accessibility, the overall goal of her presentation was about getting staff and volunteers to the point of internalizing the philosophy of making spaces and events accessible. You can renovate the physical space and compose policies, but if everyone isn’t invested in the practice, situational barriers may arise that people overlook as problems.

The example she used was of a historic building that has stairs at the front door and a ramp to a side door. The janitor opens both doors every day, but one day he is absent an a staff/volunteer comes in and not being aware of the full practice, only unlocks the front door.

Interestingly, that aligned with an experience I had just a week earlier when I realized that cleaning or facility staff might be deactivating the powered doors in our buildings at night and no one was turning them back on in the morning.  If someone hit the door plates, they wouldn’t open. So I had taken to tapping the door plates on my way in every day to make sure the doors swing open. But I also need to make sure everyone else is checking the doors as well.

Video of the webinar below. List of resources WESTAF provided below that.



Accessibility Resources

  • U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ): 
    • 800-514-0301 (voice); 800-514-0383 (TTY)
  • U.S. Access Board:
  • ADA Centers National Network:
    • 1-800-949-4232
  • W3C (wcag 2.1 aa)
  • National Endowment for the Arts:  
  • Access Smithsonian:  
  • Kennedy Center Office of VSA and Accessibility: