Four years ago, when I first started fitting the puzzle pieces together and came up with my business plan, I didn’t realize how many other Story Branders were out there. Thanks, in part to the wonderful world of Twitter, I have been introduced to storytellers, story writers, story marketing and of course, story branders like myself.
I recently finished Jim Signorelli’s latest book StoryBranding: Creating Standout Brands Through The Power of Story and was very impressed. He clearly lays out the importance of using storytelling when building, developing or changing a brand, and addresses and debunks several myths we have when it comes to business identity. I particularly enjoyed his Archetypal Analysis (The Purist, The Pioneer, The Rebel and of course The Conquerer) and believe that this is the key to creating a timeless brand. My interest in Jungian mythology and archetypes is what first led me to storytelling ten years ago.
This quote in particular captures what I believe is the essence of Story Branding.
“Brands perceived as stories to be told have a better chance of helping us find meaning than they do as products to be marketed. But to tell a brand’s story authentically, we have to know it first.
We have to see, hear, and feel its reality because it’s there, not just because consumers tell us they want it there. What’s real has to reveal itself not in what is promised, but in what is proven across every point of contact.
Story Branding is a process designed to help us know brands the way stories help us know characters. It’s a process that also helps us know a brand’s prospects in ways that will foster lasting relationships, immune from any competitive claim or coupon.” Jim Signorelli
When I first started at McGill University, I wanted to be a journalist. I loved the idea of interviewing people and sharing in their experiences. I was also drawn to adventure, and in my mind a journalist was a modern day action hero. However, after taking several courses, I realized that the confines of traditional journalism did not suit my personality, so I decided to pursue my passion for books and complete a degree in Cultural Studies and Literature. My focus was on media and messaging, including how information was being delivered and perceived (think Marshall McLuhan meets Naomi Klein).
When I returned to Vancouver, I took an internship at Vancouver Magazine and then launched an online magazine (Don’t Tell Kelly) with my brother Scott. It was then that I realized that journalism was shifting beneath my feet. It was 2003 and while the Internet looked much different than it does now, independent writers, like myself, suddenly had an open platform for our words. I started writing for sites like suite101.com and submitting articles to online magazines, while at the same time pursuing a career in marketing and advertising.
Then my mom introduced me to the world of Jungian Mythologists, including Joseph Campbell, Marion Woodman and Robert Bringhurst and everything changed. I realized how connected I felt to mythology and folklore and started to explore my own story. When I was little, my dad and I were part of a group of fathers and daughters that got together to tell First Nations stories (the organization was called Indian Princess – obviously not politically correct, but I’ll chalk that up to the 80s). I remember hearing stories like How The Loon Lost Her Voice and feeling so close to the story that to this day I am mesmerized by these beautiful water birds.
My goal then became to widen my scope and build my own story. I started by writing my goals down on a piece of paper and the words that kept coming up were Storytelling and Community Building. I had never even heard about story branding until I googled story + marketing and learned about Envisioning and Storytelling, a strategic storytelling agency right here in Vancouver B.C. Suddenly the path widened and my options opened up. I did not have to force myself into a job (square peg that I am) – I could create my own business, and bring my unique skills and passion to the table to help people understand and connect with their business. That was four years ago. I remember sitting in a cafe, writing down potential names for my business and thinking no one was going to understand what I was trying to do.
Fast forward to present day and I am astounded at the number of storytellers I meet, whether in person or via twitter. While we all have different approaches, and different skill sets, I think that people are starting to realize that branding is about a feeling and not a logo. It is about connecting with your audience, and the best way to do that is to relay true stories and personal experiences. My job is to interview people (yes, that passion for journalism is finally being fed!) and uncover the story threads that can then be woven into a brand. For me, storytelling is about connecting with people and translating their experiences into a unique brand identity. I have managed to build a business doing exactly what I love. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
As the clock struck midnight in Stockholm, I found myself reflecting on a year that exceeded all expectations. At the beginning of each year, I create a vision board that helps me visualize what I want my life, and my business, to look like…and 2011 will go down as the Year of the Story – literally!
When I decided to pursue a Masters in Mythology, I did not foresee it playing a huge role in my career. Rather, I thought it would help me build my own story, introducing me to new concepts, people and ways of life. And again, when I ventured to West Africa to work with young girls on accessing their story, I did not necessarily see the correlation between my passion for storytelling and my background in marketing.
My vision for 2010 focused on launching a business that helped people find the stories that made their business unique. After working in the Ad world, I also wanted to focus on balancing the important areas of life, including my relationships and my connection to my community.
My vision for 2011 was all about Story! I wanted to expand my client base and work with businesses that were socially driven and community minded. Not only have I found an office space (hivevancouver.com), and joined a board of directors (cacv.ca), I have also expanded my story writing business to include full branding and marketing capabilities for my clients including visual branding, websites and story videos.
I am a strong believer that if you can imagine it, it will happen. The best way to solidify a dream is to manifest it into something that you see everyday. My vision boards serve to remind me of what I am after in life, while encouraging me to reflect on my accomplishments and my obstacles.
Now to start planning Vision 2012…oh the wonders that will be!
When I was growing up, I loved to perform. From public speaking contests and piano recitals to community plays and school performances, I was given the opportunity to express myself in so many different ways. For many kids, the performing arts means putting on a play in their backyard, or acting out in class and getting a few laughs. They often don’t have a place where they can go to learn their craft and share their passion.
I first met with sisters Maureen and Donalda last year at a french cafe to discuss their idea. They wanted to create a performing arts program where kids could come together and learn from professionals and from each other in a safe environment. The most amazing thing about their idea is that they wanted to offer these courses and workshops free of charge to children in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Maureen and Donalda grew up in East Vancouver, and Maureen’s first office was in the DTES, so they have a strong connection to this community.
Fast forward ten months, and via twitter we became reacquainted. Maureen and Donalda landed on a name for their project, yet they needed help building their story and launching their brand. Over the past two months, we have worked together to launch Project Limelight, a free performing arts program for kids. With the support of the Strathcona Community Centre, Project Limelight’s first session will commence January 28th 2012.
When I first met Samantha Walker, we were both working out of the Mindset Social Innovation Foundation office. Sam had recently moved to Vancouver from Montreal where she had been running a successful Advertising Agency. She followed her heart, and her intuition, and gave it all up to pursue her passion for photography. Sam has since travelled around the world as a photo-journalist, documenting the stories of the people she meets and the places she visits. Samantha J Walker Photography
I see the importance of capturing both the written story as well as the visual story. Sam and I share a passion for travel that goes beyond watching. We both want to be involved in the process; we know that for a story to have an impact, it needs an audience. Sam is a visual storyteller. She is able to look beyond the surface and reveal a side of things that many people would not see. It goes beyond training and comes back to this idea of intuition. Sam’s journey has led her to Nepal, India, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and many other places in Africa. It has also led her to Vancouver where she brings a keen eye to each project, eager to peel away the layers and reveal a new truth.
My favorite story Sam has told is The Tailors of Tibet, documenting two Tibetian refugee girls living in Northern India at the Tibetan Children’s Village. She shines a light on the stories that often go unnoticed, treating them with respect and gratitude.
Recently, I asked Sam if she would help me tell my story in the form of a photograph. She led me down to Granville Island, a favorite spot of mine, and spent a few hours wandering with me through this industrial, artistic haven. When I saw her photographs I was stunned; in each one she captured a different side, a different story, of me. No longer do I look at the camera as a separate object; Samantha proved to me that it is, in fact, an extension of the storyteller.
When I first heard about the Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV), I was instantly intrigued. Even more so when I discovered they had been around since 1946 – making them the first Arts Council in North America! This past summer, I was approached by a family friend to help the CACV develop the story for the Community Arts Fund (CAF), a recent initiative they were looking to develop to provide sustainable funding solutions to arts-based organizations.
With a focus in the Downtown Eastside (or DTES), the CACV promotes and supports individuals and organizations who want to bring art into their community. Seeing that I am a huge advocate of anything arts, culture or non-profit related, I was excited to draw out some of the stories that surrounded the CAF. After interviewing artists, sponsors, and supporters of the CACV, I was so inspired by the stories I collected that I knew I wanted to get more involved.
I volunteered some of my time to continue to interview community artists in Vancouver and share their stories on the CACV website. Suddenly my mind was swirling with ideas as to how I could help get more people involved in this discovery process, and when a position with the Board of Directors opened up, I eagerly applied. With the support of Michael Claque, the President of the Board, I was nominated and elected last night, along with 10 other inspiring individuals.
When I lived in West Africa in 2008, I visited an old friend from high school living in Northern Ghana. I knew she had started a charity, but I had no idea to what extent. After seeing the work she does in Ghana, and now helping her build and share her story in Canada, I know that Shannen O’Brian has done what we often think is impossible; she has changed the world.
Shannen started Create Change in 2007 after meeting hundreds of young girls who could not afford to go to school. She knew that she could find people back in Canada to support them (it is, after all, only $200 to send a girl to school for a year), so she set out on a journey that has opened all of our eyes. Create Change now provides over 1,000 girls in Northern Ghana with the school tuition and supplies they need to finish high school and go on to university. Four of those girls are now in Canada on a 6 week speaking tour, sharing their stories with thousands of people, hoping their message will inspire us all to give. I was fortunate enough to spend time with the girls on the Sunshine Coast when they first arrived, helping them develop their story presentations. I also held a story evening at my home, raising money and awareness for girls like Faiza, Fayudatu, Gladys and Beatrice.
But that’s not all! Shannen has also found a way to revolutionize the way we shop and change the way we give. She is partnering with top businesses in Vancouver, including hotels, restaurants and artists, to create a social enterprise that gives 100% of all profits to charity. Shannen wants ‘Giving’ to be a natural part of our day; it shouldn’t be something we do once a year, or as little as 1% of our annual income. It should be easy, and it should be personal. Karma Exchange recently launched in Vancouver and the girls from Ghana are a tour called “For Our Daughters” which will be made into a documentary. The finale will be held at The Vogue on November 23rd.
Last night marked the official opening of the Sarah McLachlan School of Music. What a wonderful evening it was!
I started working with the Sarah McLachlan Foundation in January 2010 to help them uncover the many stories that make up the organization. I worked closely with Sarah and the staff at the Music Outreach program to help them transition from Arts Umbrella into an independently-run free school of music. It was quite a journey.
After 2 years, and many adventures along the way, the School of Music is now a permanent fixture in Vancouver, providing free music education to youth who would otherwise not have access. My role was to find the story threads that connect everyone together and create a new brand that captures the essence of the school. I used storytelling to develop marketing & website content, speeches & presentations, grant proposals and social media bites.
While Sarah’s story is the driving force behind the vision for the school, it is the other stories, those of the students who have been transformed by the power of music and the instructors who have shone a light on them, that captivate us. The school’s story continues to evolve, and you can see elements of it on the newly launched website www.sarahschoolofmusic.com. It was a wonderful journey to be a part of and I am looking forward to watching it all unfold. The arts nourish us in the most amazing ways; this project nourished me.
When I first conceived of Narrative Communications, I had a lot of ideas on how to bring elements of storytelling into the business world. After working in the marketing & advertising world for years, I knew how to deliver successful campaigns, but I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to harness the power of storytelling and integrate the techniques I learned along the way into branding and marketing.
Fast forward 2 years and I am living my dream. My business is my passion; I no longer see the distinction between work to live and live to work – for me it is one and the same. I spend most of my time helping small businesses, artists and non profits figure out who they are and where they are going. I use storytelling to draw out people’s experiences with each company or organization, and then weave those stories into the brand.
For a while now, I have been meaning to redo my own website and capture the stories and experiences of my clients. Easier said than done! When your business is focused on marketing, branding and writing for other businesses, the last thing you have time for is marketing, branding and writing for your OWN business! Yet I know from experience this is the most important thing for a small business to focus on.
So I am chasing the rabbit down the rabbit hole…
I am in the process of interviewing my clients, promoters, friends and family on their experience with Narrative and storytelling. Stay tuned! For now, please enjoy the latest fruit of my labour: my website. My first version (1.0) was designed, built and crafted from what I hoped my business would be. Now I have 2 legs to stand on and numerous happy clients and successful campaigns.