Marketing and Writing - Tips and Events

Writing For Your Life Today

Internal Problems

By limiting our marketing messages to only external problems, we neglect a principle that is costing us thousands and potentially millions of dollars. That principle is this: Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but people but solutions to internal problems.

The purpose of an external problem in a story is to manifest an internal problem. If I wrote a movie about a guy who simply needed to disarm a bomb, audiences would lose interest. What storytellers and screenwriters do, then, is create a backstory of frustration in the hero’s life,

In the movie Moneyball, for instance, Billy Beane failed in his playing career and so was filled with self-doubt about whether he could redeem himself as a general manager. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker was told by his uncle that he was too young to join the resistance, so he doubted his ability until the very end.

In almost every story the hero struggles with the same question; Do I have what it takes? This questions can make them feel frustrated, incompetent, and confused. The sense of self-doubt is what makes a movie about baseball relatable to a soccer mom and a romantic comedy relatable to a truck-driving husband.

What stories teach us is that people’s internal desire to resolve a frustration is a greater motivator than their desire to solve an external problem.

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

“Proceeding as the way opens”

When I lived at a retreat center secluded in the woods, the guests who came from the cities would occasionally take walks at night. They would shut the front door, walk the length of the well-lit porch, and face the unfamiliar, looming darkness of Norwegian pines, ironwood, and oak. Many later reported that they could not go further: They couldn’t see well enough or felt afraid of what lurked in the woods. Some, however, took a few bold steps down to the driveway. Just before the darkness swallowed them, a shock of light flooded the drive set off by a motion detector. The adventurers could safely proceed another forty feet before darkness again conquered their vision. Then another light flashed on. Three times between the house and the road, lights sensed their movement and steered them forward. Once they were on the road, even a cloudy sky provided enough light to proceed.

Over  breakfast the next morning, these guests shared their surprise. “You have to take a few steps into the dark, just trusting,” one said, “before another light shows the way.”

The Quakers call this “proceeding as the way opens,” and it’s good counsel for writers as well as spiritual seekers. Often the way is draped in shadow and we must proceed anyhow. It is common for the beginning of a writing project to be paved and well lit. A topic propels us out of the house; we’re determined, curious, or on a mission. But it’s not long before the porch light recedes. Our writing peters out; our energy fades, and the direction we were so sure about suddenly seems ill-advised. The trouble with writing about what we know is that our story is constrained by the limits of our knowledge-we can only go as far as the pool of porch light. How can we take those few tentative steps beyond the first rim of light into the wooded darkness? 

from “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Skinner House

A Manifesto for Human-Centered Marketing

  1. Stop doing what customers hate. Get out there and discover what customers love. Do that (at least).
  2. Technology should be invisible to your customer and only used to help your company be more compassionate, receptive, fascinating, and useful.
  3. You can’t “own” customers, a buyer’s journey, or a sales funnel. Claim a market space and help people belong to it. 
  4. Never intercept, never interrupt. Earn the invitation.
  5. Be relevant, consistent, and superior. Build trust into everything you do.
  6. Be fans of your fans. Make them the heroes of your story.
  7. Transcend the public’s inherent mistrust of your company through relentless honesty.
  8. Don’t be “in” the customer community. Be “of” the customer community.
  9. Marketing is never about your “why.” It’s about your customer’s “why.”
  10. The most human company wins. 

from “Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins” by Mark Schaefer

Something about the Web environment

Consider, as an alternate scenario, the story of Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, three former employees of the online payment site PayPal, who decided in early 2005 the Web was ripe for an upgrade in the way it handled video and sound.  Video, of course, was not native to the Web, which had begun its life fifteen years before as a platform for academics to share hypertext documents. But over the years, video clips had begun to trickle their way online, thanks to new video standards that emerged, such as Quick-Time, Flash, or WIndows Media Player. But the mechanisms that allowed people to upload and share their own videos were too challenging for most ordinary users. So Hurley, Chen, and Karim cobbled together a rough beta for a service that would correct these deficiencies, raised less than $10 million in venture capital, hired about two dozen people, and launched YouTube, a website that utterly transformed the way video information is shared online. Within sixteen months of the company’s founding, the service was streaming more than 30 million videos a day. Within two years, YouTube was one of the top-ten most visited sites on the Web. Before Hurley, Chen, and Karim hit upon their idea for a start-up, video on the Web was as common as subtitles on television. The Web was about doing things with text, and uploading the occasional photo. YouTube brought Web video into the mainstream. 

Now compare the way these two ideas – HDTV and YouTube – changed the basic rules of engagement for their respective platforms. Going from analog television to HDTV is a change in degree, not in kind: there are more pixels; the sound is more immersive; the colors are sharper. But consumers watch HDTV the exact same way they watched old-fashioned analog TV. They choose a channel, and sit back and watch. YouTube, on the other hand, radically altered the basic rules of the medium. For starters, it made watching video on the Web a mass phenomenon. But with YouTube you weren’t limited to sitting and watching a show, television style; you could also upload your own clips, recommend or rate other clips, get into a conversation about them. With just a few easy keystrokes, you could take a clip running on someone else’s site, and drop a copy of it onto your own site. The technology allowed ordinary enthusiasts to effectively program their own private television networks, stitching together video clips from all across the planet. 

YouTube went from an idea to mass adoption in less than two years. Something about the Web environment had enabled Hurley, Chen, and Karim to unleash a good idea on the world with astonishing speed. They took the 10/10 rule and made it 1/1. 

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books

“No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

When writers are open to learning and growing through the writing process, a sense of discovery infuses our words. Personal growth isn’t a selfish reason for writing; it’s an essential ingredient in effective stories. As Robert Frost puts it, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” The reader latches on to our experience of vulnerability and risk, following our growth like a lead-rope.

Teachers often admonish beginning writers, “Write what you know!” It’s good advice. The wisdom we know deep inside ourselves is infinitely richer than anything we can be taught. In memoir, you blatantly write what you know. Your memories are your subject; the story already exists, and you are simply transcribing it onto the page. At least that’s the way it seems before you start writing. But not that far into your draft you discover that you know much less than you thought. What really happened? What do these memories reveal about you or about the sacred? Why, after all, are you writing? 

from “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

You start talking about the problems your customers face

Identifying our customers’ problems deepens their interest in the story we are telling. Every story is about somebody who is trying to solve a problem, so when we identify our customers’ problems, they recognize us as a brand that understands them.

The problem is the “hook” of a story; and if we don’t identify our customers’ problems, the story we are telling will flat.

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

Shared meaning

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, there are three common myths around customer loyalty.


Myth: Customers want to have relationships with brands. Truth: 77 percent don’t want a relationship. What they really want are discounts.


Myth: Customer engagement builds relationships. Truth: No, it doesn’t. Your customers already suffer from information overload.


Myth: The more interactions the better. Truth: Wrong. There’s no correlation between the number of interactions with a customer and loyalty.


The research showed only one consideration is far and away the primary driver of customer loyalty: shared meaning. A shared meaning is a belief that both the brand and consumer have about a brand’s values or broad philosophy.


from “Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins” by Mark Schaefer

Technological acceleration

It is one of the great truisms of our time that we live in an age of technological acceleration; the new paradigms keep rolling in, and the intervals between them keep shortening. This acceleration reflects not only the flood of new products, but also our growing willingness to embrace these strange new devices, and put them to use. The waves roll in at ever-increasing frequencies, and more and more of us are becoming trained surfers, paddling out to meet them the second they start to crest. But the HDTV story suggests that this acceleration is hardly a universal law. If you measure how quickly a new technology progresses from an original idea to mass adoption, then it turns out that HDTV was traveling at the exact same speed that color television had traveled four decades earlier. It took ten years for color TV to go from the fringes to the mainstream; two generations later, it took HDTV just as long to achieve mass success.

In fact, if you look at the entirety of the twentieth century, the most important developments in mass, one-to-many communications clock in at the same social innovation rate with an eerie regularity. Call it the 10/10 rule: a decade to build the new platform, and a decade for it to find a mass audience. The technology standard of amplitude-modulated radio – what we now call AM radio – evolved in the first decade of the twentieth century. The first commercial AM station began broadcasting in 1920, but it wasn’t until the late 1920’s that radios became a fixture in American households. Sony inaugurated research into the first consumer videocassette recorder in 1969, but didn’t ship its first Betamax for another seven years, and VCRs didn’t become a household necessity until the mid-eighties. The DVD player didn’t statistically replace the VCR in American households until 2006, nine years after the first players went on the market. Cell phones, personal computers, GPS navigation devices – all took a similar time frame to go from innovation to mass adoption. 

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books

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