In the future, you might not buy a book in the classic codex form. (We don’t want to believe it either because we really, really love books.) Still, I think the cover will survive. I was recently at the Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, and it struck me how designers can be the most influential marketers of books. In a building filled with more than a million books, how does one choose? I was drawn to the books wrapped in an arresting photo or illustration, or covers with an eye-catching title presented in inventive typography.
Though Echo is a publisher that’s invested in telling stories and preserving cultures (family, corporate or organizational), we’re no slouches in the design department either. What consistently impressed visitors to our old studio was the showcase of books we’ve published. They are striking. The old clichéd advice “Don’t judge a book by its cover” isn’t something that Echo’s designers care too much for. They know that a great story deserves to look its best.
One of my favourite sites for design inspiration while I was in school was the Book Cover Archive. While it hasn’t been updated in some time, it catalogues some of the best work in the past four years. Its focus is American editions, but many international editions appear, too.
You can browse the covers by author, genre, publisher, year, and even typeface.
And here’s a little bit of company trivia: When we were deciding what to salvage from our reference library of arts, culture and business books, the only thing we took was Chip Kidd: Book One, a retrospective of the rock-star book designer’s work from 1986 to 2006.
We ditched the books, but a book of covers was worth saving.
In the past several years, marketers—especially those of the digital tribe—have latched onto storytelling as strategy: Forbes says, “Facebook Timeline For Brands: It’s About Storytelling” and social-media blogger Mitch Joel says, “You can’t throw a Digital Marketing Strategist without hearing the words ‘transmedia’ or ‘digital storytelling.’”
In an world of information overload, advertisers are latching on to what publishers have known all along: if you want to influence or engage your audience, you need to tell them a story. A story with meaning to them.
But don’t take our word for it: Scientists are starting to come around to understanding how intrinsic storytelling is to the human experience, and tracing it to our biology, no less. A recent Scientific American blog post explains the essential nature of storytelling. It was long thought that our ability to connect meaning with outside stimulus lay in the connective tissue between the left and right brain—or, the creative and rational sides.
However, a brain-surgery patient in 1960—and many after—have shown that we’ll tell stories to the end. We’re hard wired to tell stories to ourselves to give our lives purpose and meaning. The “…left hemisphere, our left-brain interpreter, [is] driven to seek causes and explanations—even for things that may not have them, or at least not readily available to our minds—in a natural and instinctive fashion,” the Scientific American article says. “Our minds form cohesive narratives out of disparate elements all the time: one of the things we are best at is telling ourselves just so stories about our own behavior and that of others. If we’re not sure, we make it up – or rather, our brain does, without so much as thinking about asking our permission to do so.”
Stories are the only way we know to make sense of the world. Powerful tales, they are. They created our science, our history, our arts, and now our commerce.
It was only natural.
Year by year, more companies are embracing the power of narrative to connect with customers. Even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, when the most successful digital marketers are asked what’s the secret to their success, they always return to the word storytelling. It’s always the more effective and quickest way to hook someone’s interest.
That’s why we’ve discovered that so many business blogs are telling marketers and communications professionals to stop ignoring the “About Us” page on their websites. Once the ghetto of the tired company mission statement, the page is now the space where CEOs spin yarns, and capture the imaginations of their current and future customers.
Organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farm has filled their “About Us” section with stories about their history, mission, their unique yogurt-tub lids, their suppliers—the farmers, and their “CE-Yo,” Gary Hirshberg. Why does it matter if the company’s chief is a “windmill-maker” if you’re in the market for some yogurt? Because now you know the person you’re buying yogurt from. A good story made Hirshberg into a person, not just a name or a face. Though Stonyfield’s yogurt is sold in Walmarts and supermarkets around the world, their online messaging makes the company into a convincing family business.
Hirschberg’s wife, Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, is the author of the Stonyfield’s history online. “The full story” tells of electrical storms, an old wooden boiler and the hand-milking that were the foundation for a wildly successful American business.
Perhaps it’s because Hirschberg’s wife, Meg, is a freelance writer that this company understands that if you want someone to buy yo’ yogurt, a narrative is necessary.
More than a century after Charles H. Beckman founded Red Wing Shoes, the American heritage brand will be showcasing 15 pairs of their boots in a travelling exhibition called “Memoirs, Good Old Boots.”
The boots belong to 15 rugged men with unique, individual stories, among them: two American bikers, a Norwegian fisherman, and a even members of a Swedish rock band. Each pair of shoes will be accompanied by the life stories of their owners.
Red Wing, maybe best known for their collaboration with American apparel brand J. Crew, is a company whose products embody the company’s values of hard work, endurance and quality. From the farm to the office, the boots are made “to perform and outlast.”
“Memoirs” is an original way to communicate the brand values tradition and quality craftsmanship by showing what a product looks like on a personal level. This shoemaker’s marketers understand that things gather important meaning in our lives.
Since we at Echo work with not only photos and letters, but also memorabilia—golf clubs, trophies and pressed flowers—we know stuff keeps memories. After all, what’s an attic of mementos but a treasure trove of stories?
I am thrilled to announce that our client, the PNE, has been selected to receive the coveted Marketer of the Year award for their work on the PNE’s “100 Years of Fun” anniversary campaign, which included the 100-year history book we produced for them last year (that went on to win an IPPY publishing award in NYC!).
Their anniversary campaign initiative resulted in dramatically increased ticket sales, re-invigoration of the PNE brand, and the establishment of the Fair as a major Western Canadian entertainment destination.
“It is a well deserved win,” said Georgia Dahle, past president and chairman of the marketer of the year judging committee. “And particularly impressive, as very few non-profit organizations have ever claimed this award.”
The coveted marketing award is given out by an esteemed judging panel from the BCAMA (BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association). If you are in Vancouver on October 13th, join the PNE at a gala celebration where they will be sharing their 100th anniversary story with the city’s marketing and advertising community.
Congratulations, PNE! Oh, and did I mention there will be mini-donuts and cotton candy?
We were invited last year to help the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) create a book to commemorate their 100-year anniversary. As a Vancouverite by birth, this was a serious honour. The PNE is a non-profit organization that serves the city in many ways, one of which is to host an annual 17-day fair, which was once the second largest in the world after the New York State Fair.
Basically, if you grew up or spent any significant time in Vancouver, you have a story about the PNE. It’s like very few other insitutions in its fan base. People really, really love the PNE.
Our task was to gather the best and most emotionally evocative anecdotes about the PNE over the past century and weave those stories with over 1,200 images sources from countless archives. It was a huge project for us – both in scope and profile – and with the PNE ordering 5,000 copies and selling them this year at the Fair, we knew we had to deliver something truly outstanding.
When Shelley Frost, the PNE’s VP of Marketing, received the book, here is what she wrote to us: “I wanted to let you know that we just cracked the first carton and unwrapped our very first 100th Anniversary Commemorative book. It is absolutely spectacular and surpasses our expectations in its grandeur. Stunning, elegant, vibrant and colourfully fun…just what we wanted. Thank you all for being so talented and great to work with. We couldn’t be happier that we put this project in your hands.”
Did I mention how great the PNE team was to work with? They were insightful, gracious and fun. And our team at Echo – Beverly, Lindsay, Kate, Heather, John and Norm – pulled out all the stops to make it fantastic and get it done on time.
The pièce de resistance? Michael Bublé wrote the foreword. How cool is that?
You might turn your nose up at Harlequin romance novels, but their business success is nothing to mock. The 61-year-old empire has 1,400 employees in offices in 20 cities around the world. And they make money, lots of it ($122-million in the third quarter of 2009, to be precise).
So what can we learn from the success of these slim books with stock plots and clichéd characters?
Believe it or not, these old-fashioned stories are behind one of the greatest successes in social media experiments going on today.
All Harlequin authors have their own web pages, blogs and email addresses so that readers can engage directly with them. And the authors pay attention.
As Don Gillmor points out in his article in Walrus magazine:
“Harlequin often responds to shifts in readers’ desires. Complaints are monitored (“Too many babies,” “The hero shouldn’t swear as much”) and adjustments sometimes made. Whatever else it is, the romance genre is democratic. The writing is editor driven, and the editors are reader driven.”
This is a company that figured out a long time ago that they didn’t need to guess what their customers wanted. They simply ask them and then they deliver what the customers want. The feedback is shaped as editorial guidelines that decree everything from the word count to the tolerable amount of sex.
What would it take for you to be the Harlequin of your industry? How willing are you to ask your customers exactly what they want from you? And how quickly can you get your employees on side to deliver on those demands?
Many Harlequin readers devour a book a day. Apparently, asking what they want pays off.