Interview – Rich Collins, Kristi Baxter and Michael Cameron transcribed loosely from the New Hampshire Brand Project Radio Show.
Michael Cameron- Rich Collins is the founder of Thirst Productions. Welcome to the New Hampshire Brand Project Radio Show!
Rich Collins – nice to be here! (…small talk)
Michael – Rich, you had mentioned to me the term storytelling. It seems to be the foundation of what you do, just share with us how important you think storytelling is in the evolution of a business and how it applies to companies getting their message across to other businesses or to consumers depending on the business models that they are promoting.
Rich – I think this goes back to earlier days, back to college, (thinking) back to just life in general as you transition to a real adult. What is the most fun you have? It’s really just a culmination of your experiences – living your life, then, as you get older, you start telling those stories again – reliving the past through storytelling. There is a lot to be said about history, and a lot to be said about how we have become to be (as individuals or companies) that you easily forget – you just get so busy. I think businesses face the same thing, they have these great backgrounds – stories if you will, of how they came to be/started, the heart of the company, the goals and values of the company, but as they begin to operate, they lose sight of who they were, because they start driving business so much – operations take over the focus of the business.
(As a consultant) I like to go in and kind of figure out who they are again, their roots as a business, what their core values are; and re-translate that message into a marketing message their company can leverage. What’s great about the new marketing regime with social media is that it provides a way to do ‘soft’ and targeted marketing, you don’t have to launch million-dollar ad campaigns to get the word out, you can do this kind of storytelling in short bits, you can build a brand quickly if you are so inclined, you can go viral…or you can just reinforce your original company message, the message that you believe in something, whether it is supporting shelter animals or whatever it is (that your organization values). You don’t have to reach outside of what you do as a business to go back to your roots. You can also humanize your business and you can also really relay your messages (to a broad audience).
I like to go in and talk to (business) people who might not even know their own story anymore – because they have been so caught up in their business just running day-to-day operations and trying to put food on the table. I go in, sit down (with the business owners) and talk through the story, and (coach) them into places they haven’t been before. Simple situations like “tell me about you tell me about what got you into this (business), your story… and then I translate that story into (mostly written) Communications: ads, blurbs, web content… Blogs are really important because they are good touch point, a great way to get the message (of a company story) out there for people to see. That’s what I see myself doing most often, and if you ask me what I was going to do with my life it was never to be a storyteller. Because I’m a good writer I like to write things, I like to translate people’s voices, but I never thought of what I do (which is kind of marketing) as storytelling until I slowly kind of picked up on other people talking about it – “tell your story,” “talk about your story.”
Kristi Baxter – And I always like to come back who is one of the most brilliant storytellers of all, Michael you should know this I talk about him all the time.
Michael – Mark Twain? I don’t…..
Kristi – Walt Disney, hello! That’s what he does and that is part of the success of Disney marketing – telling a story – and sometimes putting the guests in the story. I have always been a big believer in the fact that everybody has a story, and everybody’s life experience brought them to where they are at this point, even though it may not be where they thought it was and I think sometimes when you take the time to look back and reflect, you have a chance to really appreciate kind of how you got here. To your point, Rich, when you’re going through it, often times you don’t appreciate either the experience that you’re getting, or the wealth of knowledge that you are gaining, until you stop and look back. You (suddenly say to yourself) “wow, I did all of that, look at all the new skills I have,”so I (personally) love storytelling. And I do believe in it as a really strong, strong marketing tool because you’re not only telling the story of the company – but especially today with social – you are bringing people into the story and engaging them with the story, which I think is far more powerful than just kind messaging.
Rich – And a lot of people start to really kind of relate to a brand, it is a new type of loyalty that just did not exist before when you were “fed” marketing materials, mostly on billboards or TV ads, etc. Now you can actually communicate (directly) and you can really talk to people (at their level). And the part that is really interesting with social? They will talk back. Thinking back to the past…you would call up your bank (or whoever) and get customer service. And they didn’t really engage (on any level) – they just answer questions. Yet now, companies have hired people to share messages. So it is a little harder (for large companies) to market and engage on a big scale, but local businesses in particular are amazed by the (interactive) process. They are like, “You are interested in my small business?! That’s awesome! Let me tell you more, let me invite you in, let me do a demo and show you what I can do.” Which I have not personally seen in marketing before. It has gone back to that grassroots idea, ‘we will help you if you have an interest in our products.’
Michael – You know it’s interesting, because I started hearing about the term storytelling, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight years ago – it became kind of a popular topic to talk about. Initially, when I first heard the term storytelling, I instantly thought about children – and how I used to read to my son when he was young – and that’s what storytelling was all about. But there is so much more to storytelling, I mean when you go back hundreds and even thousands of years, storytelling is such an important factor as far as communication…keeping history moving forward if you will. I mean, what do people basically do sitting around the campfire? You know 200 years ago, yes, they told stories!
Rich – It was entertainment, it was values, (it was education), it was everything, it’s all they had before, written word. And now there’s just a new way to do it.
Michael – And just think about how many people became really good at telling stories, because they spent so much of their lives telling and sharing stories right?
Rich – There is nothing better than a New England storyteller…someone that can really paint an animated picture of something (just by speaking) even though there is some fabrication/embellishment (to the tales). I like to think that I am more of a ‘written’ storyteller – I can’t do the camp fire story thing very well. If I could change myself into (a real, verbal storyteller) Someone who communicates traditionally (person to person), just a communicator that makes everybody Just engaged – I love that idea, so I try to do that with writing and I try to do that with imagery (photos and visual elements) – but storytelling is so important.
Kristi – So I am kind of curious, you do have a very diverse background as we have kind of alluded to, how did you arrive at the point where you said “I think I want to be a storyteller”, I mean you have been an IT guy, etc. I am referring to your own personal Journey, what’s your story?
Rich – I’ve got a lot of stories about myself, I don’t know if they are interesting (enough to share) but technology really is the driver of everything (that I focus on). So, what I kind of started out doing was (basic) artistic photography, black and white darkroom photography, and I started telling my stories or expressing myself that way. But technology became so invasive in everybody’s life, opening up so many avenues and different ways to tell stories. (No longer were you tied to the constraints of film to capture and share reality.) So like I said, I am not a verbal storyteller, but the technology background… allowed me to… use all these tools -whether it is photoshop or the internet or website (development), or all the social media tools, now there are just thousands of them, so it’s a never-ending kind of playground of toys to use – all at my disposal. So really, I just like to share information. I don’t know if it’s ego, but I like when people see the work that I do, or kind of enjoy it, or engage. So it really is addictive when you start getting the word out for a company – or for yourself – and you see other people enjoy that message. So I use technology tools, and there are thousands of them now, to (create) that message. So I really bring it back to tech, I don’t like building databases, I don’t like things that you can’t see, touch or feel in the technology space, so I am not the guy that sits and codes all day. I like the visual aspects (of web and social media posts) – which really are what inspire stories and makes up ‘the buzz.’
Michael – You know it’s interesting, content creation is such an important factor in getting a company’s messaging correct. I’m just wondering… do you have any recommendations or tips regarding the science of creating compelling content? And let me just take a step back on this, I always wonder if you are trying to reach, for example, millennials, is there a specific strategy that one would use? Does a writer want to kind of maybe create more edgy content for example, that millennials might be attracted to? Or if your targeting, for example, baby boomers, are there specific strategies? Or at the end of the day is the audience the same, you just create a style that is really kind of authentic to you and you run with it, I mean what are your thoughts on content strategy?
Rich – That’s a good question because everybody is trying to figure that out right now. I am going to take it back just a few years before we really had the Google. Google – I believe changed not only the way we find information but they have changed the way we do everything with information, by opening up things. You know you have the old Apple/Microsoft model where the code was contained and they would come out with updates (that you are forced to take) – but Google just went in and broke all the rules by opening up this gigantic portal of information, whether it’s public, government information, books online or whatever, they have really changed the world and how we consume content immensely. It is crazy to believe how m much is available for people to find and research – which is awesome! Which brings us to content. Content is king right now, everything that important in the world in terms of marketing is now content (driven) and I believe Google is one of the drivers in that change of scenery. What is maybe a little troubling about it, is now if you really want to share your content to a specific audience you really need to use the Google channels, because Google owns something like 90/95% of search engine traffic. So if you really want to know how to do it – really start paying attention to, for example, the Google Plus and Google Maps and Google Business and Google algorithms and try to figure them out, that’s how you really would technically target your message. (By using the tools readily at your disposal).
In terms of the generational differences, I think everybody’s is still trying to figure that one out. The millennials are particularly interesting – and I don’t know an awful lot about that demographic because they are just coming into the age where they have monetary buying power basically, but they are really about passion – and they are really about (whatever it is) that they (personally) relate to (as individuals). They are not about bottom line, they are not about…(for example) – they don’t want to see a stylized running shoe commercial where people are crossing the finish line. They want to see people helping other people, they want to see ideas come to life, they want to see their favorite musicians, they want to really connect to kind of a personal level, which I don’t think is any different from any different generation. But it’s about what makes them tick in particular (that baffles marketers) and how they want to feel -especially at work – which is where we get into kind of the ‘at work’ ideas, (millennials) want to feel like they are a part of something bigger, whatever it is – and it doesn’t have to be a grand thing. It might be planting trees, someone might enjoy that! So millennials are really about the those softer touch points that they believe in – and they are all different, they are all individuals, they don’t have like a one-size-fits-all mold to follow, so to reach them… you really have to go into the niches. And this is what really challenges corporate America,. So say I am a company that makes cups (or whatever product it is you can think of), then instantly ask “why don’t millennials want to buy my product, they have got buying power, they should want this! why don’t they want to buy it? The answer? They just don’t, they don’t have to want everything. Very little is new to them, unlike when the TV or the automobile came out, they have everything and want for little it seems, so they can choose exactly what enriches their daily lives, whatever that may be. (A yoga mat, a phone case, vintage tableware).
My generation was kind of raised (by marketers) to believe “here is something new, you want this – and need this. So this is what you do, you go get this, this is what you buy, this is what other people want” Example: Air Jordans, everybody wants Air Jordans! Or whatever (the cool thing was). Now – it doesn’t really work that way. The company matters and the company messages matter (as to what they purchase). I bring it all back to the fact that the millennial generation can access content/information constantly – they Google everything – and they look things up. They want very brief ideas about (products, things, ideas) before they dig in. So there is that really quick moment of decision resulting from this ‘instant on’ mentality – if they don’t find what they want, they move on quickly, and I think that has been the challenge (for marketers) to target. So really, the answer is, just be your message, I think being genuine (to your message) is super important. And you can relay that through written content and doing events and ‘showing up’ just ‘being there.’ I think Patagonia might be a really good example of a company that talks the talk, then walks the walk. They have really high-end products but they are deeply involved with their brand and their message (of improving the outdoor community) yet, their products are really expensive. Yet people are buying (Patagonia) because they believe in the brand, so they will pay for it.
Kristi – It is interesting though, because to your point, I don’t think millennials are really all that different than anybody else. I just think they are technology enabled. Michael and I have this conversation all the time I mean our generation wanted to work from home and have more free time, it is just that the technology did not enable us to do that.
What I do think is interesting about the millennials, yes it is the purpose piece, but I think anybody is grabbed with a good hook. I mean think of the best book that you have read, you are captured in the first sentence – you think “I have got to read more” – and to me that’s the essence of communicating with millennial, is that you have to have that hook from the get-go, it is the 140 characters mentality. Can you can communicate something that’s going to grab them, just enough so that they will read on? Can you get them in that first get-go? I think that the challenge, to me, for businesses is that they may not have that compelling of a business (to begin with) in which case and it’s not that it’s a bad business, it just might not appeal to millennial. I mean just might not be a product or service that they’re interested in, so I think part of it is selecting who you really want to target. Everybody’s like “oh I want millennials” (business). Well they don’t actually have tons of spending power, because they are all in debt from college – and now that they are living with Mom and Dad they are putting off buying things, because they are sitting paying thousand dollars school payment every month. So I think their buying power relative to ours at that same age is probably a little bit different. Yes – we are all interested in selling them things, but you also have to think long term, “how do I invest over time so that 5 years from now they are going to be more interested.” My product might be more appropriate for them five years from now than it is right now. And so I think from a company perspective, the idea is not to get so caught up in the millennial melee, but you really have to be focused on asking the question
“are they a good target for us?” (Or do we just want more business).
Rich – And then that begs the question of the whole (notion of) click bait, which is being fueled by major media, they just want you to click on something, so they can count the metric and say “oh look how any people view this.” 90% of it is really not appropriate. and it has no substance. But that’s where metrics play in. Back to Google – this all comes into play because all these (website) clicks are tracked very closely. So if something gets a thousand, one million of viral hits – suddenly it’s (perceived as) a success – but did you really share a message? Did it really change someone’s mind? Or was it just something that they did at a stop light on their phone because they needed 1 minute to kill? So going back to the idea of core content and (the notion that) once you hook them, you have to keep them, (clickbait doesn’t make sense.) I think a lot of people are just focusing on the hook and they are like, “oh look, look how many people like our idea” and then they don’t follow up with the real substance via the message that they are trying to send. So clickbait is one of the unfortunate by-products of that ‘hook” idea, but yeah the hook is still extremely important.
Kristi – And I think Michael and I have talked about this quite a bit, it is like building relationships, you are building relationship and it is a long-term relationship, so you may not see the fruit of that relationship for a while. It is also about relationships with your supplier and your customers.
Rich – I was thinking about gardening this morning. You plant the garden, and it doesn’t necessarily (always) produce fruit (without your taking care of it). Same with marketing – you can’t do this in one day – it takes time, energy, and effort to build those relationships.
Kristi – I have often said I am a gardener in business. Right, Michael?
Michael – Rich you are going to also help us to co-host New Hampshire brand project, so we want to thank you for you volunteer efforts and thanks for sharing your business model for Thirst Productions, this the New Hampshire brand project signing off, we will be back next week at 9 am. This is Michael Cameron and I am Kristi Baxter and I am Rich Collins. Thanks for listening!