Joseph Campbell is known to many as George Lucas’ inspiration for the story structure of the original Star Wars films. Dig a little deeper and you find that Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth aka the Hero’s Journey, outlined in his seminal The Hero With A Thousand Faces serves as the basic story structure found in narratives worldwide, since the beginning of time. This Hero’s Journey is what makes the most famous stories universal and also allows us to identify with the protagonist out on their journey, eventually overcoming a challenge to reach a new enlightened state of being. This is classic story structure and the most strategic brand storytellers are very aware of this when creating content meant to authentically engage a following.

At Bolster, we believe the most powerful brand stories are created when a hero is discovered among a brand’s followers and their story is shared in a compelling and cinematic manner and ultimately serves as an example of how that brand is playing the supporting role of the “wise sage” (think Obi Wan Kenobi) that helps our hero achieve their desired state. The following example of this approach in action is from Ebay and is one of the finest I’ve come across (and at half a million views, it’s driving some great results). Not only does it tell a story that highlights Ebay’s brand value, but it does so in a way that we can all connect with. The entire “Ebay Thanks You” series of story-driven content is beautifully conceived and executed and will serve as great benchmark for visual brand storytellers everywhere.

The One That Got Away

And here are a few more from the series Ebay Thanks You, including the anthem that introduces them all.


Kingdom Ventures

Wheel & Sprocket


When it comes to sharing the stories of your customers, selecting and documenting an emotionally resonant story helps ensure your content will be shared as much as you had hoped–earned media being the lifeblood of this emerging genre. The amount of brand-created documentary content has grown by reels and bounds this year and some of the most compelling and successful examples of this type of work have been created for Expedia. They’ve unearthed and cinematically documented the stories of Expedia travelers, who are traveling with a purpose. In the two documentaries below, the filmmakers explore why two very unique individuals are travelling across the country and are on a mission to find something – Find your understanding. Find your strength. These brand mantras are given deep meaning as we follow the stories to the heart of what makes travel meaningful.

As you finish watching these films, ask your self “What types of journeys are my customers taking (not just literal journeys, but internal journeys) and how am I helping them to achieve those goals?” This is where any great brand story begins and ends – with helping your customers along on their own hero’s journey.

Find Your Strength

Find Your Understanding

The New 90/10 Rule

Posted: April 21, 2011 in brand, customer engagement

Greetings Storytellers!

I recently attended a fantastic workshop on the new landscape of indie cinema marketing courtesy of IFP MN and was reminded of the 80/20 rule of social media marketing. This concept suggests that only 20% of the content you share over social media be directly about you or your brand. A wise rule of thumb.

It got me to thinking about the content itself – specifically the stories we tell to engage our audiences. Brands have been getting better and better about shifting the focus of their content from being all about their product or service to being all about their customer or supporter. Rather than the brand being showcased, it’s the customer that should take center stage – and in which the brand becomes a supporting player in the customer’s hero journey. It’s about tapping into the customer’s passion conversations and letting their unique story shine.

To that end, I’d like to propose a new challenge to marketers and branded content creators everywhere. What if we took the social media posting rule of 80/20 one step further in the physical content we create? What if we held ourselves to a 90/10 rule and really let the authentic stories of the people we serve have the prominence they deserve? After all, this is what people connect with. Not sales pitches, not facts or figures – but other people. People with hopes and dreams and real challenges – just like them.

I’d like to share a couple examples of this rule already in practice. The first is for Gold’s Gym and is a brilliant showcase of moving stories created by Phos Pictures. The second is something very recently created for Ecolab as part of their Why Clean Matters web experience by Bolster, showcasing the story of one of the finest chefs in the Midwest.

As a brand storyteller and content consultant, I plan to push all new branded content toward the 90/10 benchmark – will you do the same?

Gold’s Gym

The Teaser

The Campaign

Why Clean Matters

Heidi’s Minneapolis

Story > Brand?

Posted: September 10, 2010 in brand, story

Ran across this and had to repost. Interesting thoughts, Mr. Peters. Interesting, indeed.

Once Upon a Time

Posted: July 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

Drive Brand Engagement Through the Power of Story

Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. — Robert McKee, Screenwriter

“Tell me a story.”
“What’s your story?”
“That reminds me of a great story!”

The overwhelming familiarity of these phrases reminds us that we are all truly hardwired for stories. They are how we learn about our world as small children and how we come to define our social and cultural values as we grow older. Listening to others’ stories is how we decide whom to invite into our social circles. If the story someone tells us contains values that align with ours, a connection is made. And perhaps best of all, stories are universal. There have been societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories – true story.

Story has always been a compelling way to communicate a message, but what special relevance does storytelling have to communicating in today’s media-saturated, digital landscape?

Consider this: we live in the age of information overload. Never has more data or factual information been available – to the point of annoyance when you’re looking for something specific. It seems we are constantly trudging through a surplus of email and meaningless spam ads every time we are trying to digitally connect. Therefore, one of the great challenges of our time is to synthesize that data, discover the insight from the facts and ultimately find a way to convey those insights in a meaningful way. This is precisely where story can help solve this unique modern problem.

Story doesn’t just tell you the facts. Story shows you how the facts have impacted a human life. And story allows you to see yourself in that central character’s shoes and imagine how your life would be different were you in that position yourself. Herein lies one of the most powerful qualities of story: empathy. Story is in fact, the quickest way to building an emotional connection. And those emotional connections are absolutely necessary in the new experience economy where emotional brand loyalty comes from the side of the brain that makes intuitive decisions.

Brand as Story

First came products, then came trademarks, then came brands. Brands transcend product features and design. These material things can and are being imitated and for a lot lower cost by international competition. The time to compete based on physical characteristics and rational pricing arguments alone is over. We’ve entered an era where consumers are buying based on the values a brand portrays and whether or not those values align with their ideal of a meaningful life. So how can brands better showcase their core values to allow consumers and employees to make an emotional connection more readily?

Through story.

A powerful brand builds on clearly stated values while a strong story communicates those values in a captivating manner, easily understood by all. Think of the stories of your childhood. Most were a lot of fun to experience and they also had a moral to them. And that moral is also usually a social value – a value which could easily be one of a brand’s core values. Therefore, our task is to find and tell the stories which contain our company’s core brand values as their inherent theme or moral. How do we do this?

If your company has customers, then you have customer stories. In many cases, the sales force knows them best. Every interaction between customers and your brand or service has story potential. The task is to identify the stories that most clearly and powerfully bring your brand values to life.

The first thing we must do to find an ideal brand story is to identify a protagonist. Our protagonist must represent our target audience – in this example, your customers. This protagonist must have faced a challenge and through the help of your service our product, overcome that challenge to find a new level of success.

Once you’ve identified a powerful story, how do you determine the best way to tell it?

There are as many different ways to tell a story as there are different kinds of stories to tell. This is where storytelling becomes a powerful skill in today’s marketing landscape. As you begin to partner with professional storytellers and media producers to bring your brand stories to life, here are a few general storytelling tips to keep in mind:

Know Your Audience: Target your audience before you target your story. The demographic of your audience will inform the type of story you tell and how you go about telling it.
Conflict & Resolution: Every story must have a central character that overcomes a challenge (in this case with the help of your product or service).
Raise Questions: This is what gives a story momentum. Your audience should be asking, “What happens next?”
Make it Visual: Strong imagery makes for more memorable stories. Web video is a great way to tell a memorable, visual story with high viral potential. Web videos are also simple to integrate into social media and mobile channels.
Moment of Reflection: Every story must give the viewer a chance to connect the dots and make the final judgement of what the core values or the morals of the story are for themselves. The theme or values should not be overt, preachy or salesy. Business writer Annette Simmons put it best when she said, “Story doesn’t tell people what to do, but it can powerfully influence what they think about as they make their own choices.”
Find the right content-producing partners and keep these story tips top of mind, and you’ll be on your way to strengthening your brand by telling some value-defining, wow-inspiring stories.

Happy storytelling.

Brandstorytelling Quote of the Week

Posted: June 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

I wanted to share a new Founder’s Story video I created for Chef Erick Harcey at Victory 44 in Minneapolis:

Every truly great company is born from a founder with a driving passion for what they do and a strong vision guiding their work. The realization of those founding principles becomes a story that must be told.

Chef Erick Harcey of Victory 44 in Minneapolis believes that phenomenal food should be accessible to everyone, so he’s created a restaurant unlike any other in Minnesota. It’s a restaurant of chefs – only chefs. They just also do the jobs of the front of house staff, the servers and the restaurant managers. And their unique model, carefully selected menu items and seasonal ingredients let them keep costs very low, putting the dining experience on center stage.

Erick’s story is a founder’s story. It’s one that should never be overlooked when seeking to engage customers (or employees) holistically. By articulating values which customers may identify with, they are far more likely to become patrons for life. And it gives customers a back story to tell their friends about, creating a ready army of word of mouth advocates for your brand.