Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why N-of-8 story development is so powerful

Stories speak to the human desire to make sense of life.

Storytelling has always been a central part of culture – transmitted orally, captured in legends and myths, gaining huge audiences in films, novels, movies, and television.

But it wasn’t until recent years that storytelling narratives gained prominence as the subject of high-selling business books and articles, and have been recognized as a powerful and persuasive means of communication, especially in conveying memorable advertising and selling messages.

As humans, we’re hard-wired to organize experience into narratives; telling stories is built into the intuitive way we think.  Even in our attention-deficit society, people will pay attention to a compelling
story and narratives become a way to gain greater message attention. 

Stories are effective because they organize and make sense of experience and impose patterns on the chaos of experience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

N-of-8 story development case study: national Arthritis Foundation

The Arthritis Foundation is the largest private, not-for-profit contributor to arthritis research in the world, funding more than $380 million in research grants since 1948. It is the leading health organization addressing the needs of some 46 million Americans living with arthritis, the number-one cause of disability in the U.S.

The mission of the Arthritis Foundation has been to improve lives through leadership in the prevention, control and cure of arthritis and related diseases.

Our N-of-8 process would guide messaging in PSAs, a new website, fund-raising direct marketing, and public relations. Groups of eight were conducted in four cities across the country. We wrote stories from
the view of arthritis patients, families, physicians, disease symptoms, research, and the Foundation. We saw a dramatic shift from patients who felt helpless or victimized, to those who felt empowered and in greater control of their lives. This led to the new tagline, “Arthritis Foundation: Take Control, We Can Help.”

This provided the impetus and direction for the Foundation to focus on its core strengths -- providing public health education; pursuing public policy and legislation to improve healthcare; and conducting
evidence-based programs to improve the quality of life for those living with arthritis.

It also revealed that constituents wanted specifics on the activities and results on Foundation programs.  This led to documentation of the nearly $20 million in grants to nearly 300 researchers, and the major
treatment advances for most arthritis diseases resulting from the more than 50 years of research. Community-based programs and services gained renewed focus, including aquatics, exercise, and the clinically proven Arthritis Foundation Self-Help Program.  It also re-energized the grassroots advocacy at both the national and local level to advance critical legislative policy issues.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How US News & World Report ranks Texas hospitals

I’m in Texas meeting with medical consultants in Houston this weekend and facilitating an N-of-8® group on Monday in Dallas. So, I’ve been doing some background reading on the hospital community here.

The latest rankings are out of the country’s top hospitals and here's a shocker -- not a single Houston hospital landed on the honor roll, though several did well in their specialties.

Johns Hopkins was No. 1 on the U.S. News and World Report's survey. It was the 22nd year in a row the Baltimore hospital topped the list. Massachusetts General in Boston and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. were ranked two and three.

Of the 94 hospitals in Houston, Methodist ranked number one, followed by M.D. Anderson, St. Luke's Episcopal and Memorial Hermann in the Medical Center.

The Menninger Clinic, Texas Orthopedic, and TIRR Memorial Hermann all tied for fifth.

Texas Children's Hospital made the top 5 of the best children's hospitals in the country.

Some other Houston hospitals did made good showings in specialty rankings. M.D. Anderson was number 1 in cancer care. Texas Heart Institute was 4th in cardiology, TIRR Memorial Hermann was 4th in rehab, and Menninger was 5th in psychiatric.

Click here to see how U.S. News ranked Texas hospitals

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

N-of-8 helps us experience the same events with a fresh perspective

Now here is another use of N-of-8 story development.  And that is to see how customers might experience the same events with fresh perspective.

When I think of seeing things from a different viewpoint, I’m reminded of Big, the 1988 comedy-drama film starring Tom Hanks as a boy who makes a wish to be big to a magical fortune-telling machine, and is then aged to adulthood overnight.

The story was written by Gary Ross, with Justin Schindler and Anne Spielberg, and directed by Penny Marshall.

After being humiliated attempting to impress an older teenage girl at a carnival, Josh Baskin goes to a fortune-telling machine called Zoltar Speaks, and wishes that he were big.

The next morning, he sees a face in the mirror he does not recognize.

Overnight, he has become a 30-year-old man.

With the help of his 13-year-old best friend, Billy, Josh rents a cheap room in New York City and gets a lowly data-entry job at the MacMillan Toy Company.

He meets the company's owner, MacMillan, checking out the products at the FAO Schwarz toy store, and impresses him with his childlike enthusiasm. When MacMillan says he comes to the store because you can’t experience the customers in a marketing report, Josh replies, “What’s a marketing report?”  To which, MacMillan says, “Exactly.”

They end up playing a duet together on a big foot-operated electronic keyboard.  They perform the classic movie scene literally jumping to play “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks.” This earns Josh a promotion to a dream job for a kid: testing toys all day long and getting paid for it.

As it turns out, the job at the toy manufacturer is perfect for him, as his insight into what toys kids will like greatly impresses senior management, and leads to an executive position.  One of the best lines is during a meeting to review a new toy design.  After a passionate product management slide presentation, Josh says simply, “I don’t get it.”  It’s a phrase we all fear from our management and our customers.  But if we allow it, and embrace it as in the N-of-8 process, we can learn from it – and actually create breakthroughs.

As the story continues, Josh attracts the attention of the beautiful, ambitious Susan, a fellow toy executive. A romance begins to develop, much to the annoyance of her current boyfriend, Paul.

As Josh becomes more and more entwined in his adult life, much to the annoyance of Billy, he soon begins to wish for the carefree life of a child again and becomes determined to find the Zoltar Speaks machine to reverse the wish. He eventually finds it, and wishes to be a kid again. Susan gives him one last kiss, on the forehead, before Josh walks out of her car, and as he does so, turns back into a kid again. He goes to his house and he and his mother share a happy moment.

(There was rumored to be an alternate ending shows young Josh sitting in his classroom at school when he turns around to notice a young female classmate whom he recognizes as Susan.)

Big was received with almost unanimous critical acclaim. Based on 51 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 96% of critics gave the film a positive review. The New York Times praised the performances, saying the film “features believable young teen-age mannerisms from the two real boys in its cast, and this only makes Mr. Hanks' funny, flawless impression that much more adorable.”

Big was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks) and Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

The film is number 23 on Bravo’s "100 Funniest Movies." In 2000, it was ranked 42 in the American Film Institute's 100 Years…100 Laughs list. In 2008, AFI named it as number 10 in the fantasy genre.

This is why I like Big as an example of good N-of-8 techniques.  During a facilitated group for N-of-8 story development, I might ask the participants to summarize a story in just a few of sentences. Here are some sample synopses of Big:
  • “A young boy makes a wish at a fairground machine to be big. He wakes up the following morning to find that his wish has been granted and his body has grown older over night. But he is still the same 12-year-old kid on the inside. Now he must learn how to cope with the unfamiliar world of grown ups including getting a job, and having his first romantic encounter with a woman. What will he find out about this strange world?”
  • “A young boy named Josh Baskin, wishes one day from an old machine to be big, despite the fact that he does not believe it is going to work. He is very surprised, therefore, to find himself in the next day – big. Now he looks like a 30-year-old guy, but he still behaves like a 12-year-old boy. He decides to go with his best friend to New York, to find the machine that can fix his wish. In New York he gets a job in a toy company, and develop a relationship. Currently, he must learn to get used to the adults world he always wanted to be part of. Would he still like to remain an adult?”
  • “When a boy wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body literally overnight.”
  • “Ah, those were the days. All of us have done it. Wished we were older, so we could do more. Well, in the movie, a child's wish to become big comes true. Josh is a boy who is not tall enough to ride a roller coaster at a theme park. Humiliated in front of a girl he likes, he goes to a "fortune telling" machine, and wishes he could be bigger. He wakes up the next day as a man. When everyone he knows throws him out of their lives, except his best friend, he goes into the adult world. Just by knowing what kids want in toys, he becomes a success in a toy company. He also manages to get a girl wanting him (even though he is completely oblivious to it). All he wants is be himself again.”
So, I’ve used the example of Big to show how N-of-8 story development can reveal a fresh perspective on product features we may take for granted.  In addition, you can benefit from the discipline of summarizing and simplifying your brand story.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

An N-of-8 list of Apple Store brand experience controls

When you enter an Apple Store, you probably don't realize just how meticulously engineered your entire experience is, from walk-in, to check-out.

A new report from The Wall Street Journal reveals just how much planning goes into shaping your time in the store, from what employees are and aren't allowed to say, to the kind of cable used to keep the laptops locked to the tables.

Here are 8 of the more surprising details:
  1. Apple's sales per square foot are now $4,406 -- higher than luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany's and Co. 
  2. More people visit Apple Stores in a quarter than visit the four biggest Disney theme parks. 
  3. In-store technicians are asked to deal with emotional customers by using "simple reassurances" that they are listening, like, "Uh-huh" and "I understand."
  4. Employees at the Genius Bar are asked to say "as it turns out" instead of "unfortunately," for a more positive spin on their bad news.
  5. Genius appointments are routinely triple booked, so that they are extremely busy much of the time.  
  6. Employees are forbidden from correcting customer mispronunciations, because it would make them feel "patronized."
  7. Apple's retail philosophy is described by the acronym A.P.P.L.E. --"Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome," "Probe politely to understand all the customer's needs," "Present a solution for the customer to take home today," "Listen for and resolve any issues or
    concerns," and "End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return." 
  8. Employees who are six minutes late three times in six months may be fired.