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Archive for the ‘story’ Category

The Joys and Sorrows of NeuroMarketing

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My Will be Done—in Shops as it is in SpreadsheetsNeuroMarketing-2-20160705

If you wonder why the prolonged absence from posting, it’s because I’ve been trying to write and submit articles and short stories to various markets. Since last year’s NaNoWriMo, I’ve fallen into the great fun of writing stories.

I’m currently writing “The Joys and Sorrows of NeuroMarketing™” in less than 2000 words. I’ve also been writing to find out what happened to the neurosurgeon, the failed theologian and the copywriter in The Naked Copywriter. Sadly, a medical device marketer in that story has gone rogue to develop a neuromarketing app.

In case you wondered.


Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Tell Me a Story

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On the Mindfulness of Listening

Listening is such a simple thing. How hard can it be?

But we all know that listening is harder than it appears, because listening means we have to shut up. And good listening means not just shutting up but also not using someone’s moments of speech as a time to plan counter-arguments.BarnFire-20160122

Real listening happens nine hours into a car trip, after you’ve exhausted the common topics and celebrity gossip and a silence settles. For miles. Which can feel weird. And then you pass a broken down Quonset hut and your spouse/friend/acquaintance/ride share starts in on early memory of a fire at her parent’s farm, and how all the kids huddled in blankets watching the barn in flame and hearing the gas tanks in the tractors explode one after the other and how the firemen pumped water from a pond into a little pool they created and then onto the barn. And how the whole thing left her feeling sad and, well, bereft.

It had been a kind of turning point, she says, now that she thinks about it. And then she collects memories of what was different with her family after that and how it was different. She has very specific points.

And you have not said a word. Because the fire story had and entirely engulfed you as well. You were there—as she told her story—shivering on the side and hearing the pop of gas tanks.

Most listening is not that dramatic. But sometimes it is.

We’re talking about how to listen in our social media marketing class. How to listen to the audiences and communities we want to interact with. We want to hear the concerns and the jargon and the voices and the rhythm of those voices.

It occurs to me that we listen in stages. Or perhaps we hear—or comprehend—in stages. When new to a community, we hear the words and perhaps can make out only the broad outlines of the bigger story. The more we listen, the more we hear specificities and nuance The more we listen, the more stories we hear the emotion and motivations that bind a community together.

Good listening means sitting with and through the stages so that we burrow into understanding the people of the community. Our best friends are often great listeners because they sat through the bursts of story that followed silences.

Most of us have little time for listening.



Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 22, 2016 at 8:54 am

Can a Story Create Empathy?

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This Spec Ad for Johnnie Walker Does.



Via Adfreak

Written by kirkistan

December 15, 2015 at 8:18 am

Story Beats Monologue

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Why, again, do we elevate didactic talking points?

I hear “story” a lot these days.

Clients are looking for stories because stories show how something—their product, for instance—works in real life. A story is engaging. There is some tension in a story. There is a human factor in a story—we get to know some character. There is specificity that perks our attention. This is all story stuff.

We must work to help the story emerge

We must work to help the story emerge

Students like stories because they put a concept together into an easily digestible form.

In some ways it seems like nearly anything put in story form gets attention. Even over at Dumb Sketch Daily people comment that they are curious about stories behind the various dumb sketches appearing there. And if there is no story, the reader makes one up. It’s nearly an involuntary response. Our minds are made to put things together, to look for the connections and to make things fit. We find stories where none should exist: I’m remembering one daughter who named each bag of leaves in the back of the van and told stories about them—even as we drove the newly-named leaf bags to the compost heap.

In the race to get heard, story is a form we are all searching for. Story is irresistible. Sermons and monologues induce sleep. Story wakes. Story compels.

So why is it, again, that we elevate facts and principles and dry argument to such a high place? We think intellect beats emotion. But how much better if emotion and intellect are joined?


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 28, 2015 at 9:03 am

Imagination, Guts and a Camera: How Does Story Work?

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Thomas Sanders: Only a few resist the story

Every marketer on earth wants their brand to be part of a larger, compelling story. That’s because story is irresistible catnip to those in the human condition. We want so badly to be part of a big story.

Watch for what happens as strangers quickly enter the story—or not.

It’s the moment of decision—join or not?—that makes this compelling and so watchable.


Via 22 words

Written by kirkistan

December 23, 2014 at 8:38 am

Wait—English Majors Win in the End?

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Start Writing Your Own Future

  • Announce your goal to lose weight and chances are better the pounds will flee.
  • Sign up for NaNoWriMo and chances are better you will actually write that novel (no matter how badly it turns out).

What we tell each other has a way of happening. What we tell each other about our preferred futures has a way of guiding next steps.

  • Write a letter to your collaborative, inventor friend about a business idea and find yourself planning concrete marketing and distribution steps at Spyhouse Coffee.
  • Write a business plan for your startup and suddenly remember your friend who became a venture capitalist. And then remember the friend who bootstrapped her idea.

See the pattern? Each step forward started with communication. You may say,

“No. the idea came first.”


Create in real time as you go.

Create in real time as you go.

But consider: the communicated idea created a spark. And—given the right collaborative conditions—the spark lit a fuse. And the fuse burned, gathering other ideas until the explosive, disruptive future no one had considered.

What if English majors learned entrepreneurship and began to see their talent for orderly, persuasive, deeply-rooted writing as a way to help themselves imagine new futures and chart forward-movement for others? What if they learned to solve real-world problems with story and emotion and analytics? Their solutions would drop-kick the spreadsheet & PowerPoint crowd. What if some English majors created Lake Wobegon while others created the next Google?

What if English majors learned business lessons alongside the standard fare of reading and writing? What if they were expected to serve up the occasional business plan or marketing strategy along with the usual essay, short story and poem?

If that happened, English majors would connect earlier in life that art and work and commerce and fiction and meaning-making all fit together in the same world. And they would begin to write their own future vocation.

By the way: 16 Wildly Successful People Who Majored in English


Caveat #1: I was never an English major.

Caveat #2: I teach English majors. They are smart, innovative people.

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Five days ago I killed someone. I had to.

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Lessons Learned: 9000 Words into NaNoWriMoStreetLamp-2-11062014

  1. She took her own life, which shocked me. Maybe it was the best thing to generate all sorts of electricity in the people around her. For instance, I’m learning Irvina was fierce, respected and disciplined. She was a steady, planful presence. She was empathetic, maybe because of her failed first marriage and potential underworld connections. And now my characters are starting to wonder: is she really dead?
  2. Dialogue makes stuff happen. It also uses a lot of words, which is perfect for keeping up with the 1667 word daily goal. As Tim and Philip talk, I’m seeing the fierce loyalty they have to each other, their business, and to the woman who (potentially? maybe?) died. I was surprised to find out that Philip was an entitled SOB, but still likable. Who knew?
  3. The way forward is already present. Even with only 9000 words on the page, potential story arcs are presenting themselves. I’m seeing the whole thing laid out, and it remains interesting.
  4. Someone stuck an oracle into a fold of my story. Franklin Delano Sjogren showed up as a calm, deep presence. Where did this guy come from? I really want to sit at his feet and learn from him. I sure hope he circles back into the narrative.

Most of my usual writing is essay: persuasive, informative, educational. My work writing for clients is generally marketing copy for ad agencies, the medical device industry and other industrial clients, along with thought pieces and book chapters.

So writing a story for National Novel Writing Month is a new thing for me. So far so fun—but I hope Irvina survived.

Where can I find 1000 words before midnight?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

November 6, 2014 at 9:59 am

Quebec Automobile Insurance: Step away from that future

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Thoughtful work from lg2,  Quebec


Via Adeevee

Written by kirkistan

April 29, 2014 at 8:12 am

Posted in curiosities, story

Tagged with ,

Let’s get visceral: Choose your signal before you gut-punch

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What forms say before we know anything

I recognize a business card because of the shape and size. I recognize a sermon more by a particular tone and rhythm (which signals a certain intent) then I do the presence of a pulpit or podium. I know a joke is coming because Letterman is on stage and it is 10:37pm. I know the joke will have a setup and a payoff. Or perhaps the third of three statements will be funny. I am ready for the joke because of these forms.


Before we know anything we recognize a form. Our brain sorts how to react to that form, and then, once that is settled, we process communication content. Long before I hear any content, I know what category to place each of those communication events. It is the context that prepares me: when I see X, I know Y is not far behind. My nervous system anticipates the next piece.

But what if the form is out of whack?

What if I hear preaching on a street corner? What if a clever copywriter uses a rubber stamp instead of a business card (“Here, give me your hand and I’ll stamp my contact stuff on you palm.”). And what if Letterman was serious? He has been a few times: right after 9/11 his serious tone—entirely uncharacteristic—began a bit of national healing.

I tell my copywriting students to follow the forms at times and to bust the forms at other times. For instance, we must make our ideas as easy to understand as possible, and so we present our ad concept to a client in a form that is immediately recognizable—even if the idea itself is challenging. And sometimes one thumbs one’s nose at the form on purpose, just to bust through (that is, the communication gut-punch).

In any case, following the form or busting the form is a conscious decision.

And the form is not God (not even a god).

By the way, Dan Pink has a great story about the Pixar way of presenting a concept here.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

To My Friends Who Have Abandoned Faith

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Kathleen Norris: Acedia and Me03232014-9645679679_4550e7fedb_h

If you’ve been turned off by the excesses of evangelicalism or the big-business, industrial mindset of a megachurch, or if you’ve become weary of a clergy-centric approach to faith, or if you are tired of trite, pat answer to life’s really thorny questions, consider reading Kathleen Norris’ Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life (NY: Riverhead books, 2008).

If you’ve turned your back on faith entirely and see no point in going back to the social club that seemed to promise transcendence, especially then, read Acedia and Me. If you’ve become weary of the automatic linkage between Republicanism and Christianity, well Kathleen Norris does not speak to that sorrow. But, patience: within a generation that unfortunate concatenation will be far less automatic.

Kathleen Norris is an engaging writer who addresses the life of one’s spirit wholly without the overweening sentimentality that usually comes with such discussions. Ms. Norris sought answers from an unlikely set of conversation partners: old dead guys who wrote when people could count the centuries on two hands or even one. Many of these old desert monks had abandoned the newly popular, powerful, and politically-connected church. Instead they sought the quiet of the desert to confront their demons.

Acedia, which is perhaps the heart of Ms. Norris’ book, is not easily translated. Some read it as depression. Some read it as sloth or boredom or torpor. Ms. Norris traces the word through the ups and downs of her own life as a writer. Her own marriage is a key player in the story and she seems to hold little back in illustrating her struggle.

I was particularly taken with her definition of sin, which had less to do with breaking a set of rules and more to do with recognizing that people are made in the image of God and there is something hopeful and fetching about aligning one’s direction to recognize that.

In the end, she has a fresh take on one’s faith. You may agree. You may disagree. But you’ll be engaged. And better yet, you may even hold off from tossing everything over.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

March 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm

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