Sound Stories #003 – Crafting Beautiful Brand Stories Online

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    Who thinks that chemical manufacturing isn’t an exciting business? If you believe that your business doesn’t exactly lend itself to compelling content, Melissa McInerney, CEO and Chief Creative Officer at tbk Creative wants to prove you wrong. Learn how all brands can build beautiful stories online.

    Learn more about Melissa and her work at tbk Creative.
    Explore Voices.com.

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #003

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Hi there and welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and co-founder of voices.com.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Today in studio I have with me Melissa McInerney. Melissa is the CEO and the creative director of tbk Creative. Welcome, Melissa.

    Melissa McInerney:
    I’m excited to be here.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    I’m excited to see your hair. I know this is an audio medium, you cannot see it, but she has the most beautiful ringlets. I don’t know how you do this. I don’t know if they’re even called ringlets, but you are one of those people who just has the greatest hair ever.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Thank you. Thank you. It’s from my father’s side of the family. My father’s now bald, so it’s kind of odd. It’s from my dad, but thank you. And I strategically wear it curly all the time. For anyone that has curly hair, please keep your hair curly because it’s beautiful and it’s a statement, especially in the creative industry.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    No kidding. Well, there was a movie we were talking about. It was Disney, I think, Brave.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Disney Brave. I was very excited when that came out. There’s a very funny story behind that particular animated movie. My background is some fine arts and we’re going back to high school, which isn’t really fine art. But nonetheless, in high school I was in art class and I knew a lot of amazing, talented people that have gone on to work for studios, such as the studio that produced Brave. And one of my friends was living overseas and he messaged me and he was like, “Can you send me a photo of your hair back in the day?” And I’m going, “That’s a really weird question.” And he goes, “Well, I’m working on this film. I can’t tell you what it is. But I remember, like I’m using you as inspiration for the movement of this hair.” And her hair ended up becoming like a character in and of itself. And it cost a lot of money for the studio to produce because it took so much time.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Wow.

    Melissa McInerney:
    This is Merida’s hair.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Merida’s hair.

    Melissa McInerney:
    For everyone who saw Brave, you remember that glorious, just red, beautiful hair.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Mane.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Beautiful, beautiful hair. So that’s-

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Oh my goodness. Your hair was the inspiration Merida.

    Melissa McInerney:
    For one of the designers. She had already been sketched at that point. The character development had probably already happened. But yeah, actually, so one of the animators was thinking about the way that my hair used to move in high school, so that was kind of exciting.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Wow. This is a first for our podcast, I must say, that we have someone who had impacted a Disney film so directly. Thank you.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    But anyway, I know that we’re here to talk about story, which is very, very important to you. It’s something that your company specializes in. You help brands to unify what they’re saying, whether it be what they’re saying out loud to people in the real world, but then also how they communicate that through the digital medium.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Which can be very challenging. If we were to think of the story of Brave, of Merida, we have that visual reference, we remember the movie. In a digital sense, in a website, it’s a lot harder to take that story and make it come to life, specifically now that we don’t use Flash technologies. I know people probably remember those really fancy website years ago that were Flash-based, that had sound and audio and you could click into it. It was almost like mini games people used to create online, we’re going back five or seven years, and that technology is no longer relevant. Now we have to find other ways of pulling people in.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Online is such a challenging medium. When we think of storytelling, we think of picking up a book, sitting down, hopefully with a tea in your hand. We were just chatting about this.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Oh, tea is so good.

    Melissa McInerney:
    And just getting right into that story. Well, that’s not how website users interact. In fact, if you think about being online, you’re online, you’re trying to get your information as quickly as possible. The average website user is only reading 20% of the words on a page and that’s for B2B groups or B2C groups. Blogs and news are a little bit different of course, but if you’re selling your wares online, if you’re selling what you do, if you’re selling that product that you pour your heart into, the average person is only going to read 20% of your content. Now you’re even more hindered with, I want to tell a great story, I want people to be engaged in what I do, what I do is so exciting, and the majority of people aren’t going to read my content. Now what?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Oh my gosh. As someone who has written content for the web, that makes me so sad. It makes me not cry on the inside, but you know what I mean. And I think as humans, we have very short attention spans, second only or just a little bit better than a goldfish’s if I can recall properly, about eight, nine seconds. Oh my gosh. How is it that we can make those messages count?

    Melissa McInerney:
    Talk to the medium itself, why it’s important to make sure that your message comes across online and I like to tell tbk client or anybody that I get the chance to talk to you, I’m a big advocate for great websites, because that website is the hub of who you are. If you’re sitting with your family and you’ve watched this TV commercial and you’re wondering, who is that company? Where’s your answer? Google on your website. People are using your website to make very serious buying decisions about who you are, whether you’re trustworthy to work with, whether you can solve their problem, whatever that problem is. And your website is, in a lot of cases, not all cases, but in a lot of cases, more important than your product design that sits on a shelf, more important than the stores that you might be paying a lot of money for storefront space.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Your website is who you are. That’s what I like to think about web. Ensuring that communicating effectively who you are online is critical and paramount to your success. You don’t want people going to your website leaving and saying, “I don’t know what that person does. I’m not sure they can help me.” And and that’s when you’ve lost a great potential opportunity, be it a potential sale, an investor or a strategic relationship of some kind, an amazing staff member that you’ve been trying to hire for three years. There’s all these different facets in the way that your website plays a pretty big role in your business.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Yes and you don’t just want the website. You’ve created this amazing business in terms of what you do. Maybe you’re selling a service that you’re fantastic with. Maybe you’re selling a product that you’ve just created, which is amazing for the marketplace. And then the user goes to the website and they see, we are X, we do this. And now you put yourself in the bucket of every other group that does the same thing as you, which isn’t a great place to stand from a branding perspective.

    Melissa McInerney:
    So storytelling. Storytelling is such an amazing opportunity to bring people into your world, bring people into your universe, bring people into what matters to you. While at the same time, engaging them and answering the questions that they naturally have while being on your website. It’s a lot more challenging, especially when only 20% of your contents being read, but one of the things that you can consider to be an effective storyteller online is to start relating to your storytelling as existing in headlines. When you land on a website, we call it the hero banner or that hero shot, that first moment on the main page that captures your eye. What are you going to tell people if you could only get people to read one or two sentences about who you are, how do you distill that into one or two sentences to capture them in, to get them to scroll down, to get them, to engage with you? And it’s kind of thinking of your content in this triangle hierarchy. And that’s kind of one way to think about it.

    Melissa McInerney:
    And then secondarily, start using language that people are unfamiliar with intentionally. I’ll tell the story of working with this one group. And no matter what business you’re in, every business can be sexy and beautiful online, whether you’re selling chemicals or brokerage services, or I’m thinking of all of these-

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Accounting.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Accounting.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Sorry to anyone out there who-

    Melissa McInerney:
    Yes.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    we love you all. We love you, but anything as you say can be made exciting, if you use the right words.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Yes. That’s exactly it. And you want to keep your audience in mind, of course. But one of my jobs as creative director is to go into groups and I’m often surprised with, oh my goodness, there’s a whole industry that exists around this particular thing. And we worked with an amazing client, Anchem sales, all around chemicals and the distribution of chemicals and how it is needed in the manufacturing process and the agricultural process and I’m learning all this fantastic stuff. But a lot of times I go into groups and it’s my job to understand who they are. And I have groups fill out a creative brief that’s pretty unconventional. And I need to almost dive deeper into the meaning of who they are.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Surface language. And I have this idea of when I sit with groups, typically I get surface answers and surface language, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how businesses have communicated for years. What’s one of the reasons you should work with me? Well, I have great customer service. Well, Roger says that, too.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    And it’s a subjective thing.

    Melissa McInerney:
    It is.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    You don’t really know-

    Melissa McInerney:
    What is that?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Yes.

    Melissa McInerney:
    And it’s this terminology that consumers have just tuned out because everybody says that they do that. Everybody says the reason that you should work with me is we have great customer service. And if I had a dollar for every time, I was told the reason people work with me is I have great customer service. Now, there’s truth in that. There’s truth there, but how do we find it? And I feel like a lot of times I’m a gold digger into, okay, I’ve hit this spot called they have great customer service. What about it is great? I feel like consumers, they just tune out into language that we’ve heard a million times. We have to give examples of what makes someone fantastic in customer service.

    Melissa McInerney:
    And this particular company does the kind of service that is sometimes emergency based. Sometimes you get phone calls at 3:00 AM in the morning or 5:00 AM in the morning. And when you rely on somebody over the phone to help you in a crisis, there’s nothing worse than picking up the phone, talking to someone saying, “Help, this is happening to me.” And they go, “Oh, I’m not the right person. Let me transfer you to somebody else.” And then you get transferred again and then you get transferred again and then you just want to quit. And now you want to hire a new vendor, right?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Yeah. And no one likes to tell their story over and over and over again. When you think, they should just know me by now. I’m one of their customers. Honestly, like how long have we been working together? Really?

    Melissa McInerney:
    Exactly. There was some golden opportunity here, but how did we find it? So I said, “Okay, that’s what other groups do? What do you do? What do you do that’s different?” And they said, “The person that picks up the phone to take that call is the person that hangs up that phone. They will loop in whoever they need to. They are your point of contact and they are your person. And you stick with that person. If that call takes 30 minutes, that call takes 30 minutes. And that person is always there for you.” And I thought, ooh, okay, that’s something we can work with. Instead of the headlines saying something like, we have superior customer service, we have great customer service. You can switch that into, your first contact is always your last contact. And then you start talking about what it is that means to people.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    We’re always there for you. That stood out to me. Too.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Yes. We’re here to help. Truly, we’re here to help and what does that look like? It’s stepping outside of typical marketing speak. Getting away from marketing speak, consumers just don’t like it. It’s kind of deadening and getting into what makes you, you. And if you have a little bit of a sassy tone, that’s okay. If the heart of your company is to speak to people in a truthful and honest and frank and friendly way, talk that way online, bring that online versus marketing speak. That’s one of the things that in terms of storytelling is the tone in which you tell your story. Think about the way in which you relate to people and what is unique about your particular brand and what’s the tone of your brand and bring that into those communications.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Everyone’s got a voice and it isn’t just us speaking, like having a voice. It literally is, as you said, the tone of how you might write something, maybe how your social media is done, the way that your FAQ is on your website or designed, or the voicemail or how they’re prompted to do something else. All of it needs to kind of speak the same language to be consistent in order to maintain the integrity of the intention and the reason for why you’re taking their call in the first place.

    Melissa McInerney:
    That’s exactly it. In terms of website design, the stories often conveyed in terms of headlines. The headline introducing a paragraph and I know it can be sad that clients are not likely to read the majority of the content, but that’s okay. Be okay with that because you might have eight headlines on a page and then a paragraph below each headline and seven out of eight paragraphs somebody doesn’t read, but the one is something that that particular person cares about it. It could be the hours of operation. It could be a pain point that another vendor didn’t service them in some way. And they’ll read that little paragraph and that’s great. And then they go, ooh, that fixes my problem, that’s what I’m looking for. Click, I’m done, I want to reach out, fill out a form, pick up the phone or buy whatever it is or go find out where your products are sold and I’ll go buy them in person, whatever that is. It’s okay that your content isn’t going to be red, but focus on those headlines, make them really engaging because keep in mind, those headlines are likely the only things that are going to be read on your website.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Yeah, absolutely. I’m just thinking where other short form copy comes into play. You’re advertising through Google AdWords. Your campaigns are going to have tight, punchy, little sentences. If you’re doing any sort of anything really online, maybe it’s one of those videos that plays before a YouTube video, a pre-roll ad, then you’re going to have to find a way to make that first however many seconds it is before someone can skip it-

    Melissa McInerney:
    Five seconds.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Five seconds. Enticing enough that you actually want to see the rest of that story play out. And that’s what you mean by those headlines, something that just grabs the person, meets them where they are, helps them to understand what it is that you can do for them right now that meets a very pressing need.

    Melissa McInerney:
    That’s exactly it. And so that’s kind of utilizing language and words to communicate your story. A lot more groups and I think a lot of people are utilizing this medium, I love this medium, video. I love video. When we think of video, we think of the traditional video, which is two, two and a half minutes where the CEO is talking about the company and the history of that company. And that’s kind of boring. There’s a new method of producing video, which is so exciting and lesser to produce in terms of cost, which is wonderful. You can start to pull people into your world, pull people into that company’s story by utilizing video. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and it doesn’t have to be something that takes a lot of production time. It can be simply a video with no audio where you’re just kind of panning through maybe shots of your office or shots of your team working or shots of what you’re doing or shots of your products. Because when people have to talk on video, that’s really challenging to do.

    Melissa McInerney:
    When I have to talk on video, my goodness, if you need a minute out of me, it’ll take four hours. And it’s very hard to be in front of a camera and to also say the words correctly and then to be natural at the same time. And well, that’s why you hire models to do that. But if you don’t have the budget for that, even if your identity is part of the story, let’s say you start up a business, there’s something unique about it, it came from a raw passion of yours, it came from a pain point that you had, you can do a video that doesn’t have you talking on it, which shows you laboring at your craft or building your ware or working with clients. Whatever it is you do, grab a great video doing that. Have it running in the background and then we’ve got these headlines kind of running over top that are really poppy and engaging and now, you’ve pulled people in to what you do and why you do it typically cost effectively and affordably.

    Melissa McInerney:
    When people hear video, we’re brought back to the days of large quotes from five years ago, where video is very expensive and it’s not that way anymore. And even if video looks like capturing it on your phone, it’s often better than nothing. If part of your brand identity is to be raw and authentic and truthful with the world, if that’s part of where you’re going, it’s okay to have a handheld iPhone video captured and put online because that’s you being authentic to truthful and real.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Yeah, absolutely because it’s exactly what you said. It’s very raw, it’s natural. It’s the tools that you have. It speaks to people in different ways. And maybe those videos that you’re referring to could easily be posted on someone’s Snapchat or on maybe-

    Melissa McInerney:
    Exactly.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    A Periscope or some other medium that they can get something short and snappy out, Instagram, whatnot, perfect venue for that sort of authentic, hi, here we are today sort of reaching out and touching someone.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Exactly. Yeah, absolutely. I think the web is a challenging medium to be on, but lots of amazing successes to have there as well when it comes to storytelling.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    That’s amazing. All of this has been wonderful. I’m just curious actually, Melissa, about a couple of little things to do with storytelling on the web. And obviously, we know it needs to be shorter, it needs to be kind of like get their attention, hopefully keep it, get them to do something, but how do you reconcile when someone’s messaging is different when they’re on the phone or email templates? All of these sort of little places where content lives, how can you make all of that kind of come together to really represent that brand in a consistent way? Is that something that you consult people on?

    Melissa McInerney:
    Absolutely. That is, without a doubt, a challenge. And I think one of the things that I think that matters, I think it’s extremely important, it’s important to put somebody in charge of your brand, somebody in charge of your tone, somebody in charge of how you communicate out in the world, be it on Facebook, on Twitter, on a digital advertisement on YouTube, on your website, on a print campaign, on a oh my goodness, on a brochure, in traditional mediums. Somebody has got to be responsible for that. When you’re smaller and you get started, it’s typically you when you start the company. And small businesses are such a unique type of business. Small business, they’re really good marketers.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Well, you have to be, how else are you going to eat, right?

    Melissa McInerney:
    Yeah. Oh, you have to feed yourself. You have to feed your family. There’s a lot riding on the line. But small businesses tend to be really good marketers, I find because that heart, that passion of who they are because they touch every touch point, is there. Whether you agree with it or not agree with it or think it’s effective for your demographic, small businesses do a very good job. When you get bigger and there’s more hands and there’s more hands coming to the table, there’s more cooks in the kitchen, it’s harder to keep that brand tone there.

    Melissa McInerney:
    One of the things you can do is create a guideline for your tone. I don’t know if anyone on this podcast knows Mailchimp. Mailchimp is this really fantastic email subscription service, so you can send email newsletters out. They have an online tone guide because they’re so large that they work with lots of different vendors. They have an online tone guide and I read it and it just spoke to my heart. If you know anything about Mailchimp, they’re so quirky. If I send an email, they say, “Hooray” or “You rock” or again, out of the box, not typical marketing speak. They do something super exciting and cool and that’s their brand. Their brand is playful and fun and easy. And so their tone is that. And they have this fantastic brand guideline. And one of the first kind of few lines of it is it gives a sense of the tone. And it says, “We are not formal. We are accessible.” We are not this. We are this. We are not this. We are this. And then the rest of their tone guide is written in their tone. And it’s a really good example.

    Melissa McInerney:
    If you have messages running the gamut of different mediums, create a tone guide. The Mailchimp example is perfect to model off. It’s a really good example, one of the best I’ve seen to be honest. And you can use that as a guideline and give that out to people and send that out to people and then make sure that there’s one person or a team of people, depending on how large you are, responsible for ensuring that that tone is coming through in what you do. There’s a brand guideline. Brand guidelines cover, how do I use this logo? Can I use it in reverse? Can I use in black and white? What kind of spacing do I have to have around it?

    Melissa McInerney:
    Oftentimes brand guidelines will touch on tone, but not go as deep as I think brands need to be. Brands need to be engaging in today’s marketplace when it’s very easy to start up a business. You could have more competitors than you used to 20, 25 years ago. I would suggest creating a tone guide, which is different than your brand guideline, which will help people, help your vendors, help your staff, help yourself. When you’re at night or your team is stuck creatively on something, which happens to everybody, pull up that brand guide and it could just send some sparks flying. I highly suggest creating a tone guide.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    No, I love that because tone is very important and I know we’ve known each other a very long time. I think everyone can tell that from just our familiarity with each other, but voices.com, when we started our company, it literally was just David and I and the brand voice was me. It was him proofreading it, but it was really me and the team is now a hundred people. And so I can completely appreciate what you’re saying about how the bigger you get, the more your brand has different people involved in the process. And you do need to create formal guidelines as we have and even have a color palette and you can only use the ones on the Pantone. And things do need to be taken out from your head and your mind and put into a shape that other people can then run with and feel confident that they’re representing the brand voice in the best way possible.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Absolutely. Absolutely. And it will make a really big difference. For yourself, it probably gives you peace of mind. When you start a business, it’s your baby. It’s your baby and it matters that the way that people see that company really is taken in the way that you had originally intended. I think that that’s a fantastic tool for businesses and for marketers.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Awesome. No, that’s really great. I think we’ve touched on so much today. I just want to do a little bit of a recap if I can. We talked about how we can make nice, web friendly content that speaks to our visitors and lets them know more about how we can serve them, how we can meet their needs and really hit on that pain, but in a very short, punchy sentence. And we’ve also talked about just how important it is to unify how you come across to other people and to be consistent. If you’re one of those companies that wants to be, as you put it, kind of more natural or edgy or low tech even, maybe that’s your thing, then you will be using that smartphone to film your company video with-

    Melissa McInerney:
    Absolutely

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    You won’t be hiring a crew to make it look really, really great because that’s not your goal. You want it to look authentic.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    And lastly, if I can just kind of tie a little bow around it, is this whole idea of having an actual guide for what you sound like and the tone and just how it comes across and the intentionality behind why that is. Because then if you can equip other people in your team to know how to best go about creating that voice, replicating it, who knows who’s writing all your email templates and your phone scripts and maybe it’s even like a sales call that someone’s making to introduce your company. Well, how do they do that? What is the right way and what are ways that maybe you don’t want? Because just as important as it is to know what we want, we also have to know what we don’t want.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Well said. Yeah, absolutely.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Is there anything else you wanted to share with our audience, Melissa?

    Melissa McInerney:
    I came here today with an intention of just talking about the importance of storytelling. It’s true to my heart and soul and really communicate that you can be a great storyteller online. The medium’s different. It comes with its own unique challenges, but the rewards when you do it well, can touch millions of people. And that I think is really something that, I was just saying before we started this, it’s an exciting moment to be a creative entrepreneur, to be a creative in today’s world and to bring who you are to the table authentically and truthfully online. I think it’s part of what makes today such an exciting moment and space and time for people.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Absolutely. I always love agreeing with you because I often do, but it’s just you’re right. Storytelling today is very important because not everyone does it well anymore, which makes it all the easier for those of us who are trying to be honest and truthful. That’s the way to be unique and original is just to tell the truth and to tell the right story and to frame it using just your passion for what you do. Because that’s really why people will want to do business with you is because you love what you do, you want to help them, you have a way you can guide them through this. And ultimately, they are really the hero of that story.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Absolutely, absolutely.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    If someone wants to learn more about you and your company, where can they go?

    Melissa McInerney:
    They can go to www.tbkcreative.com. And you know what? One of the great examples of storytelling is you could go online and read about the history of tbk. We put our entire story on the website. If you wanted to know more about our background, how we got started here and what the company is all about, we have perfect example of storytelling on our own website-

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Wonderful.

    Melissa McInerney:
    For people to go take a look at.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    I love it. And then you’ll get to know what tbk stands for, which is another benefit of going and doing that. Thank you very much, Melissa. It’s such a pleasure to have you here.

    Melissa McInerney:
    Oh, thank you for having me.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli :
    Thank you for listening to Sound Stories. Did you enjoy this episode? I really hope you did. And if you did, then the next thing you can do is share it with a friend. What I want you to do is just simply open your email program, go on your social network, however it is you’re going to do it and just tell people to go and listen to Sound Stories. One way you can get there, maybe people want to see the show notes, is to go to voices.com/podcasts/sound stories.

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    Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

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