seeing is imagining

Core narratives? Integrated processes? Multi-channel consistency? Content-handling APIs? 

Meaningless buzzwords and obscure technical nonsense or guiding principles for a new era? And if they actually mean something (which they do), how are these ideas going to look when applied to your brands, your organizations, your marketing programs?

What follows are thought-starters: examples of ideas being put to work.

(If you want the cases behind these examples, contact me.)

Unilever: Finding and telling the right story to make a 'low-interest' brand really matter

This mini-documentary, featuring a real family in Ohio, used baking to connect Country Crock with the mission that is most important to most mothers.

UNILEVER'S COUNTRY CROCK: So much good happens when we bake

Assaulting people with repetitive products claims — ads about taste and ingredients, for example — does not work, especially since every competitor is making the same claims. But finding an authentic story works incredibly well if the narrative creates an emotional connection between a brand and what's most important to the audience.  This web film (above) launched a docu-series that changed the game for Country Crock margarine by connecting with what mothers see as their most important mission—raising children to be good people with solid values. The case study (below) tells the how, the why and the impact of this multi-dimensional, multi-channel story that spread across TV, web, social and events. As I said to the clients, "There's no such thing as a 'low-interest' category; just low-interest advertising."

This case study was created for a Unilever internal marketing award competition.


Country Crock's core brand story is "the magic of home." That's not a tagline or a consumer-facing message. It's a narrative platform to guide every story the brand tells. With that platform, it made sense to narrate how baking can help mothers pass along their values to their children. This story was then extended in an event (below) that combined kids' drawings, baking cookies and high-tech 3D printers to let kids create handmade cookies from their own imaginations. 

Filmed at a Shop Rite in Morristown, NJ, this event united family traditions and advanced tech to bring out the joy of children sharing their imaginative creations.

Country Crock Credits: All the work above for Unilever was part of a multi-year collaborative effort between Story Worldwide and the folks at Unilever's Baking, Cooking & Spreads Company, then headed by Ben Crook. I headed Story's efforts.

SEI: Visual storytelling to make complex tech instantly accessible

SEI: making complex tech instantly understandable to c-suiters

The global wealth management industry has seen a revolution driven by globalization, changing regulations and more. SEI, long-time leader in outsourced technology and services to wealth management firms, anticipated this revolution by creating an entirely new approach to solving wealth management's growing problems. Their work succeeded with a flexible, future-proof software system — the SEI Wealth Platform. But the platform's advantages were so revolutionary, they proved hard to explain.

Solving this hinged on two insights: First, we had to describe the familiar problem before we could generate interest in the unfamiliar solution. The problem, honestly and bluntly presented, would get heads nodding. Second, we needed a powerful visual metaphor to introduce the concept without overwhelming people.

Finally, we needed to target the story to reach a tiny group of people spread across the globe: decision-makers for privates banks and sizable investment firms.

The film "Gears" (above) accomplished its mission in 75 seconds. Deployed as a web film, on screens in selected elevator cars and at in-person demos, it made the SEI Wealth Platform's potential instantly intriguing to a targeted set of senior C-suite managers.

Click on the image above to see SEI Stories.

Click on the image above to see SEI Stories.

The images (above) from SEI's web site show how the gears have proven to be a durable and flexible visual metaphor for telling SEI's stories over a number of years. One recent initiative has been "SEI Stories," a series of long-form journalistic pieces that report in-depth how SEI's people solved the kinds of major problems that inevitably arise when enterprises change the mission-critical software that powers every aspect of the business.

Beech-Nut: Redefining "baby food" for Millennial moms

Beech-Nut: what do you SAY WHEN you launch something really new?

It's a truism of the modern marketplace that everything is a commodity and all product claims are, therefore, undifferentiating. Beech-Nut defied that rule. Their research revealed the 21st-century resurgence of moms' making homemade food for their babies. So Beech-Nut decided they, too, would embrace homemade with a line of premium, all-natural food in crystal clear jars that contain "just the stuff and nothing else," as Beech-Nut told us. But how do you talk about real differences when the words that describe good food — words like "natural" and "fresh" and "unadulterated" — have been devalued by misuse and overuse?

The answer, of course, is that you develop a unique visual language (see one of the print ads, above) that tells everyone the Beech-Nut jars contain "the stuff and nothing else." (And me be clear, of you turn that jar around and read the FDA-required label, it lists the sole ingredient as "100% carrots.") You amplify the iconic visuals with clear, direct words to that side with Millennial moms in rejecting the entire category of commercial baby food, creating a the new category of "real food for babies."   The same story is on display  in a different format in the TV spot (below).

Simultaneously, of course, it was important to create a raft of assets — images, short stories, videos — to give the audience all the online information to understand that Beech-Nut's claims are not merely claims, they're the real thing.

The net result of this multi-channel effort was that commercial baby food, which had been a shrinking category, began to grow again as these stories reached moms. And all the growth went to Beech-Nut's new line of real food for babies.