Tag Archives: media

A brilliant new marketing book destined to become a classic

A review of Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Live — and Tell — the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, by Jonah Sachs

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

If you’ve never seen the wildly popular online videos The Story of Stuff and The Meatrix, do yourself a favor and check them out. These two outstanding examples of the marketer’s craft embody the insights revealed in Jonah Sachs’ outstanding new book, Winning the Story Wars.

For years now, everyone involved in marketing, fundraising, communications, social media, or any related field has been intensely aware that the key to successful messaging is a story. In this beautifully written book, Jonah Sachs explains why that is so, what’s needed for a successful story, and how to construct one, step by step.

As Sachs writes, “the oral tradition that dominated human experience for all but the last few hundred years is returning with a vengeance. It’s a monumental, epoch-making, totally unforeseen turn of events.” If these statements strike you as hyperbolic, consider this: the nearly universal distrust of institutional authority (whether governmental, corporate, or religious) that has become a distinguishing feature of our society over the past five decades, combined with the atomization of our information sources (500 TV channels, one billion Facebook users, 500 million Tweeters), makes it absolutely essential that anyone who needs to deliver a message to a very large number of people must couch it in the form of a story with broad appeal across all the lines that divide us (and define us). As Sachs explains, “Great brands and campaigns are sensitive to the preferences of different types of audiences, but the core stories and the values they represent can be appreciated by anyone. Universality is the opposite of insincerity.”

Winning the Story Wars is, simultaneously, an honest and occasionally embarrassing tale of Sachs’ own halting progress toward understanding the craft of story-making, an exploration of the cultural and anthropological roots of the archetypal stories that live on in our consciousness, and, ultimately, a lucid, practical guidebook to building your own stories.

Sachs has done his homework. He has read Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung as well as the Bible, delved deeply into the history of marketing and advertising, and explored contemporary advertising, as exemplified by the Marlboro Man, the rule-breaking 1960s campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle (“Think Small.”), and Apple’s more recent “1984” and “Think Different” campaigns. He manages to tie together all these disparate sources and examples within the framework of an entirelly original analysis. Along the way, Sachs reveals how three men — Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, and “the father of public relations,” Joseph Bernays — transformed the American economy by shifting  public consciousness from the values of our Puritan heritage to the dictates of the marketplace, enshrining consumerism as the dominant feature in our ethos. It’s truly brilliant.

Sachs bases his analysis on ‘the ‘three commandments’ laid out in 1895 by marketing’s first great storyteller, John Powers: Tell the Truth, Be Interesting, and Live the Truth.” Sachs emphasizes the importance of avoiding “Marketing’s five deadly sins: vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery, and gimmickry.”

If you’re engaged in marketing, advertising, fundraising, or anything even reasonably related to them, you must read this book.

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Filed under Business, Nonfiction

A biography of Steve Jobs nearly as intense as the man

A review of Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Walter Isaacson’s candid and hard-hitting biography followed so quickly on the death of its superstar subject that it has been endlessly dissected in the popular press. Sometimes sensational revelations about Steve Jobs’ personal life have been endlessly bandied about, so there’s no need to itemize them here. Suffice it to say that Steve Jobs was a consummately complex person, riddled with contradictions.

What impressed me the most about Isaacson’s study of Jobs’ life and work was the extent to which Jobs invited him into his life — virtually into his family — and insisted that he write about the dark side as well as the more laudable aspects of his career. This is an authorized biography, but one unlike any other I’ve encountered, since Isaacson leavened his obvious admiration for Jobs as a creative genius and a gifted business leader with unvarnished and seemingly endless anecdotes about his subject’s notoriously difficult personality. He describes Jobs (or quotes other doing so) as a tyrant, cruel, mean, and an asshole. In fact, honesty required him to do so, since tales of Jobs’ disgusting behavior are legend in Silicon Valley. Bill Gates, too, was well known to be intolerant of coworkers who were less intelligent than he — which may include practically everyone in the State of Washington — but his temper tantrums were not even remotely comparable to Jobs’.

However, there is no denying the historic role that Steve Jobs played in the evolution of American business. With Steve Wozniak, he created the first personal computer. In the Macintosh a decade later, he made available to a wide public the first user-friendly computer. At Pixar and later Disney, he enabled the production of animated films that broke the mold in the industry and set new sales records. Back at Apple, he took over a company on the verge of collapse and turned it around in record time, releasing a series of revolutionary products that individually disrupted several industries: music, telephony, and books. Each of these new devices — the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad — is already finding its way into museums as exemplars of industry-busting products as well as brilliant design.

Was Steve Jobs truly a genius? In my opinion, there can be no debate about that question. His extraordinary accomplishments prove the point. But the key to that genius wasn’t intelligence per se, Isaacson suggests. It was Jobs’ ferocious intensity and ability to focus. For example, when he turned around Apple in the late 1990s, he drastically cut back the number of products and the number of features in each software program and focused the entire company — then already a billion-dollar enterprise — on three products at a time. It’s no wonder that members of his board, some of them legendary business leaders in their own right, were in awe of Jobs’ performance as an executive. They may have disliked him intensely because of his dismissive and often insulting behavior, but they rarely questioned his business judgment.

Isaacson — the masterful biographer of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein –ranks Jobs with Edison and Ford in the pantheon of American industry. Based on everything I now know about the man, much though far from all of it learned from this book, I agree.


Filed under Business, Nonfiction