Category Archives: Narrative Marketing

Blog What You Love

School Zone
Image by Steve Corey via Flickr

Let’s face it. Social media pressure can be formidable when you have your own business. I’ve helped others set up their own SM entities, while struggling to stay excited about my own. Why is that? Because knowing that you should do something–exercise, keep your desk clean, write  ‘thank you’ cards promptly–doesn’t mean the inspiration will materialize like that.

So why blog? Well, if you’re a writer, it’s another exercise to flex your fingers and your brain, experiment with voice and approach. And in any business, a regularly updated blog can increase your search engine visibility, your credibility and your up-to-dateness (now it’s a word). But the fact is that if you are not into what you’re writing, or, similarly, the way you’re exercising, it will be really hard to keep it up. So here’s my recommendation. Stop hyperventilating to the frantic voices of high volume. Write what you care about it and make it good. In most cases consider what your clients and colleagues would like to read. But in others, write what you think needs to be said. Maybe it’s a position that doesn’t match the prevailing wisdom of what others who blog and tweet in your industrosphere are saying. So what? If you believe it and it’s true for you, it’s worth sharing. You’ll discover there are others out there experiencing the same thing.

What do you think?

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4 Reasons Why Mind Maps Are the Ultimate Creative Tool

The Brain, an iMindMap
Image by charmainezoe via Flickr

What is mind mapping? If you’re not already an avid user, you’ve probably heard the term thrown around, but may wonder what is it and how you can use it.  Mind mapping is a way of graphically representing ideas, rather than listing them in a linear way. This basis of connected associations, which avoids ranking and encourages thought exploration in all directions, allows users to connect items in ways that are logical to them, making mind mapping the most intimate and customizable way to get your ideas down deep in one place.

Pictorial representations of ideas are nothing new and have been used since ancient times.  But modern versions of them, based on the semantic network concept of the late ‘50s and ‘60s (the beginnings of AI) are really taking hold in a mainstream way. Semantics, in this case, is about digital contextualizing—automatic linking—and if you’ve been hearing about Web 3.0 and the Internet of Things, this kind of automated deductive reasoning is a key concept in creating data that objects can read on their own. In mind mapping, you do the deductions yourself, with a lot of sophisticated tools to help.

How Mapping Works

Regardless of which application you’re using, start with the central idea in the middle of your map. From this subject, all other thoughts will grow. There will be other main topics related to this idea that are of equal importance to each other, often known in mind mapping parlance as “children”. These children will have “siblings” and from there you can create thoughts that drill down into even further detail, adding facts and all kinds of imagery and data to your subject.

In addition to the lines or branches that will connect these items, you can draw arrows between various thoughts and facts to show more detailed relationships and, depending on which app you’re using, you can add images, audio and other files. This makes your mind map a dynamic, colorful location to store all of your knowledge—much more interesting than a file folder. Then, depending on the capabilities of your program, you can export your map to another program or to presentation mode.

Now that you know something more about what mind mapping is, here are four reasons why this versatile platform is a great way to manage your social media plan, book, screenplay or plan a new business.

#1 Visual Connections Are Powerful

We all know that learning visually is a great way to engage with and remember information. Mind mapping delivers a double-whammy when it comes to creating/learning because you engage with it while you’re building and when you are using if afterward. Writing, by itself, is often not a very interactive experience. Sure you have to be conscious and make logical connections to get your thoughts to appear in a coherent stream. But mapping is a very tactile experience, requiring different types of actions—linking, writing, selecting, drawing, attaching. The more time you spend handling the material of your plan, the more alive it will become to you.

#2 Mind Mapping = Brain Storming

Sometimes all you need is a list of what to do next. But at other times, you need a thinking tool, one that generates ideas, helps you track them and inspires new ideas off of those. Sounds like a brainstorming meeting, right? In essence, that’s the real strength of mind mapping. Some of the products discussed below have “brainstorming” features that let you interact with others in real time via your mind map, but if you’re in front of your computer drilling down through your idea or plan by physically making the connections on your map, you’re already ‘storming away.

#3 Store All of the Elements of Your Project in One Place

Mind mapping allows you to create and store all the aspects of your social media empire in one location. You can develop blog posts, chart your build-out for a Facebook fan page or start on a book. Explore and link themes, the formats you want to express them in the and the social media tools that will get you there. Attach your editorial calendar and you can plan and work in a mind map every day. Want to add metrics and reports? Many applications have ways for you to connect it all.

This concept has been used by NASA, Disney, Microsoft, schools and the florist down the street. Depending on your preferences and price range, you can find the mind mapping tool that is just right for you.

#4 There Is a Mind Mapping Platform for Everyone

One of the many strengths of the applications out there is that you can mind map in a way that only you can understand, share it with others or create a map with your team. It really is one of the rare platforms that you can customize to the way your brain works or, if needed, to the way that most brains works. All of the products below have either trial or free versions in addition to pro versions with more options.

Tony Buzan is an author, educator and consultant who is credited with introducing the term “mind maps” and has software based on his original concepts.

iMindMap is a program with lots of flexibility in moving and reshaping branches and adding icons and images, of which there is an extensive built-in library. Arrows are easy to use and add text to, which provides detail about why your thoughts are connected.  The iMindMap unique pop-up menu makes changing formatting and adding items to your map, such as audio notes, hand sketches and images, remarkably simple.

XMind is a free program (paid version available) that has a lot of the robust possibilities found in more expensive programs. XMind offers floating topics that you can attach to your structure when you’re ready, intuitive shortcuts, vivid graphics and easy-to-use arrows. In the Pro version, you get a lot of the tools of iMindMap, such as brainstorming and presentation modes and audio notes.

Mind Mapping Your Social Media Plan

Plan your social media empire with a mind map.

Inspiration has a lot of the same features of the heavy hitters for a smaller price tag, and it’s just plain eye-catching. For someone who wants to sit down and start mind mapping right away, with a very friendly interface, I like this one quite a bit. There’s an extensive and searchable drag and drop icon library, big images and bold colors and quick transfers to other programs. Inspiration has a version that’s just for kids (Kidspiration), and both programs are used a lot in schools, so the interface is appropriately engaging. Am I smarter than a fifth grader? I don’t know, but I sure like pretty pictures.

Explore your book's themes, plots, characters with a mind map.

Explore your book's themes, plots and characters with a mind map.

PersonalBrain isn’t about bells and whistles; it’s about deep levels of associations. You can easily attach any kind of document; create parent, child and sibling thoughts; and search your other PersonalBrain “brains” to link the data together. You can keep track of all your contacts, projects and plans, watch them grow and connect them together. PersonalBrain strives to be a kind of literal second brain, keeping together all of your thoughts, data and plans in an encyclopedic way that is searchable, linkable and easily accessed. It comes in a free and paid version.

PersonalBrain doesn't look as pretty as some other mind mapping applications, but it's potential to link all the information you've got is staggering.

Spend enough time with PersonBrain and everything/everyone you know can be stored in one place.

There are many other great programs to try, such as  FreeMind, MindMeister, Novamind, Topicscape and MindManager.

Fun, right? Well, it’s meant to be. Mind mapping is really a chance to play with your thoughts, move them around and connect them in different combinations that just wouldn’t occur to you if you’re making a hierarchical list.

How have you been using mind maps or might you use them in the future?

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Writing to Remember

New gas station, Fort Worth, Texas 1964
Image by | El Caganer via Flickr

As I was waiting at a stoplight this morning with the windows rolled down, I heard a “ding, ding” that I almost couldn’t believe. It was a distant sound from my childhood–the signal bell you always used to hear in a gas station when you rolled over the hose stretched in front of the pumps. I was stopped next to a car wash that was using one. I thought back to the long-ago day when every station was a full-service one. I grew up in California, which went to self-serve when I was in junior high. But as a young child, gas stations were more interesting places. My uncle Bernie in San Diego owned an Exxon and always had plenty of stickers for me. My twin cousins knew everything about cars and probably put together every model set available in the ’70s. Arco stations used to sell/give away cool toys, like an entire Noah’s ark set that you could collect two by two.

I loved going to the gas station then. There was always someone to help, to ask questions of and to get your tank filled. Soon enough, however, taking care of business yourself became second nature, at least in California. I remember an out-of-state road trip with my University of Oregon debate team.  None of them had any idea what to do at a self-service gas station when we were in Idaho for a tournament, since they had never had to pump their own gas.  As a freshman and one of the few women on a very sharp team of extreme smart alecks, I felt quite inflated when I had to take on filling duties for our van.

As I’ve been writing about gas stations, pieces of my past that I haven’t thought of in forever have resurfaced. What about you? Is there a memory that you can use as a writing exercise? An object, image, sound or smell that triggers stories for you? Writing about what triggers a memory is a great way to connect with rich, inner content for fiction writers. For business writers, the process is no different. Are there ways that things used to be done in business or culture that you could build a newsletter or blog post around? Maybe there are new versions of old practices that we’re surrounded by now, such as the “water cooler” aspect of a Facebook discussion. It’s amazing how tapping old memories shared by others can give you a platform from which to talk about nearly anything.

What’s your favorite memory right now? Leave us a taste here!

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Finding Your Writing Voice

My writing is my writing is my writing
Image by Esther_Gvia Flickr

Writing can be frightening, especially if you’re putting your thoughts down for others to see.  Whether you’re a solopreneur who is representing his or her company in print as well as fact, or a writer of any stripe, the truthfulness of your voice–how real your character is–will pull readers in.

You are your own best character, so introduce yourself to your reader by being honest–not in a literal sense (though preferred),  but by being natural.  The easiest path to authentic writing is to write the way you think, the way you speak. And that takes some practice:

  • Journal daily to get a bead on your own feelings and opinions.
  • Buy The Autobiography Box. Getting in touch with your past can be a great tool for figuring out what makes you, the main character in your story, tick.
  • Try Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” exercises to get you unstuck and uninhibited.
  • Start blogging! If it’s for your business, great. If it’s about your love of vintage salt and pepper shakers, wow!
  • Look for any chance to write for an audience: a newsletter, local paper, commenting on others’ posts–you name it. Being accountable and exposed in print sometimes takes working up to, so start any way you can.
  • Show your friends/family. Sometimes it’s best to get feedback from those we feel safest with first (depending on their social skills), so share your work within your circle to gain confidence and advice.
  • Have a dictionary/thesaurus and either The AP Stylebook, The McGraw-Hill Desk Reference for Editors, Writers and Proofreaders, or The Chicago Manual of Style (I use all three) nearby at all times.

Just like anything, the only way you get to know your own writing voice is by spending time with it. So whether you prefer to try poetry at your computer or like to write long-hand letters to Aunt Clara, clear some time, get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and let yourself go.

Do you have a preferred method of connecting with your voice? Please leave a comment!

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Cut the Jargon!

No jargon at ECAWA 2009
Image by grumble_bum via Flickr

Making the transition from an expert in your field who speaks with other experts, to one who writes or speaks about your industry to the uninitiated can feel daunting. But if you are a businessperson with a specialized background who wants to reach out to potential clients and make a connection, it’s important to speak their language. To make sure that you don’t lose your non-specialized audience, follow the “abstain or explain” rule when it comes to using jargon. If you need to use words from your industry—and it’s always important to teach your audience some of your terminology—be sure to define what they mean.

Teaching in any capacity is exciting, so enjoy the opportunity to explain what you do, and allow yourself to be creative. Without the potential criticism of peers and other experts, you don’t have to be as academic or exacting in your language when writing for potential clients and customers—in fact you shouldn’t be. The burden of academic writing in any sphere is the requirement to source and support. Factual assertion should always be accurate and supportable, but the relief of writing for a non-technical audience about your business is that you can talk about your own experience and passion for the subject. Exploring what makes it fascinating to yourself and others—without endless footnotes—should be a pleasure. So relax and enjoy!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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What’s Your Story?

Disney - Small World Taj Mahal
Image by Express Monorail via Flickr

We know that branding is about defining the story of a product, creating a narrative of which people want to be a part. In many cases, like the natural brands that occur out of an individual’s passion (Clif Bars, Burt’s Bees) and become successful businesses, the personal stories are easy to integrate, part of the products themselves. But for those of us who do work that grows out of a place less easy to define to our clients and customers, the task is to find a compelling way to explain how we got where we are. And perhaps, we don’t even know…yet.

Some of us had a pivotal moment occur in our past that made us decide to pursue our line of work. For others, the path to our current employment came subtly, seeming accidental. The inspirational stories that led us where we are (…I knew then I wanted to save lives/make movies/sell houses) are wonderful to have. But the “accidental” arrival at a vocation is never really as happenstance as you might think. Be your own detective now and unravel the path that brought you where you are today. You may be amazed at the connections that are revealed, and the seemingly well-laid plan that brought you to your life’s work, with the skills and the passion you need to be the best at it.

So what IS your story? I’d love to hear it.

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