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Digital Velocity Podcast Hosted by Tim Curtis and Erik Martinez

34 The Art of Business Storytelling - Park Howell

This week on the Digital Velocity Podcast, Park Howell of the Business of Story joins Erik and Tim to discuss the ABT (And, But, Therefore) agile narrative framework for successful business storytelling.

Every brand has a story to tell, but often businesses don’t know how to convey their stories successfully. Park says, “Our brains, they're not wired in the survival mechanism to make any sense out of numbers. It's always about the outcome. Place that number in the context of a story. So, I think that's where business-to-business falls flat on its face. Most of them do a really horrible job of advertising and telling stories.”

What customers care about most is how their lives will be impacted by a business and that can be communicated through great storytelling. Park explains, “…your story's not about what you make, but what you make happen in people's lives. Your customers actually don't care about your brand really. They don't care about you. They don't even care about your product or service or your cool code or whatever that really great thing is that you believe is gonna change the world. They only care about the outcome. What do you make happen in their life? And that is a story. It's never features functions. It's a little bit of benefit. It's never numbers until you have really clearly articulated what is going to happen positively in their life if they buy into what you have to share.”

The ABT (And, But, Therefore) structure teaches businesses effective storytelling techniques. Park explains, “The ABT works off this three forces of story, which is complete narrative. "And" is a statement of agreement. It's like act one. We're setting the scene and here's what our protagonist wants in the world. The "but" is a statement of contradiction. "But" they don't have it because of this major problem. "Therefore" is a statement of consequence. Because they don't have this, this is the way their life is, and/or when we help them get it, this is the way life is going to look for them. This is what they really are wanting out of life. That is narrative, and the reason why it's narrative is that "but" is a plot twist. That "but" signals the limbic brain to pay attention, something's going on. There's a problem. How are we going to get out of this? And of course you as the brand, or product, or service, you are there as our mentor guide to show them how to get out of it. And, but, therefore.”

Listen to this week’s podcast to learn more about how the ABT agile narrative framework can help your business storytelling stand out.

About the Guest:

Park Howell is known as The World’s Most Industrious Storyteller helping leaders of purpose-driven brands grow by as much as 600 percent. His 35 years in brand creation includes 20 years running his own ad agency Park&Co. He was named Advertising Person of the Year in 2010 by the American Advertising Federation of Metro Phoenix. The following year, his agency was recognized among the Top 10 Impact Companies in Arizona by the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

Park is the founder of the Business of Story, a proven platform based on his 10-step Story Cycle System™ to clarify your story, amplify your impact and simplify your life. His popular weekly Business of Story podcast is ranked among the top 10 percent of the most downloaded podcasts in the world.

His book, Brand Bewitchery: How to Wield the Story Cycle System™ to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand, helps readers clarify their brand story and teaches how to tell it through three proven narrative frameworks to captivate audiences and convert customers. His new book The Narrative Gym for Business, is a short 75-page guide on how to use the ABT (And, But, Therefore) foundational narrative framework to make all of your business communications compelling.

Park consults, teaches, coaches and speaks internationally. He has guided hundreds of brands and grown thousands of leaders and their people in such organizations as Dell, The Home Depot, Hilton, Cummins, Walgreens, Banner Health and the United States Air Force.

He is a graduate of Washington State University and combines his degrees in communications and music composition and theory to help leaders excel through the stories they tell.


Tim Curtis: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to this edition of the Digital Velocity Podcast. I'm your host, Tim Curtis from CohereOne.

Erik Martinez: And I'm Erik Martinez from Blue Tangerine.

Tim Curtis: And today on the show we have an exciting topic of storytelling. As a business, you communicate and care but probably bore because you lead with logic and reason when what your audience really wants is the emotional pull of a story.

Park, our guest today, with his three proven narrative frameworks shows you how to turn your data into drama, your tech into tales, and your facts and figures into fables that connect with the primal limbic [00:01:00] brain where we all have real decisions being made. He's here to help you excel through stories you tell, starting with the ABT Agile Narrative Framework. Park, fascinating subject. Welcome to the show.

Park Howell: Tim and Erik, thanks for having me.

Erik Martinez: Yeah, that was kind of a mouthful of an introduction though.

Tim Curtis: It was a story.

Erik Martinez: It was a story.

Tim Curtis: It was a story. How would you expect anything less? Park, back us up a little bit before we get kind of started here, and give us a little bit of a brief synopsis of your story and kind of how you've arrived here today.

Park Howell: Yeah, absolutely. Man, my story started about 35-plus years ago in the advertising business when I first got into it as a writer and then account executive, and a media buyer. I've done pretty much everything you can do, other than design in an ad agency, and I opened my own firm called Park and Co in 1995 and ran that for 20 years. But I gotta tell you guys, in the early two thousands I saw our work in branding and brand development [00:02:00] really started losing its impact because we were really versed in traditional media, you know, tv, radio, print, outdoor, that kind of thing. Our clients, our customers owned the influence of mass media, so they didn't have to rely on storytelling quite as much. Although, those that did had a much more effect.

Well, with the advent of social media, Ecommerce, the interwebs, the masses became the media and they own the stories. And so I went and searched for how do you hack through the noise of the internet and still hook into the hearts of your customers, where they buy with emotion. And that's when I found storytelling. I was lucky. Our middle child, our son, Parker Howell, was going to film school at Chapman University in Orange, California. And while he was going there, I said, send me your books since I'm paying for them when you're done with them, because I want to know what does Hollywood teach you to be a competitive storyteller in the most competitive storytelling market in the world?

That's when I found The Hero's Journey, Joseph Campbell. I applied it in our [00:03:00] work in something I call the 10 Steps Story Cycle System for brand story narrative. It worked unbelievably well. It was kind of a science project of mine. I didn't know if it would work or not. That's when I really found my passion for teaching people. And now all I do is consult, teach, coach, and speak on the power of story, internationally to business leaders. I no longer run my ad agency. Got out of that business and here I am today. Lucky enough to be on your show.

Tim Curtis: Here you are today. That is for sure. We're lucky to have you. The topic of storytelling, you're right, it sort of went dormant for a while. It was no longer what the focus was on. The focus was on all the new bright shiny objects related to digital. Digital at the time, until recently, was relatively like the Wild West, right? Mostly self-governance, there was not a lot of legislation that really dictated how people were to act and what constraints they had. So, those were the areas of focus.

What's ended up happening in, in my opinion, is, in looking at some of the neurological work and studies, you begin to see that the brain is [00:04:00] adapting to digital in a way that is really preventing digital from having the kind of attention it had before. So, we don't react to it the same way. But the one thing we still do react to is story. We're still hardwired for that story. And if we're looking to make something sticky, it just feels like we've gotta really focus in on finding that narrative and really have something compelling to say, so that that can be retained by those that we're talking to. It's all about the emotional appeal.

Park Howell: You're absolutely right that you have to have something compelling to say, but it's how you say it. So many people are non-narrative now, especially in the digital world. They are just pushing out nonsense. So, think about this. This is one of the things that I think is so fascinating. We have this neocortex, right? This frontal lobe executive functioning brain that is so brilliant. It not only put a man on the moon, we land stuff on Mars, but it created the technology and the internet that [00:05:00] you could argue compounds at the rate and scale of Moore's Law. That's how brilliant we are.

And yet everybody is still walking around with that subconscious limbic amygdala brain that has not changed appreciably since when our ancestors navigated and survived the Savannah hundreds of thousands of years ago. It's essentially the same brain structure that we are using today to try to navigate and survive the onslaught of information we just would rather bat away because most of it doesn't make any sense to us, to our subconscious brain, unless you put it in the context of a story. Set up, problem, resolution.

That's where people so miss the mark is just in their content. Whether it's a tweet, whether you're on Instagram, you're running ads, whatever it is, playing off of that brain, that setup, problem, resolution dynamic. And that's really the secret to hacking through the noise and [00:06:00] hooking into the hearts this day and age.

Erik Martinez: Park, would you give some context to the audience of what you mean by it's hard to know what's really good and what's really not good because we're processing it so fast and discarding it so quickly? So, what is narrative and non-narrative?

Park Howell: All right. So, non-narrative is exactly that. There is no story arc. It's a bunch of information being thrown at you. Think of it as a bulleted list on a brochure of features and functions with a little bit of benefit thrown in and this and, and, and, and, and, and our brain gets bored very quickly. After about two and, it says, I'm outta here. That's non-narrative.

What I mean by narrative is think of these three words and, but, therefore. So, the "and" is a statement of agreement. The ABT works off this three forces of story, which is complete narrative. "And" is a statement of agreement. It's like act one. We're [00:07:00] setting the scene and here's what our protagonist wants in the world. The "but" is a statement of contradiction. "But" they don't have it because of this major problem. "Therefore" is a statement of consequence. Because they don't have this, this is the way their life is, and/or when we help them get it, this is the way life is going to look for them. This is what they really are wanting out of life. That is narrative, and the reason why it's narrative is that "but" is a plot twist. That "but" signals the limbic brain to pay attention, something's going on. There's a problem. How are we going to get out of this? And of course you as the brand, or product, or service, you are there as our mentor guide to show them how to get out of it. And, but, therefore.

Erik Martinez: So, can you, just for the listening audience to help visualize, give us an example of each one of those?

Park Howell: Here's my favorite one. So, I was doing a lot of work with Home Depot and their [00:08:00] internal sales and marketing team, taking them through this. And one of the guys on there, we were doing a virtual session, asked me, Park, what's the shortest ABT that you know? And I said, oh, it's easy. It's this one. You communicate and care, but bore, therefore tell a story. Now that's very, very short.

It's not a story in and of itself, but it uses the three forces of story. Agreement. You communicate and care. Yes, you're right. That's exactly what I do. Contradiction. But bore. You're right. I do bore. Therefore, learn how to tell a story so that you can connect with that audience sitting across from you and really beckon them into your story. That's only one example of it. I can give you a quick example of like how you might hear it in a tweet. Have you guys heard of Christopher Lockhead? Do you know who he is?

Tim Curtis: I don't.

Erik Martinez: No, I don't either.

Park Howell: He's this legendary Silicon Valley marketer. For all of your listeners out there, if you want one of the best books on branding, [00:09:00] or what Christopher Lockhead calls as category design, get his book Play Bigger. It's one of my favorites that I've ever read. Anyways, I was on Christopher's show about eight months ago. I taught him about the ABT and he thought, oh, that's pretty cool. He tried it the next day and he was so blown away by it that he sent me a screenshot of a tweet that he used the and, but, therefore. And so he sends me this and he goes and check this out, Christopher Lockhead is very active on social media, within six hours, he had over 60,000 engagements with that one tweet. He goes, I've never seen anything like it. It's the very first time I've tried the ABT, and now he uses it in everything that he does.

And the reason why it works is because it plays to that limbic brain. Set up, you know, everyone wants to design a new category and build a billion-dollar business. That's our statement of agreement. Yes, but here's the problem. There's too much startup BS on Twitter. It's [00:10:00] hard to know where to listen, who to listen to. Therefore, here's the next step you take. Our limbic cause and effect, pattern-seeking, decision-making, buying brain loves that format to communication, which uses those three forces of story.

Tim Curtis: The ABT framework and I like the word framework. I think the framework aspect of this is important because when you're talking about something like forming a narrative or articulating a point of view, and you're putting it into a narrative format, the challenge is that oftentimes feels so overwhelming to someone who has not mastered that concept. We're not gathered around the bonfire anymore, you know, and we're not sharing those kinds of stories, so we're outta practice.

You mentioned our limbic brain. Yeah. It's still the same brain. It's still the same neural networks. That's like asking someone to write about something that they just talked about and they can't do it unless there's a framework provided. The framework's important.

Is there a step after the ABT? What's sort of the next thing that you would [00:11:00] in terms of that framework from ABT?

Park Howell: Yeah, so what I do, in fact, I learned all this exactly opposite to how I now teach it. I started with the very complex hero's journey, boiled it down in the 10-step story cycle system. It has been very effective, but it's complicated for people to get. Which then led me to the five primal elements of a short story. If someone is just sitting around and they're trying to make a business point and you use these elements, this is the best way to do it because everyone will argue with your data and your opinion and your assertions, but they can't argue with a true story well told.

Even those five steps, Tim, I found people were having some challenges with and that's when, a decade ago, and I found the and, but, therefore from a brand marketing standpoint, I was like, this thing is as powerful as anything I've found to communicate a complex message simply.

So, to answer your question, the next step is once you get this ABT down and use it everywhere. Practice it in your emails, practice it everywhere, you'll start building your narrative intuition, and then you move into those [00:12:00] five primal elements of a short story, which is essentially just an expanded ABT.

The difference is that is actually a true story that you're going to tell, a little fable, an anecdote, whatever, something that you can tell in under a minute that makes your business point for you. What I really like to coach people on is use the ABT and the five primal elements as a one-two punch when you are trying to own the room and get your audience leaning in immediately.

You start with an ABT to set the stage, and then you say, for instance, then you tell a little anecdotal story that supports the problem-solution dynamic that you've introduced in your ABT. And by the way, you can do both of those in under 90 seconds. And you've used two proven frameworks that hacks through the noise and gets into that limbic brain getting your prospects to lean in.

Tim Curtis: The ABT, you go in depth in The Narrative Gym for Business, right? That book?

Park Howell: It's a [00:13:00] 75-page guide that they can use to guide them along.

Tim Curtis: Okay, perfect. I wanna make sure, number one, I have the right book here.

Park Howell: Yep.

Tim Curtis: Both Erik and I work with a lot of different types of brands, and I know when we're articulating something to a brand, a lot of times they don't see it, they don't see that it's useful to their brand. That's the challenge.

Park Howell: Give me an example of you running to that problem.

Tim Curtis: One example is you take a brand like apparel. They just don't necessarily always see that they can formulate something out of something that is wearable, disposable, whatever. It's a bit more of a struggle. When you're selling something like a piece of technology or like an Apple watch or something like that, there are some things that maybe seem more obvious to the process.

But when you back that up and you're in some of these niche categories, it's hard, and it's almost like you're providing those writing prompts for them. Those are the areas where people struggle. How do you help people who are in an industry that otherwise would seem difficult to fabricate, you know, or create a narrative?

Erik Martinez: [00:14:00] So, maybe an example might be something like you're selling a white button-down collared shirt amongst how many others that are selling white button-down cotton collared shirts. So, that's kind of where Tim's going. Like, that seems to be the struggle is how do I infuse a story on such a basic thing?

Park Howell: Boy, have you seen the Ralph Lauren documentary? He essentially invented storytelling for apparel. Even in his photography and everything he did, versus just showing the apparel, show it within a scene that begs the brain to make up a story like, what's going on here? You know, they've got him out on these crazy Chris-Craft boats, or they're by horses or whatever.

The first person in the apparel part of it, Tim, I would say is just look at Ralph Lauren. They've made a gigantic industry of storytelling in apparel. But when you've got something like a white button-down commoditized shirt, your story is not about what you make. It's not [00:15:00] about that shirt. It's about what does that shirt make happen, or what is the mythology or the ethos around that shirt.

Now some stuff, maybe you just can't. You just gotta go out and be the low-price leader. Margins aren't gonna be there, so you better sell a whole ton of them. But if you wanna step outta that primordial muck, you've gotta wrap that white shirt or that commodity in meaning. It has to stand for something bigger than what it actually really is. If that makes sense.

So, I say tell people, your story's not about what you make, but what you make happen in people's lives. Your customers actually don't care about your brand really. They don't care about you. They don't even care about your product or service or your cool code or whatever that really great thing is that you believe is gonna change the world. They only care about the outcome. What do you make happen in their life? And that is a story. It's never features functions. It's a little bit of benefit. It's never numbers until you have really [00:16:00] clearly articulated what is going to happen positively in their life if they buy into what you have to share.

Tim Curtis: What you're selling?

Park Howell: Yeah.

Tim Curtis: I need to go watch the Ralph Lauren. You said it was a documentary?

Park Howell: Yeah, it's a documentary. It's on Netflix. We saw it a couple of years ago. It's fabulous. My wife's a huge Ralph Lauren fan, and then when we watched it, I became a huge fan because they talked about how they reinvented marketing around the apparel industry, and it was always about storytelling. He pushed it. We have to show them a story.

Tim Curtis: Someone else that was really at the forefront in the advertising in our world was David Ogilvy. Everything he touched, and it feels very intentional with him, and if you read any of his books, you'll kind of understand everything about David Ogilvy was intentional. He sometimes actually used visual elements along with the story to tell the story in both a narrative and visual format. So, those are the kind of key inspiration points that I think is [00:17:00] probably important that we point out here. So, yeah. Note to self.

Erik Martinez: You're telling me about Ralph Lauren. I was thinking, I couldn't think of the name of the company. It finally came up, Duluth Trading Company.

Park Howell: With the underwear commercials. The animated underwear commercials

Erik Martinez: With the underwear commercials. They've done a really amazing job of making underwear an actually interesting topic.

Park Howell: Yeah, a very good example of it. B2C, you're gonna find better storytelling than you find in the B2B world. And I think the reason why is the B2B world thinks, oh man, I'm just selling numbers and data, charts, and graphs. That's all I gotta worry about. I don't gotta connect with that, you know, woo-woo emotional stuff. But I'll ask you two, what is the first syllable in the word numbers?

Erik Martinez: Numb.

Park Howell: They mean freaking nothing to our brains. You think our ancestor, when they were out there a mile from their cave and they came across a sabertooth tiger [00:18:00] that they thought, gee, I wonder what that cat weighs? Hmm. I wonder how fast it is? Hmm. If I triangulate my speed to the cave and its ability to run me down, do I have a chance? No. Our brains, they're not wired in the survival mechanism to make any sense out of numbers. It's always about the outcome. Place that number in the context of a story. So, I think that's where business-to-business falls flat on its face. Most of them do a really horrible job of advertising and telling stories.

Tim Curtis: They do. Talk about a group that is oftentimes uninspired by not being able to see, you know, how to use emotion and narrative and selling. But the reality is the very same people who make purchases in the B2B realm are the same people who make B2C purchases. They're still humans. They still have emotions.

Park Howell: You're right. Yeah.

Tim Curtis: And there's opportunities for emotional appeal to that audience. That's a fairly consistent [00:19:00] reminder that has to be given to the B2B audience. It comes up every single time I'm on stage speaking. Every time that question comes out.

Park Howell: You're so right. They think people are buying with logic and reason, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. They're buying with emotion and then they're justifying that purchase with logic and reason. So, whenever someone's sitting there, and I get that same pushback, Tim, in B2B world. We just gotta show 'em the numbers. The numbers sell themselves. That's total BS.

You have a homo sapien sitting across from you, which essentially is a storytelling monkey. That's the only thing, one of the big things, I guess not the only, but one of the big things, that separates us from every other living entity that we know of. Homo sapiens, we plan, we organize, and we act in story.

Think about it. When we are trying to get someone to buy into something, we are first selling fiction. We're trying to get them to buy into what a brighter day [00:20:00] tomorrow would look like if they just take this action now. So, they have to buy that fiction. Then it is up to us as a storyteller to deliver on all those promises we make in those stories and make sure that if they buy into it, become an active participant in our story, that we are delivering and that tomorrow is what we said it would be, and we turn that fiction into fact.

Whether it's B2B world or the B2C world, that's what you're doing. Not getting people to buy, but getting people to buy into what you stand for and the outcomes that you can have in their life.

Tim Curtis: So, walk me through this. I'm gonna set the stage here. So, you've got a relatively new marketer who's taken the helm at one of these brands. And let's assume that they have your books, and they are reading through your books. But you're gonna come in for the day to help train them to get further down the road on the ABT concept. Walk me through what that day looks like.

Park Howell: So, what I [00:21:00] do is I first have them do my online course, and it's a one-hour course, three 20-minute modules from me where I take 'em by the hand and walk them through ABT 101, 201, and 301. In addition to them, they're reading the books. We sit down and in my first part of my session, let's just say the first session's 90 minutes long typically. The first 20 minutes is I'll take a deeper dive on what they learned from that online course so that they can really start embedding it in their thinking.

Then we will build three or four of their ABTs live with the group. They will have supplied them to me in advance, and these will be ABTs that they've written relative to work. It could be a landing page, it could be a sales presentation, or whatever. We build those live with the group, so they could see the before and after, and I get a chance to do live coaching so they can go, oh, okay. I get how this all comes together.

Then we go to a 20-minute breakout session and I like to break people up into four-person teams. I give 'em five minutes to either [00:22:00] flesh out more of their ABT or write a brand new one. And then the next 15 minutes they share them within the team and they coach each other on how effective their ABT is or how they might switch them around. Come back on. We do another live round. This is a beautiful thing about them doing the pre-work because we get to workshop them. So, it's very intense and it's very immersive.

Once we get that ABT really launched in place where they're starting to build their narrative intuition, then Tim, we go into showing them the five primal elements of a short story. And again, remember that one-two punch. Now that they've got an ABT down, they've made their claim in under 15 seconds with that ABT of what the problem and the solution dynamic is. Now they've gotta proof it out with an emotional story that demonstrates this problem solution in action in someone's life.

So, I teach them how to do that and I show them brands that do a real exceptional job already at their storytelling. Airbnb is one of them. And I'll bring in those examples and say, look it. You can see the five primal [00:23:00] elements. The one point I like to make to your listeners here is when you start seeing this stuff, it's kinda like, oh, duh, or, oh, I've already been doing that. I just don't do it all the time.

What I'm sharing with you is nothing I invented. It literally has been around since the beginning of recorded storytelling. Gilgamesh is based on an ABT and the hero's journey. So, I'm not making this stuff up.

Tim Curtis: Yeah.

Park Howell: I'm just revealing it to the world. So, what I like to tell people is to learn this stuff and evolve from being an intuitive storyteller, which we all are, as that homo sapien storytelling ape, we are intuitive. I want you to become intentional using these frameworks, and you'll have way more success in your communication that way.

Tim Curtis: You know, you make a really good point. With that Epica Gilgamesh reference. It really does go back and reinforce that we are built for story. 6,000 BC, you look at the Egyptians, the ancient Israelis. You look at the Greeks, the [00:24:00] Romans, and story upon story is the element or the foundation of their society to pass knowledge from one to the next. And the level of sophistication of those stories, of course, changed over the years, but the point is, we're simply wired for it. Absolutely.

Park Howell: Have you read Noah Harari's book called Sapiens?

Tim Curtis: No, but I am familiar with that one.

Park Howell: It's fabulous. It's fantastic. It's one I've read twice now, and then I read his one that came after it, but he does a really nice job of talking about humanity in a very short timeframe window of history. But storytelling is at the heart of everything and a lot of what I've learned about this idea of being a storytelling ape came from what his research and some of the writings in that book. So, I highly recommend it to your listeners. A fabulous book, Noah Harari's Sapiens.

Erik Martinez: This is fascinating to me. I was just thinking about examples of, you know, you're sitting in a pitch discussion, or you're doing an RFP, or you're trying to find somebody to help you with a [00:25:00] particular problem. I can tell you one of the more recent ones that I've sat through was buying email services. Just a simple, like I'm gonna buy a new platform to put all of our email marketing content on for a particular client. And as we are sitting there listening through the presentations and talking to the salespeople, you got me thinking about, well, why did we choose vendor A over vendor B? Not only is it the storytelling part of it, but it's I like the story I bought into the story, and I like the person who's telling the story. So, there's some other factors. We're wired to engage with people who tell us stories that we like.

Park Howell: You've heard that age-old axiom of people don't buy from businesses they buy from people. So, absolutely right. Can I trust this person? Yes. Do I like this person? Yes. Will they deliver for me? Yes. Will they help me look like a hero in my own company? You get to the point that you are now [00:26:00] already bought into this individual, and you are now just trying to justify this purchase in your head.

And I learned that from Robert McKee, who's a legendary screenwriting coach. He has this course in LA, in New York, in London called Story, and it's three and a half days of Robert McKee for eight to 10 hours owning this stage. I went to it with our filmmaker son back in 2009, and it was at the Sheraton LAX. And I was in this cold, dark conference room, or really ballroom, for almost four days listening to this guy with 300 other people. All of them, with the exception, about five of us were all screenwriter wannabees. The other five of us happened to be in the advertising marketing world just curious about what does Hollywood know that we could use in our own life.

Robert McKee, on the second day, stood up on stage and he said something so profound to the marketing world, but remember, he's not [00:27:00] talking to the marketing world, he's talking to screenwriters, and he was trying to make the point about subtext. He says, you have to understand your audience in a God-like way, which means you have to understand the protagonist in your story, in a God-like way. What makes them work? What motivates them and so forth? Because when they show your film, that audience has to believe so much in that character that they see themselves into it.

Then he goes on and hears the line that blew me away. He says, make no mistake about it, our conscious mind is simply the PR department for our subconscious mind where all the real buying decisions are being made. And I sat there gobsmacked as a marketer saying, he may as well be talking to a room full of marketers, but he wasn't. He was talking to a room full of screenwriters to show them how to get your audience to buy into your character, buy into your story. Well, that's exactly as marketers, what we're trying to get our [00:28:00] audiences to do.

Erik Martinez: So, let's bring this back into the world of retail and Ecommerce. That's where most of our listeners live. They're selling stuff to consumers, to an audience. They're selling everything direct-to-consumer. They're selling underwear and they're selling snack foods and they're selling more exotic foods. We've got a client who sells all the supplies that you could ever need for your car dealership. We have a wide variety of these businesses.

Some of those topics are more mundane than others. Let's just be frank, we perceive it to be more mundane than others, even though they may be very complicated and very interesting businesses. So, where would you say, for these brands, what's the starting point? What's the very first micro step I need to take in order to start changing that narrative so that I can appeal to that subconscious mind? [00:29:00]

Park Howell: Perfect. Let me walk you through the three steps in order of priority. So, the very first thing is identify your audience. I know that sounds like duh, but here's what happens. Whenever I say that to somebody who goes, well, I'm selling to everybody. Everybody needs my underwear. Or, I've got five different markets I'm selling to, and I say BS on that. It's the Pareto principle, 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your customers, and that's usually one persona, one individual.

So, I want you to write down who's that person and be as absolutely specific, so specific that it scares you, that you're like, man, I'm gonna lose so much business because I'm just focusing on this one person. Well, actually just the exact opposite happens. So, I want you to say, who's that individual? What do they want in relation to what my offering is, and why is that important to them? That's your statement of agreement. [00:30:00] Who am I selling to? What do they want and why is that important to them?

But, statement of contradiction. But why don't they currently have it, because of what? Make that contrast as big as you possibly can between what a brighter future looks like tomorrow, what they want, but they don't have it and they feel like crap because of this. You gotta build that contrast there. Then your audience will give you all day for your therefore statement.

Therefore, picture what tomorrow's gonna look like when you buy this or buy into that, or whatever. If you answer those five questions in the three steps of the ABT, it will help any brand get much more focused on who their audience is and how to clarify that brand narrative.

Name the audience, what do they want, and why is that important to them. But why don't they have it? Therefore, how are you uniquely equipped to help them get it? You wanna do a quick little exercise?

Erik Martinez: Sure. Let's do it.

Park Howell: Let's do [00:31:00] it for your podcast. You guys got your brand story down for your podcast? What is the Digital Velocity brand narrative?

Tim Curtis: In an ABT format?

Park Howell: We'll get there.

Tim Curtis: Okay.

Erik Martinez: Go for it, Tim. I'll let you start with that one.

Tim Curtis: You want me to start?

Erik Martinez: I'm passing the buck on this one.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. Thank you for that, Erik.

Erik Martinez: You're very welcome.

Park Howell: I have a lot of great ideas, but I'm gonna let Tim go first. Therefore, Tim, the floor is yours.

Tim Curtis: There's a theme here. So, how we set the podcast up is it's a podcast that covers the intersection between strategy, digital marketing, and emerging trends, and the impact that each of us related to those. That's how we set it up. When we align content or we align guests, we're really looking to make sure that the guest is gonna align to something that moves us down a pathway. You know, and storytelling, for example, narrative. It's an emerging trend again because it was set aside and now you're seeing it being more pervasively talked about. So, that's an example of how an emerging [00:32:00] trend would impact us.

Park Howell: All right. So, let's go in and say, now we wanna get this thing boiled down to so someone can ask you, Tim, when you're on stage about your podcast, you can nail this in under 10 seconds. It's your one-floor elevator pitch. And by the way, for your listeners and everybody here, when you're doing this, when you're working through these ABTs, they take a while to get down. But what they really do, it's a fabulous exercise for your brain to say, alright, and to get real with, who am I actually helping in the world and why do they care? So, who is your number one audience? Erik, I'm gonna throw this one back to you.

Erik Martinez: Yep.

Park Howell: You appeal to a lot of folks, but who is your ideal, number-one audience?

Erik Martinez: If I really, really get down to the heart of it, it's somebody who is looking to build additional knowledge. None of us can be experts at everything. We need to look for [00:33:00] alternative sources of knowledge to keep building our skills and our skillsets and have tools that we can apply in our everyday jobs to make whatever we're working on better.

Park Howell: I gotta punch you in the nose on that one, Erik. Great start. Way too high level. Are you talking to chief marketing officers? Are you talking to sales enablement people? Are you talking to CEOs of companies doing 20 million in revenue? Who is your number one audience as specific as possible?

Erik Martinez: CEOs and directors of direct-to-consumer retail.

Park Howell: Okay, now we're getting somewhere. CEOs of direct-to-consumer retail. Awesome. Okay. Perfect. What do they want in relation to your show?

Tim Curtis: Is this Erik, or is this?

Erik Martinez: I think it's me still. I think I'm still on the hot seat.

Tim Curtis: Well, I wanted to enjoy it for a little bit longer, so.

Erik Martinez: Oh, yeah. For those of you listening, Tim, sitting back with both hands behind his head and rocking.

Park Howell: Yeah, but you're sitting on a beach right [00:34:00] now, Erik.

Erik Martinez: Yeah, that's, well, figuratively speaking. I think that they are looking for ideas. I know when I listen to podcasts, I'm looking for ideas. I'm looking for inspiration in how to do what I do better than I did the day before.

Park Howell: So, Tim kind of said that earlier, maybe a little bit, that inspiration or whatever, but they wanna expand their knowledge around digital trends, and if they've got this knowledge, then they should be able to expand their revenue, their sales, their community around their brand, and so forth. Is that fair enough? I'm coming in very high level.

Erik Martinez: Yep. That's what they want, right? At the end of the day, that's what they want. They wanna grow sales.

Park Howell: They wanna really understand these trends that are happening so that they can grow sales. If they're at the bleeding edge of these trends that are happening, then they can grow 10X their sales or whatever in the direct consumer world. Okay? But what's the main problem that you help them overcome? I know you solve lots of problems for 'em, but from your [00:35:00] show perspective, what's the main problem that you are helping them with?

Erik Martinez: The main problem is providing a resource for that knowledge. I'm saying that very, very poorly cause I'm trying to overthink it now instead of keep it simple, right? I think honestly, it's overcoming the knowledge gap. There's lots of trends going on in this industry that we work in. There's lots of things going on and something's changing every single day and it's really hard to keep up with it all. So, where do you go? We're trying to solve part of that problem as being one of the places you can go to learn about some of these trends and take some actionable steps in order to take advantage of them or defend against them. Either one of those scenarios might be true depending on your business.

Park Howell: And for a point of clarity, this knowledge gap, is it just about the digital marketing realm, or is it knowledge gap across the industry of direct-to-consumer retail?

Erik Martinez: [00:36:00] It's across the industry of direct-to-consumer retail.

Park Howell: Okay. But your podcast is called Digital Velocity. So, are you really primarily focused on the digital realm or you're kind of covering everything?

Erik Martinez: We do spend a lot of time on digital topics, but it is a little bit broader than that. The reality is, whether your marketing is primarily digital, your function or not, the trends that are affecting that business affect all sides of the house. Because we're working with executives. They're not only focused on this one thing. The reality is digital has such an expanded definition in today's society.

A couple of years ago the concept of digital in the pizza market. What does digital have to do with pizza? Well, Domino's is absolutely dominating Pizza Hut because they did a better job of incorporating digital in their marketing, but pizza is not necessarily a digital product. So, I [00:37:00] think there's a lot of digital experiences that are above and beyond, but in reality impact brick and mortar retail, print, literature. There's a lot of things going on where all of these things are starting to blend together.

Tim Curtis: Yeah, and I think when you're talking about the focus, in order to excel in your digital role, you also need to have exposure to a higher level of thought related to management, to leadership. One of our most popular guests focused on innovation. So, you may say, well, how does that align to digital? Well, those are the supporting structures that allow you to excel in digital. So, while we'll talk about some very zeroed-in subjects that are vocational in nature, we'll also surround that with content that positions the individual in a place to best execute that vision.

Park Howell: So, it sounds like we could even dial in your audience a little bit more from CEOs of direct-to-consumer retail to digital professionals in the direct-to-consumer retail industry. Is that fair enough?

Tim Curtis: Yep.

Erik Martinez: [00:38:00] Yeah.

Park Howell: And what you're saying is digital is growing so fast, trending so quickly, that it is impacting your operations and sales both online and off.

Erik Martinez: Yes.

Tim Curtis: Yep.

Park Howell: But you're not taking advantage of this because the knowledge gap is so great. It's nearly impossible to keep up with everything else you have on your plate.

Erik Martinez: Yes.

Park Howell: Therefore, imagine how much easier your life will be when you listen to us one hour a week, where we will share with you people from around the world that can help you anticipate the changes in the digital environment out there. So, that you can not only exceed your goals but become even a thought leader of your own in your own world in the digital retail space.

Erik Martinez: Yes.

Park Howell: Is it something like that?

Erik Martinez: Something like that.

Park Howell: Now that's long-winded. It's big. We call that an informational ABT cause all I'm doing as a writer at this [00:39:00] point is like, all right man, I'm just trying to capture the elements of my story here. You see what happened, Erik, where you first started off, anybody that wants to know something. No, that's not an audience. We got it down to CEOs of direct-to-consumer retail. Awesome. Now we're talking about a category of audience, and then Tim comes in and says, really it's, you know, about that digital professional. Alright, awesome. Within that category is the digital professional in the direct-to-consumer retail space.

Which now makes your show title completely makes sense, Digital Velocity. How are you going to increase the velocity of your success when you have these enormous knowledge gaps to overcome and you don't have enough hours in the day to try to figure it out? Spend one hour a week with us and we will share with you all the trending happening in the digital world so that you can have the impact in the direct consumer retail space you hope to have.

Tim Curtis: And that is a live workshop folks. Right there in front of you.

Erik Martinez: Yep, that is a live workshop.

Tim Curtis: I love it.

Erik Martinez: Thank you, Park.[00:40:00] The check is in the mail.

Park Howell: Guys, the reason why I do this now is cause I think people, they're like, no man. It's too simple. It can't possibly work. And I'm like, dudes, I've been doing this for 35-plus years. I'm that old. Yes. And I'm telling you, my whole thing was always about brand creation. And I never thought about it from a story narrative perspective until I started getting those books from Chapman University until I heard Robert McKee talk about this until I studied The Hero's Journey.

And by the way, Donald Miller, I know you guys are all story brand guys, interesting thing about him is I went to his very first session Pre-story Brand in Oregon, 2008, 2009, when I was just studying story, and I loved his books. After that, I wrote a big article about Donald Miller and this thing and how I was researching it to use, you know, what my knowledge that could create my story cycle system and amplify it.

And then a year later, they come out with StoryBrand and I'm thinking, did they [00:41:00] read my article, and they go, Hey, this dude's onto something? But the difference with StoryBrand is there a nice marketing tool. The work that I do from the ABT through the 10-Step Story Cycle System takes you really in-depth as to who you are as a brand, what do you stand for, why do people actually care. Then you use these narrative frameworks to go out and share that story with the world.

Erik Martinez: That's fantastic. And I think one of the things that I've learned just reading through the book a little bit and talking to you today is, these things require practice.

Park Howell: Oh yeah.

Erik Martinez: You make that point in the book. You start at the high level and you kind of narrow in, and you keep narrowing in, you keep narrowing in until you get to that perfect ABT phrase or statement that represents everything that you're gonna do. So, it does require work, it does require time, and it does require practice. Like anything else we do in our lives, you have to [00:42:00] practice these things in order to be able to utilize them to help you with your business. Whatever that business may be.

Park Howell: You're right. I'll get Meta on you. The ABT is short and sweet, but tricky. Therefore practice, practice, practice, and one of the best places to practice it is in your email writing. You gotta write the things anyways. Have it stack on top of it. Instead of writing that big long email where you're trying to figure out what exactly you're trying to say so you're just clunking the thing out. Take a breath. Burn a few calories thinking about how can I make this an ABT.

Here's what's gonna happen. Your emails will become two-thirds the length of what they normally are. There's an automatic built-in CTA in the, therefore, statement, and you're actually gonna get people to respond to you because you're not making them work for anything. You are hand delivering your story, your message in the ABT to the limbic brain, the way it wants to receive it, so it doesn't have to fight for it. But as you do that, you'll practice doing these ABTs, do [00:43:00] 'em every single day, and you're gonna build, over the course of four to six weeks, what we call this narrative intuition.

Where you're gonna start thinking differently and communicating differently. Inserting buts, and therefores, understanding this cause and effect thing, and you're gonna evolve outta being non-narrative and boring, boring, boring, boring, boring to someone that can own the room in under 15 seconds.

Erik Martinez: That's pretty powerful. This is, I'm gonna use the word game-changing. And the reason I say that is Tim alluded to one of our more popular podcast guests. Her name is Carla Johnson.

Park Howell: Oh, I know Carla. She's fabulous.

Erik Martinez: Carla's fantastic. You know she has some of the same premises in her research and her work that you're talking about in your work. One of the key ones that we were talking about earlier is that we have gotten outta practice of doing these things. Or we've been discouraged from doing these things because we're not creative enough or we're [00:44:00] not whatever. There's a lot of commonality in what you're saying in that these things are native to us where it's inherent in our beings. We just have to learn how to use those skills again. The best way to hone your skills is to practice.

Tim Curtis: Yeah.

Erik Martinez: Practice, practice, Practice. So, for those of you listening, the implications are whether you're the person doing the work or not, your teams should be practicing these methodologies.

Just before we kind of move to wrap up here, I want to ask you one more question. This is something that came up in the book that I think is really, really common, and I know I'm totally guilty of doing this. Talk about how people trip themselves up by going into two narratives or more.

Park Howell: Ah, yes, and we all do that too. When you first write your ABTs, you're gonna find you're gonna cover a lot of ground in that first one, and there's gonna be two or three or four or five different narratives going on, and our brain is not wired for that. Again, think of our limbic brain as a survival [00:45:00] mechanism and it has one job, and that is survival of the being. That's why it's so powerful as a pattern-seeking, cause-and-effect brain. You know, when it's out on the Savannah, it sees something move over there, the pattern-seeking comes in and says, oops, that pattern was disrupted. What is that? Is that a cheetah or is that my buddy Tharg over there messing with me?

That brain has not changed today and that's why you wanna be able to use these frameworks so that you're playing exactly to that. You've gotta practice it day in and day out and just use it everywhere. And in fact, use it in fun places. In you're tweeting. You're already tweeting. Start writing tweets with this and, but, therefore framework and you're gonna see how it, will work for you, and to help you evolve from being intuitive, meaning you're just wing it out there too intentional so that you can win it every single time. I lost my train of thought there Erik. I don't even think I remotely answered your question.

Erik Martinez: We were talking about two narratives, right?

Park Howell: Oh, Thank you. Thank you. So, why that is important?

Erik Martinez: Park just had like six [00:46:00] narratives going on.

Park Howell: I was just going on and like where I lost my narrative right there. So, the narrative is that pattern. We don't wanna throw a bunch of patterns at the brain cause the brain's going, ah, I'm outta here. I'm not gonna pay attention to it. You have to have a singular narrative, meaning you were talking to a single individual about a single problem and how you can help them overcome that.

Now, quite often in a presentation, you will have two or three or four different problem solution points you wanna make, and that's fine. But I want you to think of that presentation like a Christmas tree. You're gonna find an ABT that has that singular narrative that you can relate all these other problems too. And then you're gonna ornament that tree with your other problems. But you want to keep coming back to that singular narrative.

There's a fantastic article, an outside magazine of all places written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and it was about Darfur. And he was back there covering it, was trying to figure out why these atrocities were happening, and [00:47:00] no one seemed to really care. And he started doing a bunch of digging into it. And the reason why is that they had way too many narratives going on, way too many people going on. And he finally realized that you have to focus on one child if you're gonna save 10,000 of them. You can't talk about 10,000 kids and have people care. But you can talk about that one little girl, Cecilia, and what she is going through, and oh by the way, there's 10,000 more of her just like that.

People will react to that singular narrative, that singular character. It's the way our survival brain is set up. So, when you are selling, you want to make sure that you have a singular narrative, that you're building everything else off of.

Erik Martinez: It's totally, totally relatable. I love it.

Park Howell: Great book out there, The One Thing, have you ever read that? The basic premise of the book is, what's the one thing you could do this morning that makes everything else irrelevant or unnecessary? We just take that to a greater detail. What is [00:48:00] that one thing you were talking about in this presentation?

Erik Martinez: No, that's awesome. So, Park, we have exhausted our time and I got a feeling we could spend another hour on this topic and not even scratch the surface of all the things that we could do with this powerful framework. So, if somebody wanted to reach out and learn from you, what's the best way to reach you?

Park Howell: Well, here's what I wanna do. The best way is my website, But let's take it up one step further. I really would like them to do the online course. It's only an hour, three 20-minute videos, it's $125. But with your show, I'm gonna build a landing page so you can get 30% off of that. And I'm gonna have you go to for Digital Velocity, You'll have a link there. I'll give you a promo code on that.

I'd give it to you for free, but you won't take it seriously if you take it for free. [00:49:00] You have to be invested in this and if you don't wanna do it, that's fine too. That's the best place because they're gonna get me 20-minute videos taking them through it. And then if they have interest or questions after that, they can shoot, you know, over to my email,, and go from there.

Erik Martinez: That's fantastic. Well Park, thank you so much for your time today and teaching us this wonderful framework and making us think about Digital Velocity a little harder. Tim and I got some work to do. That was a fantastic experience. I'm really, really glad that you took some time outta your very busy schedule to come talk to us.

Folks, that's all for this episode of Digital Velocity. Hope you enjoyed the content. Make sure you get a copy of Park's book. He actually has several books out, but this one is The Narrative Gym.

Park Howell: Actually The Narrative Gym for Business. There is a Narrative Gym out there, but that's for the science world.

Erik Martinez: The Narrative Gym for Business. We'll make sure that's in the show notes.

Park Howell: Oh, and [00:50:00] by the way, one other thing, Erik, two other things. I'm gonna put you two to the test. I want you to write your ABT, and when you're done with it for your show, email it to me, and then I'll give you some coaching, some email coaching.

Erik Martinez: That would be awesome.

Park Howell: Number two, on that landing page at, your listeners can also download a free copy of The Narrative Gym. They'll get it in PDF form. Really highly recommend the all of $7 printed form of it, but they can get a free entire book from that.

Erik Martinez: Awesome. We appreciate that offer. We'll definitely get that out to the audience. Well, that's it for this episode of Digital Velocity. I'm Erik Martinez from Blue Tangerine.

Tim Curtis: And I'm Tim Curtis from CohereOne.

Erik Martinez: Thanks and have a great day. [00:51:00]

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