Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

10 Brand Storytelling Lessons from Bruce Springsteen

Book cover image to Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run

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When I read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run in January, I learned that he and I have a few things in common.

  • Both of us like the smell of coffee but not the taste.
  • Neither of us can read sheet music.
  • Both of us grew up in New Jersey (okay I knew that), in a family with two girls and one boy.
  • Both of us learned our craft on the job.

While I have long enjoyed his music, learning these details about Bruce Springsteen’s life made me feel more connected to him and to his music. They are experiences that I can relate to and empathize with. They make his larger-than-life persona more accessible to me.

Other details enhanced my connection to his music as well. Learning that the song “The River” was written about his sister Virginia gives it gravitas.

When Virginia first heard “The River” she hugged Bruce and said “That’s my life.” He called her reaction “the best review I’ve ever gotten.”

As famous as he is now, it still matters that the people close to him understand his art and recognize the stories he tells. I love that.

Both the book and his songs prove Bruce Springsteen as a master storyteller.

Learn Brand Storytelling from The Boss

Here are 10 lessons from his book that you can use to tell your brand’s story.

  1. Tell your story to a member of your key audience. Speak to one person, rather than formally addressing a large group. Bruce’s autobiography reads as if he is talking to you over lunch at a diner. A very long lunch.
  2. Respect your listener’s level of knowledge. Bruce knew that the primary reader for his autobiography would be a long-time fan. When he talked about how Ronald Reagan tried to associate “Born in the U.S.A.” with his 1984 presidential campaign during New Jersey campaign stops, instead of describing the outcome he finished with ”And you know the rest.” He knew that his reader would get his reference and enjoy being in the know.
  3. Avoid a chronological recounting of facts. Straight chronologies are yawn fests and generate no emotional connection. While Born to Run is arranged chronologically, most of Bruce’s storytelling focuses on insights on his life, his family and his friends.
  4. Include characters. Bruce Springsteen may be the lead and the brand, but he could not tell his story without featuring family, friends and business relationships. Characters tell the story through their actions. Your brand’s characters help make the story yours. Emotional connections occur when readers relate to them.
  5. Be authentic. Your story needs to be true, but not necessarily perfect. Bruce shared his dysfunctional family childhood, his struggles with relationships, and his lifelong battle with depression because these struggles served his story theme.  His trials and mistakes humanized him and made him relatable.
  6. Have a theme. Bruce’s theme was to show the reader how he came to be a musician and band leader. It’s a thread that he weaves through the entire book. The origin of a brand is a good theme for brand stories as well, but not the only one.
  7. Include your audience’s role. Bruce talks about how his audience’s reactions factored into his evolution as a musician and how the interaction among band members influenced the band’s composition. Good brand stories feature their customers and other constituents as well.
  8. Research and double check your facts. Credibility builds trust, and inaccuracies in your story can undermine your brand. Once Bruce had hit the big time, he went back to New Jersey to interview people in the places he wanted to write about in his songs to ensure that he was keeping it real.
  9. Edit for relevance and discretion. This may be surprising given the 508-page length of his autobiography, but at the end Bruce says “I haven’t told you ‘all’ about myself. Discretion and the feelings of others don’t allow it. But in a project like this, a writer has made one promise: to show the reader his mind. In these pages I’ve tried to do that.”
  10. Convey why you do what you do. What Bruce says about a writer’s promise above is true for your brand’s story too. Show the reader your brand’s purpose.

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography is one long story comprised of many smaller ones. It was told from a particular point of view. It could have been shaped from many different angles.

The same is true for telling stories about your brand. There isn’t one definitive story, and the overall arc of your brand’s story is served by many smaller ones that support it.

What is most important is to use stories to make your brand memorable, to differentiate it and to connect emotionally to your audience. Just like Bruce does.

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Netflix Ain’t Chillin’

Netflix logoWhat do Netflix and “The Godfather” have in common?

Both showcase visionary brands that have succeeded with unorthodox methods.

In Netflix’s case, to paraphrase Mario Puzo, keep your friends close and your competitors on the payroll.

Wait – what? read more

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Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

Open Manila Envelope with Approved Brand Mission peaking out

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I hate clutter. You might not know that from the condition of my home, but I do.

To reduce clutter, I regularly donate what we no longer use to the Big Brother Big Sister Foundation.

But prevention is the holy grail. I scrutinize purchase considerations and proffered hand-me-downs.  If I can’t envision their use we decline.

My clutter aversion makes me a wary outdoor market shopper though I love to look.  On a crisp mid-October Sunday I was perusing the last-of-the-season markets in Boston’s South End with friends, purchase-free until I met Kate Kellman. read more

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A Glovely Idea

Clorox Premium Choice Gloves incident highlights importance of user experienceDear Clorox:

I am an avid user of your Premium Choice Gloves which are “Neoprene Dipped for Extra Durability and Protection.”  Though I was not searching for neoprene-dipped gloves, I have become a loyal user of them as they are the most durable rubber gloves that Target sells to protect my hands as I scrub pots and pans.

Otherwise my hands would resemble those of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Usually I buy two pairs at a time, so when the first pair fails – via a tear in one of the gloves – I have a back-up pair ready.

Here’s the thing though.  It’s always the right glove that goes first.  read more

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Score More From Your Marketing

Fisher Stadium at Lafayette College - football game in progressOn Saturday September 24th I spent a beautiful evening with my family at Fisher Stadium in Easton, Pennsylvania, watching the Lafayette College Leopards play football against the Villanova Wildcats.

The weather was about all the Leopards had going for them. read more

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Eye of the Buyer

Eye of the buyerTwo weeks ago Fidelity took me on a frustrating financial odyssey. 

This summer Fidelity ditched long-time credit card partners American Express and Bank of America to consolidate its service with Elan Financial Services.  Anyone holding a Fidelity credit card received a new Fidelity Visa Signature card from Elan.

I was one of the 550,000+ who received a new card.  It was unclear to me whether I needed to re-designate where I wanted my rewards to go, so I tried to log into the new Fidelity Visa card website. read more

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How to Use Surveys Strategically

Survey on a clipboard - how to do surveys strategically and wellOur world has gotten feedback happy.  And it’s annoying.

In a 48-hour period at the beginning of May I received five surveys.

One paper survey via snail mail with 66 questions to rate my son’s pediatrician.  One online survey from a hotel I had stayed at the prior weekend and another from a hotel stay two weeks before.  A third online survey from the conference I had just attended, and a fourth one from OpenTable for the restaurant I had dined in the Friday before. read more

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5 Ways A Good Rivalry Benefits Your Brand

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Do you know who Michael Phelps is?

Unless you have been living behind a boulder, you probably do. (I avoid clichés.)  The 31-year-old swimming phenom has 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, and has set numerous world records.

Phelps’ main rival, Ryan Lochte, has 11 Olympic medals.  Without Phelps present Lochte could be considered the best male swimmer of all time.  But he happened to come of age at the same time as Phelps and therefore has an underdog position to him. read more

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How FitBit Stays Fit

array of FitBit productsI have been exercising regularly most of my life.  As a high energy person, I discovered in my teens that expending this energy often helped my sanity.  And that of the people around me.

In high school I took modern dance classes.  In college I took aerobics classes.

When I moved to Boston, I found a gym and cajoled myself to go there a few times a week.  read more

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A College Brand Standout

3 blank college pennants - one navy, one gray, one maroon.

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On April 20th, as I sat in an auditorium at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I had my marketing heart stolen.

My son AJ and I were in the process of a 1000-mile tour to revisit three colleges to help him choose one.

On that beautiful Wednesday morning, AJ was sitting in on a class while I attended a one-hour parent session conducted by Neil Weissman, Dean of the College. read more

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