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Have a hero and a villain
In my website (http://eloquentenglish.com/2016/05/02/the-power-of-the-story/), I talk about what makes a good story. It’s all about having a hero we’re interested in, the challenges (villains) that this person must conquer and his/her transformation at the end. The best stories contain some type of universal message that we can all understand and believe in.
Think of your organisation as the hero, fighting a villain. The villain could be world hunger. The abuse of women. Factors that keep people unemployed. Your organisation wants to change that. Does your website and other material effectively show your ongoing battle with the forces of darkness? OK, that’s a little exaggerated—but you want to paint your organisation colours of vivid transformation and luminous optimism. People react strongly to that. They don’t react to a series of statistics and non-passionate language.
Make people care through personal stories
Which is more powerful to the average reader:
660,000 women are forced into marriage every year
When she was 12, Sasha was sold in marriage to to a 55-year-old man.
The second one will get your attention quicker. Certainly, statistics are important, but make sure that your statistics merely support the powerful story you want to tell.
Business presenter guru Nancy Duarte shows how the most powerful business presentations have the same structure as the world’s most earth-changing speeches. Both these talks, Duarte states, describe a world as it is. The presenter then highlights a problem in that world (abuse of women) and how his solution will help eradicate that problem. According to Duarte, the best speeches continually contrast the “old” world versus the “new”, proposed world that is being presented in the speech.
Here is a website that does a brilliant girl of combing facts with the personal. The language is simple and powerful.
On the website’s front page you read:
“MORE THAN 60 MILLION GIRLS AROUND THE WORLD ARE NOT IN SCHOOL.
“And we’re on a mission to educate 1 million of them.
And we want YOU to join us.
“It’s not okay with us that an 11 year old girl can be sold to a 55 year old man in the name of marriage. It’s not okay that a 12 year old girl is forced to sell herself in a brothel to earn money to survive. Stories like this that we hear each week are not inevitable. We CAN do something about it.
“Education changes everything.”
You get a statistic, certainly. But that statistic is stated vividly: 60 million girls are not in school. In doesn’t say “60 million girls are uneducated.” That’s boring. Onegirl make this statistic an actual activity–or the lack of an activity that can cause great harm.
They use the “it’s not OK” refrain beautifully to make it clear who the villain is: factors that allow girls to be abused.
Also, the organisation actually makes YOU—the potential donor—the hero. How smart is that? The website makes you believe that, with your donation, YOU can create a new, better world in which young women have a chance to contribute to this world.
So when you’re thinking about your organisation’s website, think passion. Heroism. changing the world. And make an unforgettable story about it.
Well, the first thing she can tell you is that you should have a really snappy beginning to a story to grab the readers’ (listeners’) attention—because this article is more about Nefertiti’s famous husband, the Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaten. But if I had started with Akhenaten, many of you might not have been interested in reading further, so I put Nefertiti in there as the carrot. Sorry! But I hope that now you’re reading this article and will continue.
Let’s talk about Akhenaten. Some of you may have heard of him as the popularly called “Heretic Pharaoh”. Here’s the history: Akhenaten was ruler of Egypt during the 14th century B.C.E., of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. His father, the pharaoh Amenhotep III, oversaw a country at the height of its artistic and international powers. The Hittites, Babylonians, and Assyrians all enjoyed peaceful relations with Egypt, through mutual exchanges of wives and countless treasures. And over it all, the priests of Amun Ra, with their formidable economic and social power, kept tight spiritual reigns on the Egyptian populace, and the ruling family.
Things got weird with Akhenaten. He rocked the boat.
He appeared to have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the powerful grip of the Amun Ra priesthood. (Initially, Akhenaten wasn’t called by that name; he was logically called Amenhotep IV.) By the fifth year of his reign, he moved the capital to a godforsaken place in the Egyptian desert that he called “Akhetaten,” or “Horizon of the Aten.”
Back up. Who is Aten? Well, it’s complicated (as is anything related to religion—and ancient religion, especially). Suffice it to say that most Egyptologists agree that the Aten initially was simply the disk of the sun itself, and part of the god Ra (which is part of the honcho god Amun-Ra . . . see, everything having to do with religion gets complicated). Akhenaten took this lowly disk and elevated it to premiere, creator godship status; indeed, he wrote a lyrical “Hymn to the Aten”:
How manifold it is, what thou hast made!
They are hidden from the face (of man).
O sole god, like whom there is no other!
Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts . . . 1
So. Intoxicated by this one god who created the universe, Akhenaten built a new city, built gorgeous, sun-filled temples, and basically told the priests of Amun-Ra that they were out of a job— and that the populace should worship him and his family. Aten would bless the royal family, who would then pass on the blessings to all of Egypt.
Not a good idea.
Fast forward: Eradication of a legacy. After Akhenaten’s death, eventually his son (?) son-in-law (??–different theories abound), the famous Tutankhamen became pharaoh. Initially, in keeping with his father (?) father-in-law(?)’s radical framework, he was called Tutankhnaten. Soon thereafter, however, his name changed to the old Tutankhamen, and he and the royal family deserted the city of Akhetaton. Tut died at an early age. Murdered? Good chance. While several people could claim the title of King Tut’s murderer, most scholars agree that the proponents of the “old ways,” in alignment with the priesthood of the old god, Amun-Ra, were behind the killing.
Indeed, very soon thereafter, the succeeding rulers, Ay and Horemheb, did their best to delete any record of this royal, heretical pharaoh and his offspring: they tore down the new temples, smashed the …Aten family names out of the historical record, and had a great time deleting their faces from statues and artwork.
So what’s the message here?
Akhenaton had a story, but it wasn’t a good one. Not for his time. Not for his place.
- Number one: Too-radical break with tradition. While he began gently, eventually Akhenaten insisted that all the other gods just were not relevant to the prosperity of Egypt. His way was the only way.
- Number two: Unaware of power structure. Akhenaten seemed heedless of the dangers of the powerful ruling priesthood.
- Number three: An impersonal god with no resonance attaching itself to the old god. The Aten was not a personal god as was Amun-Ra, who was worshipped in households humble to palatial. The Aten was impersonal, theoretical; Amun-Ra had more human-like attributes that people could relate to.
In modern terms: It would be as if the Pope today suddenly announced that the Trinity has been a lie all along, that Jesus Christ really can be found somewhere within a subatomic particle. (This, too, would not be a good idea—but an interesting one!)
- Number four: Not appropriate for its time. The populace, and the ruling class, had no need for this radical restructuring of religion. The people (subjected as they doubtless were) were happy worshipping their many gods. They could be easily controlled vis-à-vis their many gods. This kept the priesthood and ruling class very happy, and Egypt could keep flowing along, just like the Nile . . .
In his book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, Stephen Denning talks about corporate leaders needing a springboard story to urge employees to take the exciting, but potentially scary, next step towards organizational change: This story, Denning states, must be easy to grasp; have a single protagonist; and tell a clear story that epitomizes, in easy language, where the company wants to go, and why this step would be a good idea. This way, the story shows how individuals can make a difference within an organization—the story points the way.
Akhenaten did not have the right story.
Next time, we’ll talk about another great reformer, Martin Luther, and why his story of Church reform became a mass media sensation that truly rocked the world.
I have my own company, Eloquent English (www.eloquentenglish.com) that helps people find their own stories. Remember: It’s your story. Get it right.