“grab some popcorn!”
There was a time when people saw a cowboy with a cigarette in an advertisement and they bought in. Today, the cowboy of advertising still exists but marketers understand he is struggling to breathe. What’s a marketer to do?
Urbity—a digital marketing agency—and its founder, Brian Augsburger, have been growing, evolving to meet client requests. They’ve managed $90k per-month ad spends, and developed six-figure software projects. Brian always felt like they were catching up, however, and that limited Urbity’s potential for growth. His solution, and his dream, is creating Longform Stories for businesses. Getting it right would be tougher than Urbity’s other acquired skills, because this was a new beast. Longforms meant digging deep, finding meaning, and convincing a skeptical audience there is more to businesses than making money. This story is how Scroll Studio became a brand under Urbity, and a story of what marketing is in 2019.
Oh, and the story started Monday, due to unexpected developments. Brian has five days to get Scroll’s story live because the advertisements run next week, whether this is finished or not. Here we go.
ONE: Marketing We hardly know ya
Brian knows marketing. Or so he thought. He struggles to understand why his great idea couldn’t gain traction.
VIDEO: Gut Feeling
Brian has faith in his big idea. Now he just needs proof.
Two: An Unfinished Product
Brian focuses on a new approach to marketing. That means reaching out for help from an unlikely ally.
Three: The screw begins to tighten
An outsider offers his assistance to Scroll on a more full-time basis. Is it too much too soon?
Four: Sheer Power of We'll
Sometimes the clock doesn’t care how long perfection takes. Scroll is so close, and yet so far.
VIDEO: Solid Facts
Brian tests his beliefs using new technology, hoping he likes the results.
FIVE: The story shouldn't end here
Scroll goes live. Brian’s not ready to pop the champagne yet, however…
Seen 'Mad Men'? Then you're familiar with the power that Ad Men once held. Most modern marketers aren't enjoying two-martini lunches anymore.
Logispics was a great idea.
A mobile app that, after taking a photo, could measure available space in a partially-filled semi trailer, and automatically match the driver with another company needing space along the route. It had potential to save shipping companies tens of millions by collecting fees from rented trailer space.
Brian and his cofounders spent countless hours developing the app. It worked perfectly. Brian also devoted his time (and Urbity’s) to creating a gorgeous sales presentation, an email chain, white papers, savings calculators, and advertisements.
It wasn’t that shipping executives didn’t want to save tens of millions, but they received the same claim from cold-callers several times a day. Why should they believe Logispics was any different from thousands of third-party logistics firms?
And this bothered Brian most. Logispics wasn’t a 3PL. He included every technical detail, video demonstrations, and case studies to prove it. He had 10 years of marketing experience, and he couldn’t break through to prospects. His role within the startup was to convince its audience, and he couldn’t hook one buyer.
After Logispics “went on hiatus” during 2016, Brian’s brother sent him a link from The New York Times. It came with a smartass subject line. One that held a lot more meaning than Brian realized that moment.
“You guys doing stuff like this yet?”
What Brian saw surprised him. It wasn’t a New York Times article. But it was a New York Times article. It was promotional content—it said so right at the top. “Paid for and Posted by PHILIPS,” the last word appearing in the healthcare conglomerate’s signature blue formatting.
Brian could have been fooled.
He read, curiously at first, then fully engaged—about a choir performing at the historic Apollo Theater. One thing linked the members: They all suffered from chronic breathing conditions. That story paused, and Brian clicked at a chart displaying data on smoking trends and its correlation to rising rates of COPD. Then, another anecdote—a man with 30% breathing capacity able to pursue his bicycling passion thanks to portable technology. It was all interesting, but Brian bought in when he watched the first video, which accompanied the choir. None could sing, until Gareth Malone—an acclaimed choral conductor—taught them more efficient vocal methods. Brian hardly noticed they were all using portable Philips devices to assist their breathing.
Urbity wrote blog posts. Urbity took photos, edited videos. Urbity designed and built software to engage users. But the creative team at The New York Times also told a story in the process. Brian reached the bottom of the page, both awed and satisfied. It felt like the first time he saw The Shawshank Redemption.
Brian knew as soon as he finished. He wanted this. He wanted the tools, the equipment, the budget, to do this. He wanted Urbity to tell stories.
part 1 of 2
Brian has spent countless hours and plenty of cash to create what he believes will be the future of marketing. Something that bucks all of the trends. Now he just needs to see if it works. Brian has no doubt that what he believes is true. OK, he's got a bit of doubt, especially with this much riding on it.
A classic marketing adage is to "sell the hole, not the drill." But perhaps it's better to sell the picture you hang thanks to the hole.
Two years later, Brian was out thousands of dollars, and he felt great.
The desire to tell stories—the desire to do something big—never left, but Brian took his time acting upon them (it was tough to throw cash around while Logispics hung over his head). Urbity was doing fine, and it’s tougher to embrace progress when living comfortably. The Augsburgers had added a third child and moved into a new home. Urbity paid for these things. So when Brian told Janie, his wife, that he was launching a separate company—Scroll—to pursue the dream he had been putting off, her moment of silence was longer than he would have hoped. That he fronted thousands for an advertising campaign did not sit so comfortably with the woman who managed the family’s budget. BRIAN FROM SCROLL OK, but why the name “Scroll”? Brian explains. Play audio
Brian knew, however, that money was an expression of faith in his vision… and provided a deadline he couldn’t ignore. It was paying for spots on three Mixergy podcasts, and a nod of approval from Andrew Warner, an icon among entrepreneurs. Mixergy had published more than 1,500 podcast interviews, as well as founders teaching numerous courses. It was a place where people who wanted to do things differently—people who wanted to do things right—people like Brian, went to learn.
If there was an audience for Longform Stories—the title Brian had selected—then it would be listening to these podcasts. As an added benefit, the guaranteed run-time for the promotion forced Scroll to publish its own story by a set date. Or else Urbity would have a lot of egg on its face, possibly losing prospects.
This added urgency to Brian’s need to understand how stories actually work. He read books and blogs by Storynomics’ Robert McKee, Narrative First’s James Hull, and bestseller James Scott Bell. He listened to podcasts, and took a 12-week course on non-fiction storytelling. He shared this knowledge graciously to Janie over dinner. He accepted her unblinking stare as confirmation for his beliefs.
Unfortunately, for all the work they put in, the results just didn’t feel like a complete story. It was good… maybe 90% good. The protagonist (Brian) was sympathetic. The conflict was very real. There were themes, controlling ideas, inciting incidents. They checked all the boxes. But in his gut, Brian knew something was missing.
Brian needed authenticity. At the onset of his career, he worked for an SEO firm. He watched clients pay for services they didn’t understand, and the staff could only assure them “it took time,” as SEO became more and more competitive. Although this was honest, the lack of transparency bothered Brian. He knew he couldn’t hide behind shoddy work with Scroll.
And that’s how he got in touch with Jim Hull.
Hull founded Narrative First, a storytelling consultancy, stemming from his combined experiences as a director, storyboard artist, and animator for studios ranging from Warner Brothers to Disney. His site offered content he built around Dramatica—a recent narrative theory focusing on a systematic approach to storytelling. The word “system” instantly lured Brian, but there was no denying Hull’s knack for demonstration. His blog offered film reviews while explaining exactly why plots succeeded or failed based on Dramatica.
Brian needed direction so he sent Hull a message. He had already spent over $5,000 on advertising, what was a few more bucks toward product development?
Brian expected “customer service,” but he loved how enthusiastically Hull attacked his topics.
“But Red is actually the Main Character because, even though he isn’t the protagonist, the audience sees the story through his eyes,” Jim explained. "The Protagonist is the one driving the story forward. Everyone confuses the two because they think “Main Character” and “Protagonist” mean the same thing. They don't. You should check out Roma for an example. It’s a decent pick for Best Picture this year.”
“Awesome, yeah I will!” Brian said, wondering where he would find time to see a movie. He already spent hundreds of hours figuring this thing out… his wife probably wouldn’t mind another two.
Many story drafts find the trash before they make it to your eyes. A stronger story emerges from the ashes.
Brian finished reading Scroll’s story draft and leaned back.
Logispics failed because they couldn’t cut through the noise. Brian assumed a big enough idea would catch the eye simply because it was unique. The quality of the product meant nothing when the competition was so loud. Brian felt it wasn’t the traditional formats he used—email chains, white papers, sales scripts—but the content. He provided convincing data and arguments. Compelling… if people read it. He wondered what would have happened if he grabbed his audience by the heart, instead of the brain.
The Scroll story just wasn’t complete. All the pieces were there. It looked great. But it didn’t feel great. All he had was a gut feeling, but he knew it was missing something.
Oh well. It was late, and he planned on buying Janie wine on the ride home, hopefully to make up for the late night. This is what he was paying Jim to look at. It was 90% of the way there. Jim would find the other 10%.
Jim read through the draft Brian sent him. It was halfway there, better than what he usually dealt with. There were two Throughlines missing, but that was typical. As he routinely noted on his film reviews, a missing Throughline killed audience reception, and two? Forget about it. That’s half the story. This would take some working out.
Jim had appreciated their call, and Brian’s goals—utilizing storytelling to emotionally engage prospects. It all fell in line with what Jim sold as the goal of a good story, but taken to a new end.
Jim had been toying with a bold idea for the past few days, but the draft sold him. He began typing a response.
It had been a while since Brian was this excited for a call.
He received an email from Jim earlier in the day—an email suggesting a partnership with Scroll. James Hull, an expert, literally wanted to be a part of Scroll. Brian kept it to himself at the office, but gave a 20-minute oration to Janie when he got home, guessing at what inspired Jim to make such an offer, and what it could mean for Scroll.
They discussed storytelling, its power, the emotions it could invoke. Brian knew Scroll was capable of making something good—with Jim’s help, he felt they were on the brink of something great. Eventually, of course, they needed to turn to the call’s original purpose: edits for the first draft.
“It’s really promising, I like what I see so far,” Jim said, continuing the enthusiasm. “You guys are halfway there.”
Brian tried to mimic the enthusiasm in Jim’s voice. Halfway there? He thought Scroll’s story was one quick edit away from being done. Ideally, he intended to have it online one week from today. If the Longform needed as much work as Jim implied, Scroll could be in trouble.
Your Brain on Facts
Giving the audience a fact engages two parts of the brain, those used for language recognition and comprehension. They hear what you say, and understand. Simple as that.
Your Brain on Story
What if you tell them a story? This engages five other parts of the brain, as seeking meaning in stories requires more mental participation. More brain, more meaning!
Brian felt buyer’s remorse when Monday morning arrived.
The amount of work Jim’s edits required, and the amount of time Scroll had to do them, was intimidating. Jim’s expertise was intimidating on its own. His emails were complex… or, Brian feared, he was too amateur to understand them.
Brian explained his anxieties to Jim during a call.
“You don’t need to know inciting incidents, or tension or suspense. These are all just storytelling devices that don’t have an answer beyond your intention,” Jim told him. “ When I was just getting started I was so committed to protagonist-conflict-plot. But once I figured out Throughlines, it all started coming together. I loved it again, it wasn’t just a job anymore.”
Brian felt a wind under his wings. It felt good to hear Jim say that because, honestly, it had been feeling a lot like a “job.” Brian hadn’t seriously thought about pulling the plug on Scroll, but it crossed his mind.
Brian left the conference room feeling pumped.
Brian had a second draft on Wednesday. It still wasn’t perfect, and he knew that. It caught the eye, it flowed, it connected with him emotionally. Some additional chiseling from a master craftsman, and it would be a gem. Brian had spent so long looking to marketing to find solutions for his marketing problems. Now, when it counted, he had looked outward to other industries. It was literally “marketing-meets-Hollywood.” The plot was developing. The lights were brightening. Scroll was growing into something big, something real.
And so was Brian.
Brian got home from work at 6:30. He managed to get out earlier, but he also went in at 7:00. He sat down for dinner, and listened to tales of what his family did during the day, which he enthusiastically engaged in. Brian had a few more tasks to take care of after dinner. He went to the fridge for a well-deserved beer.
“What are you doing?” Janie gave him a strong glance. “Two hours. Ruby and Hanes have another hour before bed, so you got home just in time to hold up the deal.”
She was right. Brian knew the long days was taking a toll on Janie too. She dealt with it well for the past few months. But she had limits. She could handle the loss of her own Brian-time, to a degree. But she refused to accept the same for their children. Brian agreed, and swore to at least two hours with the kids every night. Work could wait. “Yup, yup!” he said, before turning to the kids. “I’m going to go play in the basement. Anyone else interested?”
The new basement was a great playroom when you added IKEA play furniture. Brian’s days might be long right now, but Urbity had paid for this home, plus the renovations and furniture his wife chose. Urbity had done well for him. If Scroll somehow didn’t pan out, he and his staff would survive.
Brian met one of his biggest clients for lunch the next day. They were putting Urbity’s services on hold while waiting for the next big project. Brian’s Scroll cushion—Urbity—was suddenly less soft. But even if he wanted to pump the brakes on Scroll, he had already paid for the ads.
Brian contemplated an alternative… maybe instructing Mixergy to advertise Urbity, not Scroll. His core business shrank since he turned his focus toward Scroll. It might be more prudent to give Urbity some TLC before committing to Scroll, an unproven concept.
He ran the idea by Janie when he got home. He assumed she would tend toward the option that didn’t keep him at the office late every night.
“That sounds a bit like what happened with Logispics.”
Her response surprised him. It was nothing like Logispics. Logispics didn’t fold because it was put on hold. They just put Logispics on hold and…
And never came back. They forgot Logispics and went back to their comfortable, reliable jobs.
“You should finish it,” she said, surprising Brian again. “You spoke to me about the money for the ads, and I thought—still think—that Scroll means something to you. So I agreed. That money is spent. If the ads don’t get any buyers... they just don’t. It will suck but at least you’ll know. I know you still get stressed about the Logispics what-ifs. I don’t want Scroll to be the same way. Especially since this is your vision, not just a business opportunity.”
She told him goodnight and rolled over. It would be a while before he fell asleep.
Scrolls and Scrolling may be separated by two millenia’s worth of technology, but the meaning is the same: Engaging content keeps them reading.
Brian would continue with Scroll. It was Thursday, and Brian had sent Jim a draft. He still felt like the story was 90% of the way there. But the last 10% could be rough, and time was running out.
Jim’s edits came hard-and-heavy, which is what Scroll needed.
"This gets lost—should be a big deal. The way it was written in the previous version seemed stronger.” Brian told his writer to reinsert the scene where he played in the basement, to emphasize the impact of Urbity losing a customer.
“Deadlines tend to alienate people. That's why you don't see too many films where there’s a ticking clock. Focus on the days passing by instead, and give your readers the feeling time is running out.” Brian removed the word “deadline,” which didn’t make him feel any less rushed.
“We need to conclude the Logispics Throughline. It’s such a huge part of your character development and the audience is going to be left scratching their heads if you don’t bring some closure.” Brian went back to the drawing board, figuring out how he got over Logispics. This one was toughest, Brian didn’t know the answer.
Paragraphs were typed. Paragraphs were edited. Edits were argued. Curses were uttered. For those who didn’t know better, it might come across as chaos. But Brian was able to pick through the mess and emotions, and see a story developing.
Last week he was an experienced marketer who wanted to tell stories. He still was. But Jim’s input was invaluable. “Marketing meets Hollywood.” No special effects yet, but the story’s evolution indicated a hell of a makeup team. This was real.
Another email arrived in Brian’s inbox… another round of edits from Jim. One more late night at the office.
But Brian’s gut told him this late night would be better than the last dozen.
part 2 of 2
Thanks to an EEG device, Brian can record the brainwaves of unbiased participants as they read a Longform. He might be able to see the brainwaves, but he can't force the brainwaves to behave the way he hopes they will. He reaches out to a neuroscience consultant, with fingers crosses, to find out if his beliefs hold true.
Every business owner knows the stress of making that big investment in themselves. But they also know that if they didn’t believe their story, they wouldn’t have started writing it.
Brian went to the office fridge and grabbed a beer. He decreed a casual gathering in the conference room for the team to relax, and appreciate the sum of its effort as Scroll’s Longform went live. “Thanks,” his writer said, accepting the beer. “You did it. It looks great.”
Brian grinned. He almost gave a platitude like “we did it,” but it sounded sappy.And you know what? Brian had done it. It felt good.
“How you feeling?” Jim grinned at Brian via web call.
Brian smiled, leaning back in his chair, exhausted and satisfied. He felt good. They had gotten it done. “It’s a weird feeling, man,” he said. “It’s like, I’ve got so much on the line right now, I should be nervous. But there’s this thing where, I just know this is going to happen. I know people are going to understand what Scroll is all about. I feel like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. I built it and I just know they’re going to come.” Andrew From MIXERGY Mixergy’s Andrew Warner on how his company’s story makes a difference. Play audio
He chuckled. “With some promotion and advertising, of course.”
Jim laughed. He enjoyed being on the other side of an apt film reference.
“Well, a great movie still needs a great Marketing department, “ Jim said. “And that's why Scroll Studio works—because it recognizes the common ground between us. Scroll takes the very best of digital marketing and mixes it with the latest in cutting-edge storytelling. The possibilities are endless.”
And that’s when it hit Brian. His own personal ending.
He spent so much time trying to figure out why Logispics failed, that he completely missed out on all the possibilities that were there with the team he created.
Brian smiled to himself. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
During the ‘50s, advertising worked. Now people don’t even see ads. The 21st Century ushered in content marketing. It worked briefly, but the novelty has already begun to wear off from an increasingly cynical population. Does marketing’s future lie in advanced technology we haven’t imagined yet?
We don’t think so.
We created Scroll Studio because we believe emotion is the core element behind a sale—and storytelling is the best way to rebuild the emotional connection lost over generations. A great product is necessary. The best products are built from the best ideas, and the best ideas are nourished by the stories they grow from. The ideas that change the world are rooted in the stories they grow from.
There’s more to your company—to you—than a product. There is a big idea. The best way to spread those big ideas are with your story.
Are you ready to tell it?