The Six Trajectories of Storytelling

MIT Technology Review: “Andrew Reagan at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a few pals … have used sentiment analysis to map the emotional arcs of over 1,700 stories and then used data-mining techniques to reveal the most common arcs. ‘We find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives,’ they say.”

“The six basic emotional arcs are these: A steady, ongoing rise in emotional valence, as in a rags-to-riches story such as Alice’s Adventures Underground by Lewis Carroll. A steady ongoing fall in emotional valence, as in a tragedy such as Romeo and Juliet. A fall then a rise, such as the man-in-a-hole story, discussed by Vonnegut. A rise then a fall, such as the Greek myth of Icarus. Rise-fall-rise, such as Cinderella. Fall-rise-fall, such as Oedipus.”

“It turns out the most popular are stories that follow the Icarus and Oedipus arcs and stories that follow more complex arcs that use the basic building blocks in sequence. In particular, the team says the most popular are stories involving two sequential man-in-hole arcs and a Cinderella arc followed by a tragedy.”

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Dress Local: Starbucks Fashion in the ‘Hood

The Washington Post: “Starbucks employees will continue to wear the green or black aprons that you’re used to seeing when you hit up their stores. But lots of subtle changes are coming to what workers can wear underneath. Previously, they could only wear black, white and khaki clothing; now, the palette is more varied and includes other subdued colors such as blue, gray and brown. And they are now permitted to wear patterned shirts.”

“By giving employees more flexibility in how they dress, Starbucks is trying to distinguish itself from other employers with comparable schedules and wages … But the dress code for any retailer is not just a talent strategy: It’s also about telegraphing a certain feeling to customers. And by allowing more personalized attire, Starbucks seems to be doing something that is in keeping with a broader strategic trend in retail these days. Mega-chains across a variety of shopping categories are trying to make individual stores reflect their local neighborhoods.”

“Starbucks workers in Brooklyn will likely embrace the dress code differently than those in Miami or in a small, Midwestern college town. And perhaps that can give each of the chain’s outposts a more varied, localized feel.”

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The Economic Value of ‘Cool’

Quartz: “Cool doesn’t just explain why people will pay $1,000 for the right sweatshirt. It’s also arguably a factor in why the right logo makes us view some people as more suitable for a job, or worthy of receiving money for charity … Cool is a target that’s constantly shifting. It’s an attitude, a term of approval, and today, as much as any of these things, it’s a game of superficially rebellious status-chasing, centered on consumerism.”

“Steven Quartz and Anette Asp, neuroscience researchers at the California Institute of Technology, have run fMRI studies on the brains of people looking at items that a separate group identified as ‘cool’ or ‘uncool.’ Just viewing these objects activated a part of the subjects’ brains called the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). It’s involved in social emotions, such as pride and embarrassment, that center on how we perceive ourselves and believe others perceive us, and it has strong ties to the brain’s reward and disgust circuits.”

They write: “Cool turns out to be a strange kind of economic value that our brains see in products that enhance our social image … This abstract good—social approval, reputation, esteem, or status—plays a central role in our motivation and behavior, and it is the currency that drives much of our economy and our consumption.”

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‘Stealth Social’ Makes Pokémon Go

The Wall Street Journal: “It’s important to understand why Pokémon Go is such a hit, because … it might be a harbinger of new types of mobile and social apps, which put the ‘social’ back in ‘social network’ … The stealth social element is that Pokémon Go, while not explicitly about bringing people together, is doing so anyway as people playing it meet and share tips in their hunt for virtual monsters that the game shows in real-life neighborhoods.”

“Those real-life encounters are, paradoxically, a consequence of the lack of social features in Pokémon Go … (It) has no chat function, no map showing the location of other players—in short, no way to connect with others aside from meeting them in person. Nor does Pokémon Go require players to interact—it’s entirely possible to play the game without having any contact with anyone. Even the one naturally social element of the game—battling against others’ Pokémon—can take place on a player’s own schedule, with no one else present.”

“Many game designers have derided the design of Pokémon Go, calling it simplistic and trite. But it’s apparent from the game’s success that, intentionally or not, its simplicity accounts for much of its success.”

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Hotels: All Hospitality Is Local

The New York Timess: “Westin … is finding, as many hotel chains are, that a local clientele can help even out the ups and downs of the lodging business. And locals can even help out-of-towners feel more at home.” The focus is “on getting repeat business from a local following. So the innkeepers are sponsoring running clubs or organizing other attractions like author readings, art shows or musical performances … The theory is that a vibrant group of local patrons can make the hotel more attractive to out-of-town lodgers.”

“To breathe new life into its public spaces, Marriott has experimented with various ways to attract an in-town clientele. Its Renaissance Hotels brand a few years ago created an online concierge service, supplemented by recommendations and insights from local ‘navigators’ … And the company recently completed a five-week test in the Baltimore-Washington area in which local Marriott Rewards members could earn points by drinking or dining at 21 of its hotels in the region.”

Hotel analyst David Loeb comments: “The best advertisement for a hotel is the local community. If you can get locals to have a good experience, however they spread that word, it’s a positive.”

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Zappos: A Short Story About a Long Call

Business Insider: “A Zappos employee recently had a customer service call that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes, breaking an internal record at the Amazon-owned online retailer … Steven Weinstein answered a call from a customer who needed some help with an order of a few items. The two began to chat, and even after she was helped, she stayed on the line.”

“Weinstein said he only took one break during the nearly 11-hour period, about two-and-a-half hours on, to go to the bathroom. One of his colleagues brought him food and water during the call.”

“At Zappos, call center employees are trained to use interactions with customers as a way to build relationships, not make a sale. And if a call is going long during a particularly busy time, then it’s up to the employee overseeing the call center to assign more people to calls rather than encourage an employee to end a call early. The last longest customer service call was set by Mary Tennant in 2012, at nine hours and 37 minutes.”

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Spotify Pinpoints With Some Privacy

Christian Science Monitor: “Spotify announced this week that it is opening up user data collected from its 70 million free subscribers for programmatic, automated advertising.” However: “Spotify has not said that it will share the unique identities of users with advertisers. Instead, the shared data is limited to information like listeners’ age, gender, location, music preferences, and some behavioral habits.”

“This information will enable advertisers to pinpoint specific demographics for their ads on Spotify. Buyers will bid on ad spaces in real time– a trail-blazing step in the digital advertising world, and an example of the many ways digital companies wield the massive amounts of data that they have at their fingertips.”

“Essentially, advertisers can pinpoint users’ characteristics within Spotify, but will not follow them off the platform … So while the streaming site’s new arrangement doesn’t mean that listeners will be hearing an audio ad for a pair of sneakers that they just browsed online, Spotify users will certainly be able learn more about how they are viewed as a market demographic – assuming they don’t mute their ads.”

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Speaking Geek: The Rise of Nerds & Brands

The Economist: “Today there are more reasons than ever to treat nerds with respect: never mind the fact that every company is clamouring to hire them, geeks are starting to shape markets for new products and services … From personal computers to social-media companies like Twitter and Facebook, many gadgets and platforms started out with curious tech enthusiasts experimenting in their garage or dorm room, only to turn into mainstream hits.”

“But nerds’ influence now goes well beyond technology. They hold greater cultural sway. ‘Silicon Valley’, a show on HBO which will soon start filming its fourth season, presents the “brogrammer” startup culture in all its grit and glory, and suggests that mass audiences are transfixed by what really happens behind closed (garage) doors … Each month at least 70m people play “League of Legends”, a complex multiplayer online game; that is more than play baseball, softball or tennis worldwide.”

“Incumbent businesses, too, have started to take their cue from all this nerdiness. Brands like Mountain Dew and Doritos have sponsored video-game competitions and ‘rodeos’ where competitors race drones around stadiums … But if they try too hard to speak geek, large companies will come off as inauthentic and alienating, exactly what they were trying not to be. Nerds may be a powerful commercial force, but many of them harbour disdain for big brands and overt marketing. Firms will have to try hard to send a cool, coded message.”

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Meet the Spuglies: Walmart Attacks Food Waste

Quartz: “Shoppers tooling down Walmart grocery aisles now encounter brands that package and sell ugly produce. The ‘Spuglies’ brand markets misshapen potatoes and the ‘I’m Perfect’ brand offers apples that have gone askew. These companies pushing misfit fruits and veggies into the mainstream give consumers a way to fight food waste with their wallets.”

“Since it began tackling food waste within its own system in 2013, the retailer says it has diverted 82% of food that would have otherwise gone to landfills. That amounts to about 2 billion meals. According to ReFED, a food waste advocacy group, a 20% reduction in waste would reclaim the 1,250 calories per capita that goes into landfills each year. That’s enough to feed America’s food-insecure population three times over.”

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Naughty But Nice: Food & Morality

The Guardian: “Anything that tastes good has got to be bad for your body, soul or both. The marketing department of Magnum knew this when it called its 2002 limited edition range the Seven Deadly Sins. Nothing makes a product more enticing than its being naughty, or even better, wicked.”

“In recent years, however, the moralistic lexicon of food seems to have expanded. One recent fad has been for ‘dirty’ American food, a term that revels in the idea that fatty burgers and messy pulled pork buns are so right because they’re so wrong … Perhaps the clearest proof that the way we talk about food is saturated with moralism is the ubiquity of the term ‘guilt.’ Marketing departments have seen the power of this and promoted ‘guilt-free’ snacks and treats.”

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