Why Your Brand Needs a Narrative with Jonathan Littman


April 20, 2015

jonathan littman

“A name introduces you to the experience.” In short, words and the stories we create with them matter. Jonathan Littman would know. He’s named just a few things over the years. As the author and co-author of nine books he’s a leading thinker on how innovation happens and how brands can use storytelling to create narratives that snowball. As you can imagine, I couldn’t wait to chat with Jonathan on this week’s episode of the On Brand podcast.

Enjoy This Episode Now

About Jonathan Littman

Jonathan Littman is the co-author of The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, two bestsellers about the legendary design strategy firm IDEO that have combined international sales of over 700,000 copies.

Jonathan has been nominated for a Pulitzer, won two Computer Press Awards, and a New York Press Club Journalism Award and the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He is the author and co-author of nine books, including two popular books about famous computer hackers, The Fugitive Game and The Watchman. A former Contributing Editor for Playboy, Jonathan has also written for the Los Angeles Times Magazine and Forbes and numerous technology and business publications. He is currently launching SmartUp.life, the innovation hub, an online resource for inspiration, creativity and innovation generation for companies and individuals.

Jonathan is the founder and CEO of Snowball Narrative and leads innovation, branding, and publishing projects. Clients include Gillette, Estee Lauder, Garmin, Sony, M31, TrendHunter, Lululemon, Leadership Business Consulting, Gap, and Deckers Brands.

Jonathan has given numerous keynotes, executive briefings, and seminars in the United States and Canada on innovation, storytelling, and entrepreneurship. He has also made more than a hundred appearances on television and radio on such national shows as All Things Considered, Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, CNN, Fox, ESPN, and CNBC.

Episode Highlights

Fun Fact: Littman spent six years immersed in the culture at IDEO. “They are the best innovation firm in the world.” Why? “Because they observe better than anyone. They’re anthropologists.” During the course of writing two books on innovation at IDEO, Jonathan had the opportunity to spend more time interviewing founder David Kelley than anyone else.

What’s in a name? A lot. “Names introduce you to an experience.” Jonathan has had the opportunity through the years to work with naming expert Marc Hershon, whose naming credentials include BlackBerry, Pentium, and the Subaru Outback. How do you get good at naming? “You have to name a lot of different things.” Diverse things from products to books to restaurants. This helps you warm up your naming muscles.

Brands need narratives that snowball. Littman came to his work as a journalist. However, he soon found that these skills are in demand in a world where brands can be publishers. While it’s great that brands of all shapes and sizes can create content online, “you still have to be a good storyteller. Otherwise,” adds Littman, “it’s garbage in, garbage out.”

How can brand builders become better storytellers? “See. You have to see different things and study your customers and potential customers. IDEO had a project where they were asked to improve a maternity ward. They had someone pretend to be pregnant! You have to look for the pain points.”

What lessons can leaders and builders of brands learn from Winston Churchill? As the author of a book on Churchill’s leadership, I couldn’t resist asking Littman this. “Churchill was a great storyteller. He also started as a journalist!” He did everything that he did (see also – saving the world) because he was a master at telling stories — in spite of a speech impediment.

What brand has made Jonathan smile lately? He’s been fortunate enough to work with Deckers Brands, the makers of Ugg boots. He’s fallen for their recent acquisition — the Hoka shoe. This running shoe comes with a snowballing story tailor-made for this podcast — it was designed to help runners run down the Alps.

To learn more about Jonathan Littman, please visit Snowball Narrative or his new project, Smartup.life.

As We Wrap …

Recently Sean Carpenter of Coldwell Banker gave a shout-out to our Justin Foster episode. Thanks for listening Sean!

Did you hear something you liked on this episode or another? Do you have a question you’d like our guests to answer? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #OnBrandPodcast and you may just hear your thoughts here on the show.

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Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.




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