Fintech: closing in on the end of the beginning

Fintech is not about the future of the financial industry – but its present. 

Online and mobile banking is no longer futuristic, but what’s expected of any institution, from venerable financial dynasties to upstart challengers. 

Instant payments, smartphone transactions, crowdfunding and savings apps have moved from the disruptive fringe into the mainstream. Confined just a short time ago to the world of start-ups, today’s fintech firms just as likely could be well-established businesses recording swelling profits and paying handsome dividends to shareholders.

After years of steady rather than breakneck growth, investment in the sector may be growing faster than ever: New money doubled to $55 billion last year alone compared with a total of $153 billion in the eight years between 2010 and 2018. Almost half came from China ($26 billion), although the US and the UK, despite Brexit, remain significant sources of venture capital and other types of investment. 

Fintech firms are becoming bigger – much bigger – but there are fewer of them: the number of start-ups founded worldwide peaked at 668 in 2014 and in 2016 was down sharply to 256.

While still a hotbed of innovation, that’s a sign of a sector starting to mature. A few years ago, the industry’s most high-profile firms were focusing on, among others, mobile transactions, digital payments, and above all crypto-currencies and blockchain, the distributed ledger technology underpinning bitcoin. 

Today the headlines are more about artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data as new applications try less to sweep away the traditional financial architecture and its incumbents than to carry out more cheaply, quickly and efficiently familiar functions such as customer due diligence or trade processing.

The traditional financial industry remains worried about the possible impact on its business of technology giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook moving onto their turf to exploit huge established customer bases. 

For mainstream banks, insurers, asset and wealth managers, and their myriad service providers, fintech firms offer a source of new thinking not found in-house as well as technology to make them fit for purpose in the digital era.

For all their concern about the impact of disruptive technology on the stability of the financial system, even officials who might be considered champions of orthodoxy are looking for ways to encourage the flow of fintech innovation into the mainstream. Regulators’ digital sandbox schemes enable fintech firms to test and refine their products and services with live customers before they shoulder the full weight of regulatory compliance. 

They’re also encouraging the fast-growing area of regtech, enabling digital technology to ease the ever-more-complex process of adherence to the additional rules that have besieged the financial sector over the decade since the financial crisis. 

And even the world’s central banks, while they decry the instability, insecurity and lawlessness of crypto-currencies, are discreetly exploring the capability of digital money to smooth financial flows and anchor monetary policy-making. 

In short, fintech may be moving beyond its Wild West phase but the digital transformation of the global financial framework is barely at the end of the beginning.


The author delivering an analysis of Donald Trump’s use of fake news as a vehicle to promote his political career Photo Credit: LaLa La Photo

by David Schrieberg

I feel guilty. I have a job as a journalist when tens of thousands of my colleagues – hundreds of thousands, actually – have lost theirs.

Call it survivor’s guilt.

As the traditional and digital media world I inhabited over three decades collapsed in a heap of failed business models, shedding journalists at a horrifying pace, in 2011 I came up with an idea that I hoped would achieve four goals and offer a sliver of light at the end of the ever-darker tunnel:

(a) Leverage a lifetime of experience as a print journalist, digital media executive and entrepreneur;

(b) Create a sustainable journalistic subscription business model around high-quality, accurate, fact-based content;

(c) Produce value for clients in the private and public sectors, on the one hand by teasing out what mattered from the tsunami of information in order to help them make decisions, and on the other by crafting worthwhile information to help their audiences make decisions;

(d)  Generate new work for journalists.

As the slaughter in media worsened – ironically as fake news became an epidemic and the need for quality journalism was never greater – reason (d) unexpectedly assumed increasing importance.

How Bad the Massacre?

When I was a newspaper and magazine journalist in what I consider the golden age of print – the 1970s to the late 90s – there were 458,000 reporters, editors and others in the business in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the most part, they held reasonably paid, secure positions, gathering facts and reporting accurately, challenging authority, explaining the world – digging beyond the surface to get to the “real story.”

By 2016, that number had plummeted by 60% to 174,000, and it’s getting worse.

In the past weeks alone, the bloodbath has been brutal, topping 1,000: dozens of journalists at BuzzFeed; 800 from Verizon’s media division, which includes TechCrunch, Yahoo, HuffPost and other content brands; 400 from Gannett and its national network of local newspapers, plus USA Today, as the mother company gasps to stay alive.

Advertising-based media business models have gone the way of the Gutenberg printing press. For a time, we all thought that digital outlets like Facebook and Google would be our savior. Instead, that hope has been betrayed by algorithmic changes like Facebook’s de-emphasizing “real” journalism content from respectable outlets in favor of content from users’ personal networks.

In today’s world, it’s all about scale, scale and more scale. That’s tough for all but a few outlets.

I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg feels guilty for this, among the many other reasons he should feel guilty? “The cause of each company’s troubles may be distinct, but collectively the bloodbath points to the same underlying market pathology: the inability of the digital advertising business to make room for anyone but monopolistic tech giants,” explains Farhad Manjoo, the New York Times tech columnist.

Everyone in global universe of “real” news and content is looking for sustainable ways to practice journalism. “I think media is still a great business, if you run it like a damn business,” Jim VandeHei, CEO of Axios, a Washington-based website told The New York Times.

Absolutely. That list above of goals turned into VitalBriefing, creating business intelligence and branded thought content for private and public sector clients in multiple industries.

And that’s another reason for my guilt – it’s a betrayal of the values I grew up with professionally. As a reporter in newspapers and magazines in the era of the “Chinese Wall” separating editorial and publishing (the business side), we journalists couldn’t care less about our business colleagues as long as they made enough money to keep paying us.

Our noses were in the air about our own business. In fact, we tended to see those folks as the enemy within, hell-bent on swaying our reporting based on advertisers’ concerns. We would scream any time we thought that commercial interests were trying to breach that wall.

My first inkling that things were about to change came in 1995 at Newsweek, where I was a foreign bureau chief, when the publisher announced at an all-staff meeting that the magazine was going online and putting its content there…for free. I remember thinking: “I’m no business guy but how’s that going to work exactly?”

Ah, the good old days. Newsweek was sold a few years ago for $1.

There Is Good News

In a few cases, 24 years later after that all-hands, the transition to digital, while painful, has started to pay off…for a few lucky ones. Recently, the New York Times announced that in 2018 it had generated more than $709 million in digital revenues and clocked 3.3 million digital subscribers, up 27% from the year before.

More revealing still was that for the first time, digital advertising outstripped print – a huge milestone in the industry and the clearest signal, in my mind, that the tipping point actually may be in sight.

Any time traditional news operations can make the transition to healthy business – well, that’s heartening for all of us. Digital-native companies like Vox Media, brilliantly run by my former AOL colleague Jim Bankoff, reportedly was profitable last year. I love seeing The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Washington Post making their way to long-term digital sustainability.

And creating more jobs for journalists. Which helps assuage my guilt, but not completely.

The tragedy of the massive layoffs means lots of top talent with stellar backgrounds and experience from the best publications across their specialties, from finance to technology and beyond, is on hand to answer our frequent global calls for journalists.

Every time I review those resumes, it grieves me – so much talent in the market looking for a home. I want to hire them all. With our own business scaling now, we count some 50 journalists working with us and I’m hell-bent on growing so that eventually we’ll have hundreds.

Sustainability Is Us (We Hope)

We know now that we’ve created a sustainable business, and a sustainable business model – subscription-based, industry-specific, high value content – that can endure these uncertain times in the media world. We’ve grown steadily since we began at an ever-faster clip in markets increasingly hungry for reliable, accurate, and trustworthy information to feed their need for internal knowledge on one side, and well-told stories to share with their audiences on the other.

The New York Times columnist Manjoo hit on the VitalBriefing mantra when he noted that “we are in the midst of a persistent global information war.”

“We live our lives on technologies that sow distrust and fakery, that admit little room for nuance and complication, that slice up into ignorant and bleating tribes. It is an era that should be ripe for journalists and for the business of journalism – a profession that, though it errs often, is the best way we know of inoculating ourselves against the suffocating deluge of rumor and mendacity.”

We intend for our small inoculation to help our clients stay healthy, and plan on continuing to create opportunities for talented journalists through this painful transition of an industry in crisis.

VitalBriefing CEO David Schrieberg Joins Ex-Reuters Head, Other Experts to Discuss Battle Against Fake News

I was flattered to share the stage this past week with Thomson Reuters former CEO, Tom Glocer, and other distinguished participants for a wide-ranging discussion about fakenews. Thanks to Linklaters for putting together a fascinating evening of exploration that couldn’t have been more timely: literally during Britain’s Parliamentary brexit vote. I’ll be writing more about the issue soon. Meanwhile, Luxembourg press did a nice job covering the event:

Luxemburger Wort:


Lëtzebuerger Journal:

Fight Fake News: Work for VitalBriefing



The headlines just keep on coming. The latest: President Donald Trump uses blatantly wrong information in a threat to shut down the US government if Congress won’t fund his legendary and unnecessary wall against Mexico. Meanwhile, we learn the Kremlin put out phony stories for a year in preparation for a latest attack on the Ukraine. I could spend lots of “ink” listing one after the other example of misinformation, disinformation and “alternative facts” that these days drive both public policy and public opinion.

I’m a product of what was arguably the golden age of American journalism, “raised” in the business to believe that it’s not just a job, but a calling – offering me the privilege to cover stories like the one from this photo taken in 1987 – the return of Salvadoran refugees to their homes during the wars in Central America. 

I started my career not long after Watergate, when real facts and “getting it right” were as important as “getting it first,” and when accuracy, reliability and credibility were inviolable core values.    

I’ve been thinking a lot about these values lately in the era of fake news and too much information, for three reasons: 

• Personally, because I’ve been horrified by the growing impact of false information on national and local decisions around the world. 

• Professionally, because I worry that our profession and democracy have been degraded and diminished by manipulated information and “alternative facts” presented as reliable, verified, journalistically-based truth. 

• Entrepreneurially, because when I conceived VitalBriefing seven years ago, I wanted to ensure that businesses and organisations could get curated, business-critical information based on journalistic values of accuracy, timeliness and relevance on the competition, regulations, technology and developments that guide their decisions. 

Filing the story: Pre-laptop, pre-internet, phoning in the story – real facts – from a remote Salvadoran village

To Be Completely Honest… 

I also had an ulterior motive: As literally tens of thousands of my colleagues in newspapers and magazines around the world are losing their jobs, I hoped that in my small way, we could match some of those highly qualified journalists of all ages with the needs of our clients – that we could help our clients make better choices based on unbiased information rather than rely on social media echo chambers or partisan press outlets. 

Which brings me to today. As our business grows – confirming our idea that businesses and governments would welcome high-value, reliable, timely and accurate information – we’re recruiting experienced writers and editors to add to our growing global corps of experts. If that’s you (or someone you know), please contact 

In this world of digital natives, we have created an unusual “newsroom.” Our journalists literally work from around the world. They’re multilingual and knowledgeable about the industries they cover for our clients. In many cases, they’re over 50 years old and have decades of experience at some of the the most respected general and industry-specific media, publications you would recognize for their accuracy and commitment to the facts. But age is no barrier where expertise, talent and enthusiasm are concerned. 

What We Offer 

We offer steady work and reasonable compensation, a humane environment that conforms to an independent lifestyle, be it in Luxembourg, Bulgaria, France, Spain, Greece, England, the United States, Singapore…and beyond. 

In a fast-paced company that melds cutting-edge search technology with irreplaceable journalistic skills, our international corps of expert journalists is fully focused on providing accurate, timely and reliable business intelligence. 

Whether it’s producing filtered, fact-checked and concise summaries of key industry developments about our clients’ industries and their competitors or longer, industry-specific stories and thought leadership articles, I like to think of VitalBriefing as one of the antidotes to fake news – wrapped in a viable and sustainable business model. 

So again, consider this post as a job ad. If this sounds like you or a friend, we’d love to know: 

What in the world is a Circular Economy?

The meaning of the circular economy 
For the past decade, the expression ‘circular economy’ – with its promise to generate a more sustainable, equitable and just world – has steadily gained international traction. It actually represents an alternative to an ill-managed, extraction-based global economy generating unprecedented changes in the global climate and depleting the world’s natural resources.

Circular economy is relevant to every element of society, culture and economy. Yet, what does it really mean? What are its implications? How profound is its implementation for your organisation – and personal way of life?

Consider this: A recent study compiled and compared 114 definitions of circular economy in order to provide the first quantitative interpretation. The conclusion: Circular economy “means many different things to different people.”

We have the good fortune to cover the issue for our clients, so before you become discouraged or overwhelmed, we can help with some answers.


The meaning of the circular economy 
For the past decade, the expression ‘circular economy’ – with its promise to generate a more sustainable, equitable and just world – has steadily gained international traction. It actually represents an alternative to an ill-managed, extraction-based global economy generating unprecedented changes in the global climate and depleting the world’s natural resources.

Circular economy is relevant to every element of society, culture and economy. Yet, what does it really mean? What are its implications? How profound is its implementation for your organisation – and personal way of life?

Consider this: A recent study compiled and compared 114 definitions of circular economy in order to provide the first quantitative interpretation. The conclusion: Circular economy “means many different things to different people.”

We have the good fortune to cover the issue for our clients, so before you become discouraged or overwhelmed, we can help with some answers.


What is the circular economy?
Briefly, the circular economy is “a regenerative economic model.” Its purpose is to examine complex human behaviour and provide insights into a better allocation of resources. It’s holistic, taking into account the energy and materials we use, the ecological limits of our environment, and most important, people’s well-being.

In short, the circular economy seeks to create a system to meet our current needs while respecting the limits of our planet’s resources.

How does the circular economy function?
In this “regenerative system,” consumers and producers work together with policymakers at every level to generate environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity. How does that happen? With an economic model that aims to retain as much value of products and materials as possible.

To get there involves refurbishing, remanufacturing, best re-use and recycling of the products and materials the world uses. The goal is a world without end-of-life of products and materials, reducing the generation of waste to its absolute minimum.

What does a circular economy strategy look like? We’re glad you asked:

– Waste virtually doesn’t exist. Products are designed to be disassembled and reused or, failing that, recycled. Long-lasting design ensures reduced energy use.
– Products components are categorised either as consumable (returned safely to the biosphere) or durable (designed for reuse and/or recycling).
– The energy required to power industry is renewable.

When is the circular economy arriving? 
It’s already here, permeating all sectors of the economy (which is why we at VitalBriefing cover it for our clients). You can find it in the products you consume, from cheese to smartphone, from clothing to the materials used to build your house.

The circular economy goes beyond strategies for reducing, re-using and recycling. It’s about generating an industrial ecosystem where these and many other strategies infuse every stage of products and services. Every day, we find a new company going circular, reducing the waste from its production, and collaborating with other circular-minded companies to create a healthy environment for their business and the world.

A few examples:

Luxembourg’s ArcelorMittal recognised for circular economy initiatives
ArcelorMittal has been recognised by the World Economic Forum for its ambitious circular economy efforts. The global steel group’s initiatives include paving more than 400 miles of Brazilian roadway with a product consisting mainly of waste steel slag, manufacturing a profitable low-carbon cement also from waste slag and pioneering steel re-use in structures. It has been producing steel in Luxembourg from scrap waste rather than primary raw materials for a quarter-century.

New businesses exploit massive seafood waste 
With about 40% of all seafood going to waste in an industry that has grown enormously over the past 50 years, new companies are starting to exploit seafood waste by-products in unusual ways. Ideas include applying fish skins as a treatment for burns, using fish scales in solar panel cells, and making salmon jerky from discarded fish meat.

IKEA trialling furniture rental and resale schemes 
Having won awards for its efforts to promote circular economy systems, Scandinavian flat-pack furniture giant Ikea is testing rental and buyback schemes in different parts of the world to cut down on waste. In Belgium, customers can re-sell, repair, or return their furniture, while in France and Japan, furniture can be returned to be sold in the store again.

To follow the circular economy more closely, or to have us help you follow the aspects that matter most to you, please contact: David Schrieberg –
Santiago Perez –

Focusing fintech: identifying industry-changing innovations

Focusing fintech: identifying industry-changing innovations

“Silicon Valley is coming. There are hundreds of start-ups with a lot of brains and money working on various alternatives to traditional banking.”
Jamie Dimon, CEO J.P. Morgan

It’s been almost three years since J.P. Morgan’s CEO made that prophetic comment. Around the same time, VitalBriefing launched its weekly Global Fintech Briefing to track the trends and innovations driving the growth of a financial technology industry that has since ballooned from hundreds of hot start-ups to thousands.

Yet, it’s a minefield out there. From bankers trying to follow the latest trends to investors hunting for the next opportunity, anyone interested in following the evolution of fintech today is obliged to navigate an increasingly crowded, muddied and fast-changing landscape.

Between the Wild West of virtual currencies where almost anyone with a PC can launch an ICO to the walls and moats being reinforced by established financial institutions and nervous regulators, lies a diverse and dynamic world of technology merging with finance in new and often unexpected ways.

Payments – in stores and between friends – are now instant and contactless from a smartphone. The same technology is enabling the under-banked to gain access to diverse financial services, in the process creating millions of online consumers across emerging and developed markets. Peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding and low-cost remittance services are similarly making banks less relevant for a new generation of consumers around the world.

Crypto-currencies have created crypto-millionaires – and possibly fuelled the biggest investment bubble in history – even as businesses across the financial industry and beyond continue to dig in search of blockchain technology’s killer app. And, on the horizon, robots imbued with rapidly advancing artificial intelligence are charging over the hills with the potential to eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs in banking and beyond.

The rapid evolution of the fintech industry has been advanced by massive amounts of funding – $31 billion last year alone – though there are signs global investors are no longer just getting their feet wet but, rather, trying to make more targeted investments focused on long-term sustainability.

And therein lies the rub.

If history is a guide, then investors might do well to cast their minds back to the last period of significant technological disruption. Many startups that emerged during the dotcom boom have landed in the dust heap of investment-bubble history.

Much has changed since then – smartphones are ubiquitous, millennials are more inclined to embrace technology than previous generations and cloud computing can scale businesses in minutes – but the laws of the market remain the same: only a handful of emerging financial technologies will have a meaningful impact on the future of finance, and even fewer of today’s start-ups will be around to see it.

By filtering the hype and noise today, VitalBriefing is identifying the innovations and innovators that will change the world of finance tomorrow.

The Final Step: Writing The Story That Tells Your Story

“We are, as a species, addicted to a story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” – author Jonathan Gotschall
As we’ve explored in our previous posts on storytelling, a persuasive yarn in any medium can sell your company, brand, product or service better than just about any other sales tactic.

We’ve discussed how to pick the right story, then where to focus your research. Now that you’ve gathered all the relevant information and have the details to hand, what do you do with it all?

In short, what’s the best way to tell the story?

Here’s the key: structure.

Once you’ve got the bare bones of your story down – (translate: the outline) – filling in the gaps will be far easier. In fact, get that outline right, and you’ll find the story will tell itself.

This will help: Incorporate the classic story format known “the hero’s journey.” (We know this format is a home run, because it’s worked for millennia in myths, legends and tales.)

You learned in our previous post that the three key elements driving your story should be the problem, the solution and the success. Breaking this down from the perspective of the hero’s journey will guide your structure:

Beginning: Problem (Call to adventure)

Think about that point in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker meets Obi-Wan Kenobi in the desert, or when Harry Potter first discovers he’s a wizard and will enroll in Hogwarts. A hero’s journey always starts with that framing moment when the protagonist receives his or her call to action.

This may be the element of your story that requires the most time. It falls into three phases:
– Identity: Who is it about – you or your company? Establish who exactly is starting the journey.
– Challenge: What’s the hero setting out to do?
– Struggle: What are the obstacles that stand in the way?

Middle: Conflict and Solution (Rebirth)

This is the turning point in your story, and where the reader’s interest should intensify.

Remember, nothing of value ever comes easily. This is the moment where the hero faces up to the challenges and experiences a metaphorical rebirth on the way to ultimate victory.

This may sound as though it’s about slaying a dragon or finding the Holy Grail, but it’s no different for a business story – now the hero discovers a unique tool or insight that guarantees the outcome.

End: Success (Resolution)

Finally, the hero returns home – changed, enlightened or with new knowledge.

Your challenge is to show your audience why it should care. Once you’ve pulled them in, they must be able to see why your company, product or service will solve their problem.

Let’s look at a real-world example of effective storytelling that draws on all the elements we’ve discussed in these posts.

Although this isn’t a company “origin” story like Apple’s legend (born in the Jobs family garage), it’s creative storytelling for a business purpose.

In this Google ad for the Nexus 7 tablet, viewers are shown the real-life value of the products. Crucially, however, Google and Samsung together transmit their values, morals and vision to a broad audience through a very human story.

There is a clear beginning, middle and end to this story. Let’s break it down using the structure above:
– Call to adventure: Our hero must give a speech. He uses Google to define his problem.
– Solution: He’s struggling to find his way – a path that becomes clear thanks to his Nexus 7, and Google.
– Resolution: He nails the presentation! And the reward? Applause and romance – with help from his trusty Nexus 7… and Google.

The devil in the details: Google has told a fantastic story, elegant in its simplicity, with a clear structure, emotionally resonant for virtually any audience or demographic (just as Nexus and Google are relevant products for virtually any audience).

Thanks to the twin-product powerhouse, and his own efforts, the protagonist overcomes his fears.

The details – the boy’s voice, his mother’s quiet presence, Franklin Roosevelt’s courage-inspiring message, the presentation and audience applause, the promise of romance – all come together to convey the final message.

Note especially the music and how its arc – starting with a simple guitar, picking up several instruments and voice along the way and ending in the swell of a full orchestra – match, accentuate and imitate the story, reinforcing its emotional impact.

In short, it’s perfect: The right story, founded on well-researched elements, structured to trigger a positive emotional response.

There’s no reason you can’t tell your story just as well. Or call on VitalBriefing to do it for you…and with you.

Researching the story that tells your story

If content is king, for business content marketing is emperor. And the craft of storytelling sits squarely next to its throne. Research and case studies bear out the truth universally acknowledged that there is no greater power than that of a good story.

As we discussed in our first post in this series, Picking the right story to tell your story is the first step. Now that you have that story in mind, what exactly do you want to say?

How do you ensure it has genuine impact?

And what does that impact look like?

First, just as if you were researching a new product idea, you need to do due diligence. That means you “do your reporting”, as journalists call the act of research. Only when you know your story inside out will you discover the best way to tell it (which we’ll discuss in the third post in this series).

As you launch into reporting, keep in mind where you want the story to go. It’s like following a recipe: you know what you want the dish to look like, and how it should taste. But you need to have the right ingredients in the right combination to get there.

Crucially, during the reporting process, remind yourself that the story isn’t about you – it’s about what you help your customers or clients accomplish.

In fact, the hero of the story should never be you – it should be either the problem you’re solving, or the opportunity you’re creating. After all, no matter how good your story is, it won’t be good for anything if it doesn’t resonate with your audience.

In business, that means your story shows how you can help that audience, either by resolving their problem, answering their needs or fulfilling their dreams.

Consider Airbnb. At its essence, it’s simply about travellers finding a roof over their heads. Explore its website, though, and you’ll find a very different approach: the beauty of being alive, of ‘having experiences’ and revelling in them. An entire section of the website is dedicated to stories from hosts and guests around the world, including blogs and videos.

Stories upon stories. Each one an adventure of its own, “reported” by the traveller to convey the thrill of the trip, in rich detail, illustrating how his or her life has been enhanced – thanks to Airbnb.

Showing, not telling.

In crafting this approach, Airbnb clearly began with a simple question: “Who is the audience and what is our message?”  Once it was decided that its customers are the focus of the story, it became clear that it would be down to these customers to report the story that would perfectly illustrate Airbnb’s value.

The company could talk numbers – the millions of lodgings customers book, the millions of nights reserved via the site, the hundreds of countries, cities and towns in which it operates.

Instead, its focus is to make the story human.

Remember, for you to be successful, your audience must relate to your story, even if that story is highly technical or data-driven. Ultimately, you want to define your value in human terms.

Our brains are far more engaged by powerful images that stay in our minds than by cold, hard facts. A Nielsen study found that consumers want a personal connection when they gather information.

Researchers have amply demonstrated that it’s much easier for our brains to recall stories than data – which means the story should be simple and straightforward, but filled with meaningful detail that relates to the point of the tale. Those are the details you’ll gather as you “report the story.”

In the end, your reporting needs to cover the three key elements driving your story, no matter its length: The problem (the beginning of the story), which leads to the solution (the middle), which drives to your success (the end).

That’s what audiences expect from a good story. That’s what will show them your value.


In this campaign, Guinness nails successful storytelling to market its
brand. The key factor that made this ad a slam-dunk – amassing three million views within four days of its online release – is that it made drinking Guinness a reflection of some of life’s highest values.

Watching people play wheelchair basketball is inspiring in its own right. But when you get to the ‘twist’ in the story – that all but one of the athletes are playing in wheelchairs so that ‘the court is a level field’ – it’s hard not to be still more inspired, and to admire still more their brew of choice.

Then, the voiceover: “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”

Great “reporting”, even for a manufactured story: problem (playing an ambulatory sport in wheelchairs), solution (it can be played just as hard, fast and skilfully), success (friendship – and the right beer – overcomes life’s challenges).

Not only is this a powerful, heartfelt story, it relays a surprising and delightful emotional message, promoting loyalty, friendship, resilience and perseverance.

The key elements:

The story is relevant to the target audience: young adults with a focus on maturity, friendship, sports, male bonding and sharing good times.

The message is simple: depicting a group of athletic, beer-drinking men defined as much by their compassion as their physical ability. The slogan seen at the end – “Made of More” – is brief, memorable and resonant.

The focus is on the customers: celebrating the customers (the basketball players), and “what they’re made of.” The product itself, Guinness, has very brief screen time (at the end).

It’s all about people: the product is a supporting character in the story, while the human element is central.

It’s different: not the stereotypical beer ad, Guinness is showing that men can be strong and sensitive.

It’s about the image: creating emotional engagement, Guinness is ensuring that you won’t forget this commercial – or the beer behind it.

Next: Now you’re ready to write the story. Uh, how?

Picking the right story to tell your story

Stories are primal. That’s why the world runs on them.

As novelist Philip Pullman put it, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

And that’s why in recent years storytelling has become an increasing focus for brands and organizations as they recognize that the emotional wallop of well-told stories translates into long-term relationships…and sales.

VitalBriefing tells stories. That’s what our clients pay us for, whatever the format, whatever the content. In this series about storytelling, we’re going to look at what it takes to do it really, really well. With these basics, you’ll recognize a new and effective form of content marketing to drive your business forward.

First, where you must start: Picking the right story to tell.

the floor of an office is strewn with discarded paper balls signifying bad abandoned ideas as a mature businessman sits at a conference table thinking of more ideas to write down.

While there’s loads of science to this – raking over search results, trending topics and Twitter feeds, for example – we’ll focus on the ‘art’ side of the equation. Because there’s an art, too, to finding and selecting the right story to illustrate your value.

A good story is crucial because not only does it connect you to your audience on an emotional, gut level – which is exactly where you want to land your punch – but it also has the power to create trust between you both.

That said, the science matters. The human brain responds to the descriptive power of stories, influencing both its sensory and motor cortex. Simply put: To read a story is to feel an experience.

Scientists call this ‘neural coupling,’ which Princeton researchers have found leads to greater comprehension, understanding, anticipation and receptivity.

When searching for the right story, always ask first: “What’s the human element that will make people pay attention?”

You know that winning audience attention in a fragmented world overloaded with information is a massive challenge. So consider brands with stories that have resonated for decades now – how Jobs and Wozniak built their first Apple computer in a garage, or how Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop started in a renovated gas station on the back of a $5 correspondence course.

Both these tales focus on heroes’ hard work and perseverance to win in the face of overwhelming odds – a universal narrative we can all relate to.

Successful storytelling for a brand or organization is about showing the story rather than just telling it to your customers. You could analyse the business acumen of Ben and Jerry, but what matters is illustrating how they did it, the challenges they had to overcome, and the results: An excellent product that surprises and delights customers.

Ultimately, customer experience is key in the story selection. Consider that consumers are guided first and foremost by emotions (feeling and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes and data) when they’re making purchasing decisions. In fact, loyalty is influenced more by positive emotions toward a brand than mere trust and other judgements that are based on the brand’s characteristics.

But that doesn’t mean you should treat your story as simple marketing, or as a sales pitch. Instead, it should clearly reflect your organisation’s mission and values in order to resonate with your audience – essentially, get them to believe in your story, and they’ll believe in your brand.

Your story should illustrate the value of your business, but first it needs to connect with your target audience. Do you know who they are, how they think, what drives them and what interests them? You should. Then you can grapple with finding the story that will connect with them emotionally, and intellectually.

To get there, think simple – sincere, honest, personal – and try to be as visual as possible. The story should create mental images: Ben & Jerry’s gas station, the Jobs family’s garage.

However, the story should not necessarily focus on you or your company. Instead, it should appeal to your audience’s problems – the spotlight is on them, not you.

By homing in on the right emotional triggers, the best stories will show how you can solve their problems, satisfy their desires, identify opportunities and even threats to their future (B2C), or their business (B2B).

 In short, the right story is the bridge that creates the relationship. From there, you showcase the expertise that can meet their need, whatever it is.

Like we at VitalBriefing are doing with these blog posts. Right?



Patagonia tells the story of how the company’s clothing canbe useful for years through a program called ‘Worn Wear.’ It’s a clothes-recycling program where customers can buy used Patagonia clothes and later trade them back to the store down the road. It’s been so successful that Patagonia even made a movie about it.

For Patagonia, a company that cares strongly about its environmental footprint, this is a powerful story. But why?

  • With the tagline “The stories we wear,” the program plays on sentimentality and nostalgia.
  • It reflects the company’s eco-friendly brand and mission – which matter to its customers.
  • The story is placed directly in the product itself.
  • It incorporates the customer as an element of the story.
  • Trust is created from the moment a customer buys a product and ‘becomes’ the story.
  • The campaign builds and sustains a community and network involving the company and its customers.

Next: Now you’ve got the story, how do you research it to get the best material?

Painting the big picture from media monitoring

There are many ways to monitor media, with many possible outcomes. Like the elephant and the blind men in the ancient parable, it’s easy to draw conclusions based on partial results – at the risk of making costly mistakes. So how do you get “the big picture,” complete with the full intelligence on markets, customers and competitors that will really drive your business forward?

In our first post, we focused on the importance of search technology for filtering – or cherry-picking – the world of news and data. We followed with a deeper dive into media monitoring and the importance of sourcing, filtering and analysing data to gather critical business intelligence.

So now we land at the three central takeaways:

  1. How to get what you need from media monitoring
  2. How to fit the activity into your organisation
  3. How to obtain actionable, accurate and comprehensive results that propel your business, sales and marketing.

Let’s use the classic marketing funnel. Your media monitoring needs will likely tie directly to your specific expertise or role. If, for example, you’re in a branding or early lead generation position, you will focus on monitoring and measuring your brand’s market strength and name recognition. That means you need to analyse whether the coverage meets your messaging goals.
If, on the other hand, your responsibility is to generate sales, feed-driven social media channels have created new opportunities for high-speed analytic and sentiment analysis that push existing boundaries by using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

As different as these needs are, both operate under the “media monitor umbrella” with the same requirements for identifying media activity around your brand and products. Yet, each has its own, very different “next steps” for how to use this intelligence.


Monitoring Brand and Product Coverage

Brand media monitoring, the grandfather of all media services, continues to evolve thanks to technological advances from its early days of cutting-and-pasting news coverage into a clipping notebook (that to our constant surprise we find some companies actually still do – in 2017 – even if few people in those companies tend to use it).

The first big leap of media monitoring’s digital transformation was the introduction of Google Alerts, which gave each everyone the power to monitor media activity via automated emails.  (The convenience factor has only recently been improved by proactive alerts sent directly to computer and mobile screens.)

However, relevancy remains a significant issue as the alerts generate considerable “noise” that derails users with irrelevant term matching, redundancy and – the loudest and most recent challenge – fake news.

Artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning lately have led to significant advances in media monitoring services, enhancing their results and the quality of their analysis. Some key players in this area are Critical MentionLexisNexis Newsdesk  and Cision. Each offers full platform monitoring and analysis supported by international teams.

Critical Mention also provides an API that creates the ability to monitor TV and radio broadcasts. LexisNexis Newsdesk is strongly integrated with LexisNexis industry-leading legal and company research and distribution tools that make research easily shared.

Along with its news and social media tools, Cision’s acquisition of PRNewswire, the world’s leading PR distribution network, offers clients new advantages in global content distribution, influencer outreach and monitoring services.

VitalBriefing is a bit of a different animal within this ecosystem, providing a hands-on service that uses human review by subject experts to ensure that monitoring results are not only relevant, but also matter to the client’s business goals. This relevancy reporting includes a handcrafted summary of each news mention, individually tailored and customised to provide the business intelligence each client needs. In that way, we deliver only essential intelligence to inform and drive the decisions you must make.


Media Monitoring to Boost Sales

If brand monitoring is the grandfather, social media monitoring – especially with the advancing capabilities of marketing automation and bot capabilities – is the toddler just learning to walk.

Social media monitoring is experiencing the same evolution in search filtering and discovery that’s advancing brand monitoring.  But it has an extra advantage from technology that monitors both high-velocity activities, such as current events, as well as low-speed, 24/7 requests (for example when a client posts a question on a company’s Facebook page) and, finally, crisis communications that can occur at any time.

Regardless of the technology and processes you use, brand and media monitoring will give you insight into what the media and your customers are saying about you. But that’s only the elephant’s trunk. It won’t tell you whether you’re missing coverage of your brand or what’s going on in your markets – or open new sales opportunities.
Nor will it give you the deeper insights you need to analyse the overall health of your business and status of your industry.

Neither robots nor natural language processing nor automation technology can do what human eyes and skills can: Paint the entire elephant.


– post by Tim McGuinness