Every season brings new opportunities. That is, new opportunities in a philosophical sense and a metaphysical one. The changing of seasons can be an exciting time; new holidays, seasonal food choices, and the perpetual “Oh hey, it’s fall!” I can drink red wine again (‘tis the season!). I’ve always been the type of navigator that listens to what my body is telling me (just read the blog post on my obsession with the power of Rose). This fall my aching back was telling me to buy some comfortable shoes—some may call them “trainers” in various parts of the world—but I call them “sneakers.” As the end of the summer approached, I began what I thought would be an easy-going, speedy journey that would result in good-looking jeans with a blazer and briefcase, i.e. the typical creative agency wardrobe.
Becoming a “Sneakerhead”
I’ve always been rather indecisive, or some may say contemplative, when choosing particular objects or musings that fit into my life. For instance, fast-forward to the present: It’s the beginning of winter, and I’m at one of my favorite restaurants in Covington, Kentucky, Otto’s, and it’s rather warm inside. I don’t want to drink a cold, refreshing Manhattan (because I would like to enunciate clearly and remember the pleasant dinner), but there must be a beverage that a) isn’t a gin cocktail (the perfect pairing for August, when the scent of pine needles start to permeate the nose); b) isn’t white wine (because that’s my June and July, people!); c) isn’t a typical and soulless vodka and soda—because I can use those for nights when lubrication is more of a goal, than a pleasure.
Ever since yoga became a regular occurrence in my life, I’ve made a conscious effort to listen to what my body is telling me. This fall / winter my body was telling me that I need a more comfortable shoe for a couple of reasons: 1. The current shoes I have, although very attractive in their Italian, leathery goodness, are not good for my back; 2. Those lonely jeans in the back corner of my closet could use a new look; 3. The ever-present imagery of Birkenstocks shoved down my throat at the last two fashion weeks by the barrage of fashion bloggers and Instagrammers were starting to wane on my soul, and prove effective.
The search for sneakers, like any product in our readily available world of ecommerce, is a daunting task. I went back to the basics and decided that searching for a simple pair of white Converse would do the trick. My usual perusal of men’s fashion sites ensued in a 3-hour ordeal, ending in blatant frustration. Perhaps the sheer number of choices at our disposal works as a disservice rather than a compliment to our already busy lives. Also, I realized very quickly that “choices” are a moot point unless I truly knew what I was looking for. And, let’s be honest, what I want is anything but ordinary.
The Search for the Un-Ordinary Sneaker
So it happens when you read every fashion magazine and blog under the sun; The sometimes ordinary, just isn’t enough. I’m a self-proclaimed king of warranted simplicity in the right doses, but when push comes to shove I want my products to tell a story. And that’s when I found them, the Maison Martin Margiela x Converse collaboration for 2014—on my new favorite shopping site, SSENSE.
These shoes are a polymorphic adventure that will change through time—how poetic. I’m into art, so why not wear it on my toes? Let me clarify: The shoes appear from afar as simple Converse, but are actually hand dipped in a bath of white paint, forming a shell-like cocoon around a hidden color that cracks away the more they’re worn. In my case, we’ll catch glimpses of amber orange, as the paint cracks away—perfect for fall.
So why these sneakers—in a “sneakerhead” world of brand loyalists and an increasing battle of the brands? Martin Margiela is the type of designer who challenges convention and surprises consumers—and understands how to tell a story with every design and article of clothing. The Maison Martin Margiela x Converse sneakers uniquely suit my style: creative, but with careful restraint, like a petri dish waiting for nature to make its mark.
Sneakers + Stories
My sneaker experience proved an interesting study in not only how products communicate stories, but also how the designers behind the products make specific choices which imbue creativity into the product. What was once deemed a “basketball shoe” worn in rural towns across the United States (think “Hoosiers,” people) evolved to a work of art.
Like we do for clients everyday, I compared products, searching for the right product to help tell my story as well. Storytelling is more than broadcasting “news” or “what’s hot,” it’s an opportunity to develop a narrative and show the depth and soul of what character means to an identity.
Storytelling: More Than Broadcasting
5 Essential Strategies for Effective Storytelling
1. Start With Differentiation Products that tell good stories are built upon a clear position, verbal strategy and rooted firmly in core claims, which serve as the foundational litmus test, or laws by which a brand lives by. The art of storytelling is no different, but a foundation must exist before it’s brought to life. Products that succeed online or in a brick and mortar store are conscious of their value to consumers, and they remind shoppers of that value through a myriad of specialized techniques: packaging, color, copy, to name a few. A smart storyteller will refer back to the brand-positioning document regularly to ensure alignment.
2. The Blooming Onion Stories have become a reality of online life: a recent accomplishment, a photo of a jazzed up Bloody Mary or a simple sunset. A run down your recent Facebook newsfeed can begin to look a lot like self-promotion gone haywire. Storytelling is a not a tactic, rather it’s an approach, and it deserves a special kind of sensitivity that evaluates micro stories, macro stories, and those weird little quirky stories that gives an much needed edge. Stories are just like an onion, there are layers upon layers of dynamic pathways and some are bigger or more important than others.
In the age of social media and ecommerce, everyone has something to say. Effective storytelling resonates with consumers today, but you need to be a clear voice amidst the noise and crowded marketplace.
3. The StoryLine The story and the brand both have separate, but harmoniously congruent purposes in storyline development. The storyline needs direction, someone driving the passionate vehicle and clear goals in even the most nascent stages. If you don’t have a roadmap, you’ll end up in the Bermuda Triangle. The brand should of course be front in center to how the character is developed, but remember that revealing those quirky, often ‘slightly askew’ micro stories can give the brand a purposeful edge that cuts through the noise.
4. Smart Stories Incite Emotion As big brands become even bigger and capture an already narrow market, emotional integrity is a foundational claim that must exist to build anything at all. We willingly bring products into our homes, and they become members of our family. Carrying these products across the threshold of our dwellings is an emotional decision; these products should help the transition be seamless. Every media channel, physical touch point, and brand experience is an opportunity to communicate a unique point of difference that serves to capture the essence of the brand.
5. Post It Finding the right media for the message can be the most daunting task when evaluating the how to communicate the story. Don’t get stuck arguing with fellow creatives about “how to make it come to life” until you feel absolutely comfortable that you’ve mastered the story.