“Stories are like containers of meanings.” -Shlomi Ron
Summary: We sat by the fire with Shlomi Ron, Co-founder, CEO at the Visual Storytelling Institute to learn more about storytelling.
What is a story?
How can stories help fight poverty?
How can brands leverage spoken word to captivate audiences?
Do and have the Search & Social markets cornered?!
All this – and more – will be revealed.
The Value of a Good Story
Storytellers are in the emotional transportation business. A good story can send us into fits of laughter or bring us to tears. It can also get us to open our hearts, and our wallets.
The Shortest Story Ever Written
The shorter you can tell the story, the better.
An urban legend: Ernest Hemingway once won a bet by crafting the shortest story ever written. Sitting at a famous round table with several writers, Hemingway boasted he could write a six-word-long short story. He quickly wrote these words on a napkin and passed it around. The words were:
“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
[[The reason why “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn” is a good story is that it is able to communicate so much using so few words. It signifies that the mother had a miscarriage. Tragic. Touching. Memorable. Above all, concise.]]
(This type of thinking and craftsmanship becomes important in the modern era, where attention spans are limited).
Feeding Guppies: Storytelling in the Digital Era
The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, to eight seconds in 2016. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.
Yes! Humans’attention span is 1 second less than a goldfish.
SFBR: “Are we overloaded by content?”
Shlomi Ron: “Yes, there is a communication noise problem. We are living in an age of too much information; LinkedIn reported that over 5 billion pieces of content get produced every day. On the flipside, our attention span is extremely fragmented.”
SFBR: “What makes a good story?”
Shlomi Ron: “There are many types of good stories. The common thread of all stories is that they work as a “mirror.” The great business stories mirror problems or experiences we already had – and we learn lessons from them.”
SFBR: “What’s the state of the content/digital industry now?” [December 2018]
Shlomi Ron: “I think we’re seeing a fascinating evolution of the digital content industry. At the macro level, we see that the role of owned and earned media have become more critical these days with the rise of fake news and lack of control structures. Whereas, Paid media has its own challenges. Out of $19B US paid media market that is primarily based on interruption marketing, it is mired by 9% ad fraud (Juniper Research), and 30% ad blocking (Satista).”
According to NYU Stern professor Scott Galloway, “advertising is a tax on the poor.”
“The old interruption tactics don’t work anymore as consumers are banner-blind and expecting that brands will not breakup the story through commercials. (From a storytelling perspective constantly being interrupted by ads totally breaks up the flow of the story.) This is why subscription platforms like Netflix and Hulu are succeeding because they show the full length feature, no interruptions. In a world where time is money, most often the poor are left paying the bill.”
SFBR: “Has Facebook & Google monopolized social and search, respectively? If so, what’s the remedy?”
Shlomi Ron: “Absolutely! With 63% of all ad revenue going to Facebook and Google in 2017 (eMarketer), we also so see growing encroachment into the owned and earned media spaces. For example, if until three years ago, you could still get a decent organic reach on Facebook, now their algorithms have changed more to a pay-to-play model.
Facebook represents the new town square where people tend to congregate socially and spend time longer to see what people like them are doing. These days, this square is experiencing challenges as negative elements have entered the space and affected the public discourse and behaviors.
“Facebook = The new town square.”
While a typical town square is governed by city hall, whereas in the Facebook case, it seems like behavior enforcement is still lacking.
We see the problem of the “Echo Chamber” effect, due to social networks’ focus on boosting engagement in order to attract more advertisers.
This focus creates deep content clusters where people tend to consume content from like-minded people and that tends to radicalize opinions and polarize societies, with some cases reaching into criminal activities.
“Google = Grand Central Train Station”
Google, on the other hand, plays more the role of gatekeeper to information. Google’s search engine, is the first place people would use to find information. From this perspective, it’s less of a town square and more of like New York’s Grand Central train station. People with different information destinations momentarily congregate there and then hop on “information trains” that take them to more knowledge sources.
I think the remedy in the short-term lies in stronger regulations and oversight in addition to better educating the public on how to address fake news. Google and Facebook won’t be able to keep their passive stance as mere bystanders anymore, while rogue interests go wild and leveraging the open-to-all ad buying services and organic information distribution. The long-term promise lies in a transition to a new business model that will dramatically disrupt platforms’ reliance on algorithms that maximize engagement in order to attract advertisers – the primary cause for today’s echo chamber effect.
The important lesson, in my opinion, is to avoid the tendency to apply yesterday’s rules to tomorrow’s platforms.”
SFBR: “How can storytelling help fight poverty?”
Shlomi Ron: “Interestingly enough, I am currently helping a non-profit client that is looking to reduce the problem of homelessness. So, from learning more about the problem of poverty in terms of types, reasons and existing preventive models, I know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Wearing my visual storytelling hat, and that’s what I did for this client, is to map out the full rehabilitation journey a person would go through from mild to severe poverty stages. Once you know who is your target audience and how their needs change from one stage to another, then your solution – like a “swiss knife” – is morphing the stories, the solutions and private and public resources.
In this context, stories can drive change by authentically mirroring the impact of poverty on three levels: 1) basic needs (safety and physiological) 2) Psychological needs of belonging and love and 3) The impact on the larger well-being of a community.”
SFBR: “If you could work anywhere in the world where would it be?”
Shlomi Ron: “So far I have lived in Tel Aviv, Israel where I am originally from, Manhattan (Chelsea area), San Diego, CA and New York (Westchester County), from which I have relocated from to Miami three years ago. So as you can see, I have already tried other places. These days I am based in Coral Gables and I very much enjoy living and working here. The weather, the diversity of people and the proximity to FL Keys next door and South America – is quite refreshing.
Back to the question, I think it also depends on what type of work you plan to do. If it’s a work that is more inward-facing like writing a book, I would love to do it off of the serenity of Salina Island (in Sicily). If we’re talking about standard work, then I am fine where I am.”
SFBR: “How do you shake off stress?”
Shlomi Ron: “With a busy schedule, I have developed a stress reduction strategy that is based on time-of-day:
Early morning, I like to have my coffee with zero screens, but with relaxing music. I typically read the New York Times on paper and maybe twice a week will take a break from the daily paper and switch to a few Interior Design magazines to shift my focus into the interplay between form and function.
Three times a week, I take a 10-minute bike ride to the gym. I find the biking and working out very helpful for being productive the rest of the day.
Late afternoon, I take a 10-minute meditation. I have a playlist on Youtube with several options to choose from.
After dinner, which tends to be around 7 PM, I like to take a 30-minute hike in the neighborhood. It’s a great time to help your body digest the food and also discuss the events of the day.
As an Italian cinema buff,
I occasionally like to close the day with some obscure Italian movie from the ’40s – ’50s I grab from YouTube.”
SFBR: “Tell us more about your yourself & your company, Visual Storytelling Institute.
After 20 years of well-rounded digital marketing experience, having worked both on the agency and client sides for Fortune 100/500 brands such as American Express, Nokia, and IBM, I co-founded the Visual Storytelling Institute to address the rise of information load and decreasing attention spans, resulting in businesses’ challenges to rise above the noise.
Thought leader and speaker at key marketing conferences such as BMA, Social Media Week and Integrated Marketing Week, to name a few. I host the Visual Storytelling Today podcast and serve Chair of Programming at the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association.
I’m the Managing Director at the Estate of Artist Buky Schwartz (one of the early pioneers of video art), and co-founder of cafePellicola.com an 11-year blog dedicated to my passion for classic Italian cinema.
Visual Storytelling Institute LLC
Business Owner Email
400 NW 26 St
Miami, FL 33127
What year was your company established?