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Incorporating story-telling in marketing - Warren Whitlock [Interview]

Incorporating story-telling in marketing - Warren Whitlock [Interview]

Shruti Pawar
March 11, 2022
New strategies

About Warren Whitlock

Warren Whitlock is the CEO of Stirling Corporation. He has been an entrepreneur in the computer, publishing, and media industries. He looks for collaborations where brands can share resources, extend their reach and give customers an experience they will want to share with others. Throughout his career, he has created new strategies to use influence and persuasion to help his clients to achieve their goals. 

Sumitha Mariyam

New strategies

We’re back with a brand new guest on the peopleHum interview series. I am your host Sumitha Mariyam and let's begin with a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.  


We are extremely honored and equally excited to have him with us today! Welcome Warren, we’re so thrilled to have you.   


Thank you for having me on the program.  


It’s wonderful, so let’s move on to the interview now.  

Let's start with a little bit about yourself, you have had quite an incredible journey. And what is it that excited you about technology?  


Technology helps me to get progress faster. I was just, I'm currently reading a book of opinions from people on the 50th anniversary of a book called ‘Future Shock’. And it's caused me to reflect how much that had to do with my journey and anything that I was doing. This book basically says that the future comes faster than the past and things speed up. And so, people were saying in 1970 I actually heard someone speaking at my church saying that. I was a young teenager and they said, this is a problem. We've got to be ready for change. 

 The world is speeding up and that’s in 1970 and so it's probably the first adult book that I bought and read. And it is very long, and it is very good. And it had a pink cover. They had it come in fluorescent pink, green and one other color, as I recall. But mine was pink and I read it. Shared the book, carried it with me through moving out, moving to college and beyond. And the book is probably somewhere in my, in some box someplace still today.  

And so, the future is coming faster, which means tech, now when Alvin Toffler wrote that,  he did not say that we would be, he  talked about us as connecting, but he didn't know how to talk about the Internet or what we're doing right now, video calls and things like that, just connection. And so, it's interesting, because the book has a lot of people talking about what they see as the future and what came to pass out of the book and blah, blah, blah. But really, it's the fundamental idea that the world is changing very fast, to be able to keep up with it, I knew I had to get into technology.  


Yeah, yeah, that's wonderful.  

And a very interesting fact about you or one of my favorite keynote speeches about, I mean that you delivered was about storytelling in marketing. So, can you tell us a little bit about your ideas, about storytelling for marketing to our audience?  


That’s a great question. I just told you a story that I, I made up on the spot. It's real life. It's what I've been thinking about. I did have a conversation with my brother two days ago who has been a Toffler fan. He's a schoolteacher and while he gets into as much technologies that can be used in the class now is, his story is different. My story is that I have been looking for this and I identify with it, but I was able to tell you the story without hardly think about, because that's how it is in my brain.  

I couldn't remember sitting in the congregation, and a guy held up this funny pink book. And at my church services, talking about a secular book just didn't happen. This guy was quoting the book and it was a very short part of what he said, the pink book was what got my attention. Because I'd seen it in a grocery store , I didn't go to bookstores at the time. I had seen the book and so, I saved up my $3 and bought it. And then I felt very much that I had to read the whole book. Here I am telling you a story again because that's what comes out when I think.  

So, when we think about our attitudes, our goals, our values, it all comes out as what are the stories we’re trying to tell. In fact, everything is in our memories, and the memories are stored as stories. There's all this, where do you keep the car or the function of what a car is? And it's somewhere in your brain at one particular point and they can probe it and you'll say cars and tell a story about, when you got your first car or something like that. And what they found is those aren't the car places and in the same place as my brain as yours. It is related to the story of how we first experience what a car was.  

For some people, it's remember the first ride in the car. Other people remember the first time they decided they wanted a car. Other people, just it's just another toy they had. And so we tell stories to help remember things.  


So, Warren, one of the very interesting facts about you is that you stress a lot on storytelling for marketing. Can you explain a little bit about it for the audience?  


Oh, sure. Everything we do in memory is stored in stories. We remember where we were, what we did when we first saw something. So, where I have a picture of a boat in my brain. It reminds me of the first time I saw a boat. Not first time you saw a boat. It might be a whole different story for you. I may have lived on a boat. You saw a boat as a toy and it has a different meaning for each person.  

And so, when you're trying to market to people, being able to tap into that story that they already have is your ultimate goal.

When you're trying to market to people, being able to tap into that story that they already have is your ultimate goal

So, whether that story is real or imagined or whatever, it's very good to get into how they're thinking and then speak in their language. So, and a demonstration of that would be how I answer the questions here. These are just stories based on words and phrases and things that are in your question. And that's a secret. The more you think about stories, the more you'll come to this naturally, just help tell a lot of stories.  


Yeah, that's wonderful. I mean storytelling has a lot of power in itself, and a lot of people who come to our show and talk to us tell us about the power of storytelling in coaching, in marketing, so storytelling is universal.  


Yes. I'll tell you one more thing about that and people talk all the time about, Oh, no one will read the long articles or watch your longer video or read your longer email, and that's going away because of the change and we have less attention span than a goldfish, etc. We get bored faster than a goldfish. It doesn't mean we can't pay attention, because the easiest thing to say is binge watching. I can sit and watch 10 episodes of an hour-long program without hardly stopping and I enjoy that better. And watching a full-length movie is a couple of hours. And yet at the same time people say we can't pay attention for 30 seconds. It's just not true.  

We want what, the difference there is the story. And so, the master crafters of story learn about what are the elements of a story? The hero's journey from Joseph Campbell and some things like that and the master storytellers tell us, George Lucas's story about Star Wars and things like that, multibillion-dollar franchises have come from the idea of a simply told story, enhanced with some technology, of course.  


Yeah, Wow, that's wonderful.  

And let's talk a little bit about the current situation of the global pandemic right now, and a lot of people are losing their jobs, and a lot of people are realizing that I don't have to work for someone. 
So, everyone is of the opinion that, building a personal brand is very important, especially at this time, with such a dip in the economy and all of that. So, what is your opinion on building a personal brand at this time? And what is your general opinion on how to build a personal brand for ourselves?  


Well, having your own brand and, which could be what's on your resume and how it is stated all the way to what you developed yourself and your accomplishments, the stories you have to tell, You are You Inc. is a common way. There are books written on ‘You Are You Inc.’ or whatever. 

Really, whether or not you get a pay check from somebody doesn't matter. You are working for your one-person organization ‘You’ and of course, you have obligations to your family. And you want to get, do well with the culture of your industry and employer blah, blah, blah, all that kind of stuff. But whether or not you're a freelance or employed or an entrepreneur owning businesses, what's important is, do you deliver value to people? 

What's important is, do you deliver value to people?

So, if you had a job because the job was given to you, you're thinking about it all wrong. What you need to think about is I have a position where I contribute value, and I have been paid well for that. And this is why some professions like engineers and the software industry and lawyers and quants, they get jobs easily.

In fact, that's a major storage we have right now is all, many of the best minds are being eating up on this financial stuff, how to keep track of the money and move billions and that sort of thing and those people very much are paid on merit. But unfortunately, that doesn't add value to the whole.  

Think of how you can add value to the whole world. As Steve job calls it, called it, making a dent in the universe. 




When he came out with the various products that he's known for and even when he got into opening an Apple store, he rethought how a store should work and in everything he did, he was trying to do that well. You don't have to invent the next iPhone to do well in the world. If you are a school teacher and you add value to where the people in your classroom go out and do things, that's adding value. Interesting example for me because I'm not exactly for doing school the way we've always done it, but innovate. 

In fact, I think I mentioned a conversation with my brother about storytelling and he's telling me about his story, that he's old enough to retire, but and has everything locked in going that way but says but why would I? I just get bored so I keep on going to work and teaching and trying to do that. And he is 62. I was trying to convince him that perhaps he's going to be alive for another 20 years. You got time for a whole another career, and he goes like, I haven’t thought about it like that.  

So that's when I use again and again with the story and telling people. Interestingly, it had been 11 years since we last discussed such a thing about his career and he has a bit of a disability and he could have retired back then. And he wanted to keep on teaching. He doesn't like the administration, he likes the teaching.

And I'm telling him the same thing I told him 11 years ago, move forward and he looks at me and my career has been up and down with money and what not and he's had a more traditional life and, so I can always tell, especially in a video call now. I could tell on the phone, but I can definitely tell in a video call like, yeah, yeah, right, yeah, yeah, all this stuff you pontificate.  

I remember when you were out of cash a few years ago, and so I always tell him he's the one person I know, if I show up on his doorstep, he's got to make up the couch for me. Friends mind to it, but my brother is stuck, so all I need is bus fare to two hours away where he lives and I could be taken care of.

And the interesting thing is, even in the conversation where I said that to him when I was very down at one point, I realized I would never do it. I would always find another way, and that's really what it is, is you've got to find that way. And it's really easy to say, start selling stuff on eBay when you sell off all the excess goods you have you got while things weren't so bad and maybe you'll know how to be an entrepreneur. 

 I think about doing that regularly, and I don't need to sell anything. And I still want to. I just get too much crap. But I think about the other thing s or I see an idea and I’m going like, Well, that could make a business. You don't have to be that entrepreneurial about it. You just have to be knowing that is your responsibility.

If the job or the union or the people you work with or the boss are bad, you hate the customers. If you hate the customers, then you have got a problem because you got to learn to love the people that handle the business money. But no matter what it is you you've got to look and say, How could I add so much value that they can't ignore you? I think that's, Steve Martin said, Be so good, they can't ignore you.  

Be so good, they can't ignore you


That's a wonderful answer. I mean, that's wonderful thought process, and that's that. I mean that particular answer added a lot of value to this interview right here.  

So, moving on to a little bit about your favorite topics, do you think automation and AI can play a significant role in managing people and also increasing their engagement and productivity in an organization?  


Okay, that's not quite a question, but I know what a question would be. So, I got ideas in my head to talk about, the biggest one is how often people look at the automation and AI in the future as something that's not going to work. Again, it was in “Future Shock”. It was in, long ago, the famous story of somebody at the U. S. patent office said, All the stuff we need has been invented. We're not really even sure we need a patent office. And that was 1893 and there's always more to be discovered and learned about.  

I think there's one future as I was reading had a good way of putting it. He said that what we know, is if you take a, you're trying to make a divide up a sheet of paper and you start off with a sort of half circle on one corner. So maybe somewhere in the 15-20% of it is that little slice is what we know and then everything else what we don't know. Now we know, over at the far end, at the other rectangle, there's a little bit out there that we’re just pretty sure that things don't happen that way. 

The things we know that we don't know, but we're satisfied we're not going to find out. But the big gap in the middle are the things that we, and there was another little layer in this thing about the stuff we know, also some things that we think might be true and we're working on, which is about as much as what we know. And then the big gap is things that are just virtually unknown.  

Imagine 2005 and the iPhone. You would say there's going to be a phone that finally worked. I had the PDA. I had the flip phones. I had every piece of technology came out of the phone. First, got my first cell phone in the 80s when it was like, you had to carry around a car battery to make it work. So that was the portable edition and even in 2005-2006, if you tell me there's this thing coming, that's the iPhone, that's finally going to get it right and the touch screen is finally going to work and is going to revolutionize everything, I wouldn't have thought of it.  

Today, I see my two-year-old granddaughter pick up her grandma's iPhone and use it like she knows what she's doing. Oh, I worry about where she's going to make a call to, but she knows how to get to YouTube and turn on her favorite video. And she will sit staring at the thing and a lot of people say, well, we got to worry about that.

No, that's the future. Those people are going to take over. We're going to build technology for them. Their brains are going to be wired in a different way. It's not that, yes, they might have more trouble sitting in a classroom of 30 kids and sitting still until they raise their hand. That's my one thing about education that I have to say, when in adult life you ever need the ability to raise your hand and be called on, that's not a good job skill and is one of the biggest things we teach kids. 

 We understand why. I mean, it's not that it's a bad idea of its own. But let's teach kids to disrupt when there's something wrong and think for themselves and be creative and maybe the best way to teach that is not a classroom with standard desks and rows and columns and lots of discipline rules. But try not to get too like a political policy or anything, but I think I can come out as being anti-school and I'm okay. Nobody's going to beat me up. They might just shun me, so yeah. So we have to think of the technology changing so fast that all we can do is work on keeping up.  


Yeah. I mean, that's wonderful.  

And, Warren, just to kind of wrap up the interview process, if you have any last soundbites that you would like to know our audience. 


Sound bites. Sound bites did not exist until 1980s. Ronald Reagan's team came up with that idea of a sound bite, something that could be repeated again and again. And now political parties tell each other that no, that my opponent just used a sound bite. Well, they all use them. It works, is a good way to say something. So, I like to say that everything I do is going to be the story, and we're going to talk about.

There are some things that I really like. I've been known to say if it's not fun, I don't want to do it. I don't put it in quite those words. Let's see. Actually, somebody else got in and made it into a gold card. But it's an early thing. Even before, no, it was after ‘Future Shock', but not long.  

I was toiling at a job in Thailand and it was very boring. And repetitive but I was doing my job. And I got thinking about how, why not just make everything fun? Yeah, and now we could talk about gamification and things like that. So, I'm not going to say, if it's not fun, I'm not going to do it. I'm going to make it fun or I can avoid doing it. 

So, I still avoid standing in line at the DMV, that's one, that has always been my number one idea of things I don't want to do and obviously, I don't want to go to the hospital for me or for other people. But some of those things are part of life. And what I've learned is with the number of tragedies I've seen in my life, is that, in personal with the family and what not that life goes on, there's still there's still something to do next.  

So, it's, enjoy the journey because the destination ain't work it. I have set goals. I've got to the destination. Yeah. I've had tragedy happen and lost everything. I have a child that doesn't talk to me. That is very distressing every day. But I make sure not to focus on that. All I think about is, is there anything I can do today?

Okay, well, I do what I can and move on like no tomorrow and live. Whatever it is, if you decide that you're going to persist, that you're going to work on You, Inc. or a better name if you come up with it. Me Inc.? Actually, I think people should call it Me, Inc. themselves. And make yourself better and body, mind, spirit in everything you do and then spend all your time serving others. You're not getting enough out of the world. Give something more.  

Body, mind, spirit in everything you do and then spend all your time serving others. You're not getting enough out of the world. Give something more


Wow, thank you so much for that last note of positivity Warren. It was such a pleasure to talk to you. So much of energy and positivity and a lot of knowledge. Thank you so much for this. And I hope all of our audience creates a make for themselves and take control of themselves in their careers. Thank you so much for this wonderful experience and have a healthy and safe time ahead of you.

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Incorporating story-telling in marketing - Warren Whitlock [Interview]

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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