Utilizing Storytelling Rhetoric with Pete Blackshaw of Cintrifuse
Untold Stories of Innovation
"Stories build confidence. Stories drive partnership, stories build trust, and stories entertain.” - Pete Blackshaw, CEO of Cintrifuse
From today’s episode you’ll learn:
Why do stories matter to the innovation process? What values can be instilled in innovators who share stories? How do innovation leaders inspire creators to tell and share their success and failure stories?
For this episode, we speak with Pete Blackshaw, CEO of Cintrifuse, an organization focused on making Cincinnati an innovation growth center through the combined efforts of investors and entrepreneurs. Pete focuses on the intersections between business, marketing, and innovation, and the collaborative work it takes for all to have successful innovations and storytelling rhetoric. Together, we geek out about the basic tenets of rhetoric and discuss the need for engaging narratives in innovation.
Pete Blackshaw is CEO of Cintrifuse, the syndicated venture fund, innovation catalyst, and startup community that’s making Greater Cincinnati the number one startup hub in the Midwest and among the top innovation hubs in the nation. Pete leads with two core beliefs: “Trust your inner consumer” and “Understand how startups work – how they think, design, exploit data, and iterate – and then apply that understanding to everything you do.” These beliefs have been the cornerstones of his career. Pete is the author of Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World, as well as a 2015 MediaPost “Online All Star” Winner, a 2014 inductee of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Hall of Fame, and a 2010 Grand Prize winner of the “Great Minds” award from the Advertising Research Foundation. Most recently, he was inducted into the American Marketing Association’s “Cincinnati Marketing Legends” Hall of Fame.
This episode, Storytelling Rhetoric For Big Impact is powered by Untold Content’s innovation storytelling training. Increase buy in for your best ideas in this immersive and interactive, story-driven experience. Where your teams refine storytelling techniques for their latest projects, prototypes and pitches—and get inspired by 25 epic examples of impactful innovation stories. Learn more at https://untoldcontent.com/innovationstorytellingtraining-2/.
Katie: [00:00:04] Welcome to Untold Stories of Innovation, where we amplify untold stories of insight, impact and innovation. Powered by Untold Content. I’m your host, Katie Trauth Taylor.
Katie: [00:00:19] Our guest today is Pete Blackshaw. He is CEO of Cintrifuse, which is a public-private partnership in downtown Cincinnati that has put Cincinnati on the map as an innovation growth center. He’s also the former head of digital marketing and social media at Nestlé. Pete, thank you so much for being here on the podcast.
Pete: [00:00:35] Delighted to be here.
Katie: [00:00:36] So where did your personal story of innovation begin? I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to ask you that.
Pete: [00:00:41] Well, it actually goes back to age 14 when I started my first business. I was actually the youngest avocado grower in Southern California.
Katie: [00:00:50] Really?
Pete: [00:00:51] A guy knocked on our door and said, I’ll give you one hundred dollars if I can strip your trees. And of course, as a 14 year old with no money, I’m like, I have to enter that business.
Katie: [00:01:01] That’s crazy.
Pete: [00:01:02] And that was a storytelling exercise because I really leverage the fact that, you know, the story of the young kid who worked hard and kind of picked the tree, picked the avocados from the family tree, then the neighbor’s trees. And then I set up shop in one of the first certified farmer’s markets in Southern California.
Katie: [00:01:22] Wow.
Pete: [00:01:22] And how to build a narrative around it. Had to learn how to kind of make my story rise to the top, relative to other players that were selling avocados.
Katie: [00:01:30] So what was unique?
Pete: [00:01:30] It wasn’t just about price. Oh, I would juggle. I would make guacamole. We had these little very unique avocados they were called cocktail avocados that you could literally. That were really kind of small. There was it was the Fuerte brand. And I just kind of learned how to romance the narrative. In fact, the one thing that was interesting about California is that it didn’t matter if you are big ag or little guy, they would do anything they could to help anyone sell produce. And so I took full advantage of their tools. You know, at P&G, they might call that a “playbook” or a “capability building” or a “fact book.” But back then it was just inspiration to tell a story to bring more people closer to your booth.
Katie: [00:02:15] Oh, my goodness, that’s wonderful. I love that image. Well, and now I feel like the avocado is very romanced…. romanticized?
Pete: [00:02:22] Well. Yeah. I think I was way ahead of my time.
Katie: [00:02:24] Right.
Pete: [00:02:25] And then I had the…
Katie: [00:02:25] Avocado toast is like a feature menu item now.
Pete: [00:02:27] It’s unbelievable.
Pete: [00:02:29] And then I kind of carried that entrepreneurial bug to University, California, Santa Cruz. And it was a bit of a counterculture school and very rebellious. In fact, I think a lot of reasons why I’m very good at digital leadership is I’ve kind of kept that rebellious spirit and our mascot was the banana slug, the iconoclastic banana slug. And it was an informal mascot. But we decided to try to make it official. And, of course, the administration thought that would be the worst thing for the school. So I co-created a logo that tried to soften the edge around the banana slug. So I had the slug [was] wearing glasses reading Plato. And we put it in the middle of the university logo, which stood for Fiat Lux: “let there be light.” We said “Fiat Slug.” And but we romanced the story and we kind of said, hey, listen. Yes. It’s kind of the anti-mascot mascot. But this is a mascot that is glorifying academics and studying and the pursuit of truth in the company of friends. And it kind of went viral. And what was initially just a propaganda T-shirt became a big business, not a big business. But it you know, we created a T-shirt…
Katie: [00:03:48] On campus, though.
Pete: [00:03:48] We created T-shirt company called Oxford West Collegiate Designs and Images. And then what happened is Quentin Tarantino discovered the T-shirt and actually used it in Pulp Fiction. And it actually is in about a third of Pulp Fiction. It’s a T-shirt that John Travolta wears. And that kind of took the story to a whole ‘nother level. And I was in business school where I was going to flunk out, and I had all these media reporters calling me up saying, trying to interview me. And I just said I threw my hands up and it was right when the Mosaic browser had come out. And we ended up creating a Web site called “Slug Web” to kind of put all the literature about the slug out there so I wouldn’t get harassed by reporters. I should have called it Amazon.
Katie: [00:04:34] Looking back.
[00:04:35] But yeah. But it was really you know, we end in the business, I think tripled and then ended up selling the logo back to the university as a good alumni. But it was a good narrative that still is kind of held and even when you go back there, that early identity was really important. And it wasn’t just about telling this story. It was about being really disciplined around what the brand essence was. Everybody was creating logos. I was trying to really impress upon the world that this was a, you know, there was a – there’s a narrative here. There’s a movement behind this identity. And that’s really important. And those skills have helped my storytelling ever since. Then I went and worked for a politician in one of the fat, kind of a rising-star Latinos state senator and worked in the California legislature as his press secretary. And that was all about storytelling at that time. You know, we were… Our ambition was, you know, he was trying to become the first Latino governor of California. And, you know, we’re trying to figure out how do you tell stories that really cross over to the skeptical white voters? How do you build multiracial, you know, coalitions? You know, how do you tell the Latino story in a way that, you know, felt more inclusive to others?
Katie: [00:05:47] Yeah.
Pete: [00:05:47] And that was a really fantastic experience. And he was a very, very gifted storyteller. And that was a great experience. But he ultimately told me to go to business school. Which is why I landed here in Cincinnati.
Katie: [00:06:02] That’s right. That’s right. Incredible. It’s interesting. Politicians, I think, are the ones who rise to the top anyway, tend to be really strong storytellers or at least have a relatability through their stories that helps pull people in.
Pete: [00:06:15] Storytelling Rhetoric- The gentleman I worked for, his name was Art Torres. He’s still a dear friend and he was just a gifted orator. But he was always really good at combining the details of the policy with, you know, kind of foundations and literature, kind of going back to, you know, sometimes we’d have a 2:00 a.m. senate floor debate and he’d scream at me, say, “bring me my Shakespeare book!”
Katie: [00:06:36]Storytelling Rhetoric- I love it.
Pete: [00:06:36] Storytelling Rhetoric-And he’d always find some historical reference point or some inspirational quote that kind of got the extra votes. And so, yeah, it’s all about framing the context. It’s all the art of persuasion. Right. I mean, it’s all good. Yeah. You’re a writer and you’re a student of rhetoric. My favorite book was The Theory of Rhetoric from Aristotle, talked about Pathos and Ethos…
Katie: [00:06:56] Storytelling Rhetoric-Yes! And Logos. Yes.
Pete: [00:06:57] Storytelling Rhetoric-Yeah. We use all these different terms in the world of social media and conversational marketing, but it all kind of gets back to those same principles, the authority of your voice. You know, the empathy of understanding your audience and get that right and you can work in any medium.
Katie: [00:07:12] Storytelling Rhetoric- I completely agree. That’s… Wow. A few minutes into this episode, we’re talking about Aristotle.
Pete: [00:07:18] Storytelling Rhetoric-I really mean that. That was my favorite book. And I still, in fact, when I did digital training at Nestlé, I would always have everybody read excerpts of that.
Katie: [00:07:28]Storytelling Rhetoric-Really?
Pete: [00:07:28]Storytelling Rhetoric-Because there’s just so much hype around digital and social media.
Katie: [00:07:31]Storytelling Rhetoric-So to like get back to the reason that basic human reason: why this works and why this matters.
Pete: [00:07:36]Storytelling Rhetoric-Back to the basics. To reach the future.
Katie: [00:07:38]Storytelling Rhetoric-Yes. Tell me about your time at Nestlé. We’ll, I promise we’ll get to Cincinnati and the great work that we’re doing now here. But tell me about running a global social media presence.
Pete: [00:07:49] Storytelling Rhetoric-It was a fantastic opportunity. It’s still hard to look at Instagram photos from my friend… Friends, you know, of the beautiful Lake Geneva, you know, where Nestlé is based. But great experience. But, you know, interesting from a storytelling perspective, you know, I got to Nestlé because a story went really, really bad.
Katie: [00:08:11] Storytelling Rhetoric-Really?
Pete: [00:08:11]Storytelling Rhetoric-And what I mean by that is, you know, so their loss was my opportunity. So Greenpeace, you know, had raised some really big issues related to supply chain. And they basically co-opted the website. They dressed up in orangutang suits and kind of came down from the rafters at Nestle’s AGM. But to some extent, they kind of told the story better than Nestlé did. And then. When Nestlé tried to respond in social media, they did what most big companies do, they invoked legal and they kind of were quite condescending with the consumer and it completely backlashed. The opportunity for me is that there was this epiphany, I think, for the executives there who said we need to take this seriously. We need an outside perspective. We need to bump up the role from typical manager to vice president. And moreover, we need to blend the role between marketing and corp comm. Which is really important because I do think that too many business leaders are sitting in silos. You almost have to straddle the public policy and, you know, the marketing side together. And so…
Katie: [00:09:25]Storytelling Rhetoric-Especially due to new social media technologies.
Pete: [00:09:27] Storytelling Rhetoric-Oh!
Katie: [00:09:27] Storytelling Rhetoric-Right? That wasn’t as critical maybe 10 or 15 years ago.
Pete: [00:09:31] Storytelling Rhetoric-Big time.
Katie: [00:09:32] Storytelling Rhetoric-But wow. It’s social media presence, it’s marketing, but it’s also public relations and communications. It’s sort of packaged into one. So really, you are one of the – you were in a position that was elevating social media, maybe for the first time.
Pete: [00:09:44] Storytelling Rhetoric-So I jumped into a bad story.
Katie: [00:09:46] Storytelling Rhetoric-Yeah. Yeah.
Pete: [00:09:46] Storytelling Rhetoric-And, you know, the thing about the Internet, the Internet never forgets, even to this day. I mean, you can type in a brand in… Google, never forgets. Wikipedia never forgets. So… and it was difficult because at Nestlé, you know, 40 percent of the Wikipedia entry is a story of controversial practices from the past. So you’ve got this digital vehicle, the number one most popular Web site, or at least the one that indexes the most in Google is kind of telling this counter story. And so the challenge for the storyteller is how do you begin to not dance around that, but begin to create some credible counterweights? Yeah, and it has to be credible.
Katie: [00:10:26] Storytelling Rhetoric-Yes! Yes.
Pete: [00:10:26] Storytelling Rhetoric-And sustainability is really difficult. I’m going to give a speech at P&G on this topic in about an hour, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. And, you know, you just can’t greenwash. You can’t just, you know, make a loose claim. It has to be credible. And I do think over time…. Nestlé’s leadership, which I, you know, got very, very close to and deeply admire, started to build some real credible foundations on policies around water. You know, limiting waste, supply chain practice… It’s not like they got out of palm oil. But I do think they and other companies, Unilever, P&G included, kind of rallied around some self-regulatory areas that kind of opened up the door for more aggressive storytelling in this area. But…
Katie: [00:11:19] Storytelling Rhetoric-Yes, because there was a depth to actual change behind it. So there’s legitimacy to the story. Right. You couldn’t just…
Pete: [00:11:25] Storytelling Rhetoric-Great stories have to be credible.
Katie: [00:11:25] Storytelling Rhetoric-You can’t just hope to spin something like that. Right?
Pete: [00:11:28] Storytelling Rhetoric-No.
Katie: [00:11:28] You have to address concerns.
Pete: [00:11:30] And, listen, not until… well, I think, and generally you just can’t spin with attentive consumers. But consumers today, especially the millennials, especially those that demand radical transparency….
Katie: [00:11:42] Yes.
Pete: [00:11:42] No, you just can’t. And the technology is simply removing all friction and understanding whether a claim is true or not. It’s just too easy.
Katie: [00:11:51] To figure out.
Pete: [00:11:52] So I think brands need to work really, really hard. So they get the foundations right. And then they also need to figure out how to break through.
Katie: [00:12:00] Yes.
Pete: [00:12:01] I did think some of the brands like Nespresso did a really good job. I mean, obviously, you know, they understood that the tin cups were a potential liability from recycling. So really stepped into getting recycling right and kind of building a narrative around that and even around, you know, one of my favorite projects at Nestlé, I led or co-led open innovation. We created an open innovation platform that was kind of anchored to the story of the founder, Henri Nestlé. We decided to call it, you know, HENRi almost kind of bringing it back to life. But one of our… We would put business briefs out there and one of them was like, how do we tell a better story around sustainability? And so, you know, got hundreds of briefs and one of the ones that ultimately made it was a technology enabler that put cameras into the coffee fields where you could go to your app and you could look at the Costa Rican farm, Nicaraguan farm, wherever you wanted to go. And that is, I think, the future. That is where it’s going.
Katie: [00:13:03] Yes, yes. People want to see where their food comes from, where things are sourced. And so then leveraging the power of story to be able to reveal that and put that in the palms of consumers.
Pete: [00:13:12] And you have to make it interesting. You may have to get into the story of the farmer. But what’s interesting today is that I think we’re in a renaissance of storytelling. I think the new capabilities emerging from voice to augmented reality, virtual reality, are infinitely revealing of brand storytelling opportunity. It’s really hard to figure out. It’s almost like you have to work harder to kind of fill the pipe because the expectations of the technologies are very, very rich. And so I do think and this is more than just data targeting, this is much richer. This is almost like going back to older forms of advertising and kind of putting it on, putting it on steroids. I think a lot of what’s happening on Netflix and all the content sites are actually kind of good training because we are in a renaissance of what we used to call TV. It’s long form and it’s very, very rich. And I think it’s going to be translated into augmented reality and it’s just a massive opportunity. I do think one area that is a really important area to think about, as we mentioned earlier, is on the sustainability piece. I just think if you’re going to try to become a good storyteller, this is a good pressure test because you’ve got the skepticism out there. But you’ve also got an incredibly… If you are doing good stuff, this is your moment and this is the area where you will get richly rewarded in social media amplification, in sales. I mean, think of all the retailers that are putting a big premium on what brands do with sustainability. And it’s not just Kroger. I mean I mean, Wal-Mart was way ahead on this like 15 years ago. They kind of leaned in. But now Kroger is really making some really, really important moves. So there’s some, I think, some great opportunity for brands and retailers alike to open the door in this area.
Katie: [00:15:00] You know, it’s interesting to see the trends in putting the access of content creation into the hands of consumers, that then creating sort of a new wave of authenticity and everyday life.
Pete: [00:15:17] And brilliance.
Katie: [00:15:18] Yes. Yeah.
Pete: [00:15:18] And they’re really, really good.
Katie: [00:15:20] They’re really good. And there’s a lot for brands to learn. And they are learning rapidly, I think, for the most part, about building on that kind of authenticity and not just in their storytelling, but in their practices. And sustainability, I think is one trend or topic or really important issue that creates that kind of opportunity to build authenticity, to reveal more transparently. What is being done by the brand, why the consumer should care about that and consumers do care about that, and so would you speak a little bit to… You walked in it, just quickly back to Nestlé.
Pete: [00:15:56] Yeah yeah.
Katie: [00:15:56] Because you walked into such a huge challenge. What did you do? How was that a scary time? Was there a certain moment where you felt like some of the stories started to break through and the new narrative was forming? What were some of those moments?
Pete: [00:16:10] Well, you know, it was frustrating at first because, you know, it’s hard to tell a story against kind of a massive countercurrent of negatives. And so and this is where, you know, I had in my book, I called these…. I’m trying to think of the name that I used to call them. But they’re basically, you know, there are these dark spots that are out there on the Internet that just kind of negate what you’re trying to say.
Katie: [00:16:37] “The haters.”
[00:16:37] Yeah… you know…
Katie: [00:16:37] I’m speaking in creator language. But, yeah.
[00:16:40] Yeah, well you’ve got determined detractors are creating the most aggressive content. But a lot of the swing voters, if you will, get access to it again through just basic search, and so you have to kind of, you know, you have to kind of work in that environment. And then. Yeah, and then trying to get a large organization comfortable with certain types of narratives when they just didn’t have a lot of digital experience. And so that gets really difficult. There’s the “what.” What do you say? And then there’s the “how.” And companies, I think, struggle on both sides. I do think to your earlier point there is I would draw a lot of inspiration from the long tail of content creators. And I’ve always been very inspired by how certain influencers talk on Facebook, Twitter and then more recently, Instagram and Tik Tok. I mean, they really understand the principle of “Brevity is the soul of wit.” They speak with authenticity. Fantastic visual [unclear wording], you know, visualization.
Katie: [00:17:42] Yeah, very engaging.
Pete: [00:17:43] You know, and it’s kind of amazing today with an iPhone camera, you can do… You can create content comparable to what we were spending a hundred thousand dollars on when I started as a P&G brand manager for advertising. And so it’s opening up all sorts of doors and lessons. I think for brands, they need to be incredibly humble. They need to maybe put aside the righteousness of their fact books and just kind of listen and observe the young storytellers that are kind of breaking through. And I know we often have debates over whether engagement matters. I think brands fixate too much on that direct line to purchase. But there’s absolutely no question that the communicators are getting the likes and the shares and the “pass alongs” and the very, very deep comments are connecting. I mean, they’re… And then those stories are being enhanced. I mean, that’s obviously what’s so powerful today is that storytelling isn’t “A to B,” it’s a continuous process. In fact, you know, it’s like that New York Times article that is ten times better because of the comments. And so this is an area that I think brands need to really understand. For example, I don’t think brands in general, and we worked on this a lot at Nestlé and it’s you know, even when I left, I still don’t think that we got to the right level. But customer service is a storytelling process.
Katie: [00:19:05] Yes! Yeah.
Pete: [00:19:05] It’s a marketing opportunity.
Katie: [00:19:07] Yeah.
Pete: [00:19:07] You know, and the service industry really understands that.
Katie: [00:19:10] Yeah. Of course.
Pete: [00:19:10] The hotels…
Katie: [00:19:12] Yeah, the experience industry. Yeah.
Pete: [00:19:13] It’s almost like they’re waiting for the complaints so they can then kind of tell the story of how they’re going to enhance your experience, whether it’s the bed upgrade or whether it’s some other feature that they have. I think traditional brands still struggle with this, but they can learn a lot from the Instagram generation because you look at the early influencers. I mean, you know, they leave no comment behind.
Katie: [00:19:35] Yes. Yeah, absolutely.
Pete: [00:19:36] Right?
Katie: [00:19:36] Yeah. It’s all about engagement.
Pete: [00:19:36] I mean, and it’s all part of their collective story that continues and continues.
Katie: [00:19:40] Yeah, absolutely. I want to get back to sustainability and some of the challenges of trying to change the narrative, especially from a brand perspective. And when we’re working toward a new future and our past practices perhaps weren’t sustainable and we’re having to pivot, we’re choosing to pivot, rather, and we’re having to storytell a way that takes us, you know, takes our consumers along that journey with us. That’s such a massive challenge.
Pete: [00:20:16] It’s a huge challenge. And I think you have to take a step back and really think about… What I sometimes call the four stages of sustainability, and I kind of think about it in a historical context. I mean, initially it started with the fringe. It was kind of led by activists. And then you had this wave of compliance, which was like, what are the rules and the laws?
Katie: [00:20:35] Yes, regulation. Yeah.
Pete: [00:20:36] And sometimes companies would respond with ridiculously small print disclosures that nobody could read. But technically checked off a box with their lawyers. The third kind of more advanced in the risk area, like what’s the business exposure from inadequate response? And then the big one that I think really speaks to the opportunity with storytelling, provided there’s substance behind it, is what’s the growth potential given the consumer demand? And so millennials today expect this almost as a price of entry. And, you know, this is and brands need to really, really think through. So one of the things that we’re doing at Cintrifuse for some of our clients is, you know, I’m really into gap analysis. And so and maybe it goes back to my day starting Planet Feedback where we did Internet monitoring. But, you know, I love to do a gap analysis on things like using Alexa or Google Home. And if you go to, you know, Google Assistant and say, “hey, Google, is Unilever sustainable?” Sometimes the answer will take you to some, you know, very extreme third party. Sometimes it’ll give you the wrong response. If you say “is Dove beauty products, you know, do they recycle their tubes?” Or whatever… You know, you might get a random response and really understanding, you know, who’s telling the story. And ninety-nine percent of the cases, it’s a third party. Why is that? Because brands don’t know how to market to algorithms. Brands don’t need to position their content so they can speak to these emerging voice devices. Now, if you’re a typical brand person, you’ll say, “dude, there’s not enough people that are using voice.” But if you do an analysis on the numbers, you will say that millennials are three times more likely….
Katie: [00:22:21] It’s coming.
Pete: [00:22:21] …To go to Alexa and they’re the ones that are going to say very quickly, without hesitation, without friction: What’s the story behind this brand, you know, are they ethical? Do they have responsible sourcing practices? So brands, I think, need to understand, like where the requests for storytelling is coming from. It’s not just clicking on a Web site. It’s just friction free. You could be in the shower saying, “hmmm, I wonder if this brand has its act together on [wording unclear].”
Katie: [00:22:52] Yeah! “Is the shampoo I’m using tested on animals?”
Pete: [00:22:55] And then what’s the response? Who’s the spokesperson? Should we take trusted spoke[sperson]? Should you take a trusted spokesperson like George Clooney and say, “OK, George as part of your contract you now have to tell the story through voice.”
Katie: [00:23:09] Interesting.
Pete: [00:23:09] You’re not seeing that today, but logically, that makes the world of sense.
Katie: [00:23:12] Yeah, it totally does.
Pete: [00:23:13] Wouldn’t you want common equity? But who’s going to do that? But the good news is that, you know, for agencies, consultants, people that are passionate about this, I think this is a golden opportunity to step up to brands and actually show them a new way. And moreover, I’m absolutely convinced and this is the theme of my talk later on today. I’ve got this term that I call SRI: “Sustainability Return on Innovation.” And the point is that if you get it right with sustainability, everything else will follow. And the epiphany for me came when I was…. I did. I’ve been a juror several times for the Cannes Innovation Lions and last summer we looked at like 300 absolutely fantastic campaigns. There was zero political agenda. But what happened is at the top awards that we gave, four of them had to do with extreme disabilities. Three of them had to do with sustainability, and that was not by design, and I ended up writing an article for Ad Age reflecting on this. And my conclusion is that extreme challenges lead to great innovation. And the sustainability areas in particular [are] really, really raised the bar of thinking, you know, it’s urgent. I mean, even think today, like what you’re seeing with…. One hand and I don’t like to use the example, but I still think it works is the COVID-19. There’s a lot of innovation underway that’s driven by this sense of urgency.
Katie: [00:24:43] Yeah absolutely! Sure.
Pete: [00:24:43] And all hands on deck. And I think sustainability has a chance to do the exact same thing. Like I believe that brands that really figure out the Green narrative understand that there’s a liability of not having a good story when someone says, “hey, Alexa, you know, is Tide sustainable?” That it can raise the bar for everything else. And so, again, where do you pick the… I think the good storyteller picks that one area to focus on that has the opportunity to lead all the other areas.
Katie: [00:25:15] Yup.
Pete: [00:25:16] And I think the brands that kind of win on sustainability and meet those very critical torture test needs of millennials are going to hit a homerun on everything else.
Katie: [00:25:25] Let me… I think you’ll like this story.
Pete: [00:25:28] Yeah.
Katie: [00:25:28] So a couple years back, until content worked with the Shepherd Chemical Company, which is a mid-sized manufacturer located just outside of Cincinnati, in Norwood.
Pete: [00:25:37] Great local company.
Katie: [00:25:38] Yes, exactly. They have about 200 employees. Right. And they got nominated for one of their innovations around spray foam, which is sort of like an insulator. Right. But the chemical industry was having to switch because of a regulation around sustainability, switch away from very toxic chemicals that used to go into spray foam and switch to new ones. And Shepherd had invented a catalyst that was going to be perfect for essentially making. It’s called a blowing agent, sort of makes the spray foam puff up, I guess you’d say. And so we worked with them to create this story for this innovation award. It was an international innovation award for Polyurethanes. And they were up against Dow and Huntsman. And they went to the conference, presented this, you know, the story of that, the sustainability story of it, the way that they responded to this new regulatory change that’s coming. And this is an industry audience, right, full of chemists and polyurethanes scientists…
Pete: [00:26:40] A lot of geeks.
Katie: [00:26:41] And purchasers. Yes. And typically male, typically older or middle aged. And they won that award against Dow and Huntsman because…
Pete: [00:26:51] I love it!
Katie: [00:26:52] It spoke to the human and it spoke to a need to stay on top of and be aware of and responsible and accountable to the need to be sustainable, which in the chemical industry, in particular, that’s a massive challenge. But you see certain companies. And Dow has a lot of really powerful sustainability stories now that I’ve seen that’s increased very rapidly lately. But it was really a surprise sort of Cinderella story that they would go up against those players and win.
Pete: [00:27:23] Well, I love that story. And it maps to how I often think about Cintrifuse. And even though we’re funded by a lot of the big companies and I’m extremely grateful for that. A lot of the best innovation comes from the mid-sized companies. So Shepherd Chemical Company or even Michelman, who we worked very closely with. And to some extent, they’re kind of small enough to work with startups.
Katie: [00:27:46] Right, right. Yeah.
Pete: [00:27:46] At a much faster rate. They have a lot of experience there.
Katie: [00:27:50] And well, that’s not the gate walls aren’t quite so sturdy there of the castle.
Pete: [00:27:56] Yeah, listen, I mean, there’s arguably more agility.
Katie: [00:27:57] Opportunity for more agility. Jinx!
Pete: [00:28:00] I do think, you know, and there’s some fantastic kind of stories that emerged from that. One of the winners from Cannes was… It was called, “This is a tree from Philippines.” It was Boise Paint. And here’s how… The technology was amazing. So they had a technology that apparently if you painted a wall in the Philippines, especially in like the really smoggy areas, it created enough positive CO……It basically had the equivalent benefit to the environment as planting a tree. And so they literally just “muraled” the entire downtown, you know, city. But it brought this incredible benefit, but it still kind of promoted the product.
Katie: [00:28:43] Yes! Yes.
Pete: [00:28:43] And of course, the murals were the storytellers.
Katie: [00:28:45] Oh, incredible.
Pete: [00:28:45] And so you had this sustainability benefit. You had this excuse to kind of paint stories all over an urban district that probably needed some flowery paintings.
Katie: [00:28:56] Yeah, exactly.
Pete: [00:28:56] So and we…
Katie: [00:28:58] And everyone wins!
Pete: [00:28:59] It was an incredibly creative use of the technology.
Katie: [00:29:00] Yeah. Incredible. So what other trends? What other… Especially… You know what, actually, let me ask you a more basic question.
Pete: [00:29:07] Yeah.
Katie: [00:29:07] That I haven’t gotten.
Pete: [00:29:08] Sure.
Katie: [00:29:08] We haven’t actually gotten to nail down just yet. From your perspective, what role does storytelling play to innovation?
Pete: [00:29:15] Oh I think…. and storytelling plays a role with innovation at a number of different levels. I mean, number one, you always have to persuade. You know, storytelling, persuades your end consumer who buys the product, but it also persuades the manager or the boss or the team that you need to bring into the fold. And so, this is one reason why I’ve been such a strident believer in kind of, you know, the power of, you know, rhetoric. Not like the “B.S. rhetoric.”
Katie: [00:29:47] Right, right. Not telling stories, like, lying.
Pete: [00:29:48] But how do you bring people along? For entrepreneurship it’s absolutely critical. I mean, when I did a startup, I was all storytelling to get people to leave a fantastic job to join the crazy guy who had some vision for the future of Feedback or to sell investors who when you didn’t really have a product or sales, but to kind of bring them into the process and so on and so forth. Even to bring in your first customers to take a chance for a product that might not scale because you might not be in business. And so the story is everything. And stories build confidence. Stories drive partnership, stories build trust, stories entertain. You can start with entertainment, you kind of keep the attention longer. And I’m constantly, in this new job, thinking about, like, what stories will keep attention longer. So, for example, I’ve tested every conceivable story about Cincinnati and trying to figure out…
Katie: [00:30:50] OK, what do you got?
Pete: [00:30:52] Well, you know, the one that is really clicking and there’s so many fantastic attributes here. But you know, my job, I’m trying to get more risk capital here. I’m trading at more V.C. money here. I’m trying to get more people here that are kind of doing the same thing. Hold hands together, more. And so I’m testing a lot of different messaging. The one that has worked the best externally, I do think…. What’s happened with the airport is a really interesting story, and it’s a multifaceted story. It’s a story of this “little engine that could” airport that we kind of wrote off many years ago now does over 80 pilots at a time with startups, which is remarkable. That kind of humbles…
Katie: [00:31:36] Yes, it’s amazing.
Pete: [00:31:36] Even the biggest, any, that humbles companies in the Silicon Valley. It’s a story of a female leader named Candace McGraw, who kind of defied the rules, bucked the trends, picked up the phone called up Jeff Bezos, and basically brokered a deal to bring, you know, the world’s biggest e-commerce company to the Midwest, not just to Cincinnati, but to the Midwest. And what is our story? Our story today is that we are now the number one e-commerce distribution hub in the country. It’s not just Amazon, it’s DHL. And that is a powerful story. And when I tell that story to people on the outside, they stop, they look at me, and they ask for more. And again, going back to Aristotle, how do you command the audience so they ask for more? And I think that story is going to keep… That story is going to be a gift that keeps on giving, but it’s up to us to pour value into the story. So, for example, what does it mean when Amazon is right here in Cincinnati? I believe we’re going to have a renaissance of DTC entrepreneurs that come to Cincinnati that normally wouldn’t be here because they see massive efficiencies of being closer to the planes. It’s simple economics.
Katie: [00:32:45] Yup, yeah.
Pete: [00:32:45] They’re also going to look around and realize, oh, this town is way cooler than I thought.
Katie: [00:32:50] Right. Exactly!
Pete: [00:32:50] Just like I did.
Katie: [00:32:51] Yes, yes! Yeah.
Pete: [00:32:51] Elitist Californian comes to Cincinnati via Switzerland. Switzerland wife was in New York. Like, what do we hear? Why are we here? We look around like, oh, my gosh, this is amazing. The story of the heritage, the story of the beer caves. You know, the story. And now we’ve got you know, and to some extent, where did this story begin with the Midwest? We were this great trade corridor, the city on the river. That really was a massive economic engine. And now it’s reinventing itself. And I think we all need to raise the bar in retelling the story. And it’s not just a Cintrifuse story or a Cincy Tech story or Chamber of Commerce story. Everyone in this town needs to kind of romance that story because we all know people that are on the outside. We all know boomerang prospects. We all know someone in the venture capital world that has an elitist view towards the Midwest. And we need to…. We don’t need to brag because humility is our strength and it is the opening that makes us great storytellers. But we also need to make sure that that story breaks through. And like someone who’s marketing on Amazon, we need to test a lot of messages. But I think that one is a very powerful one. It’s also a story that unites the two states.
Katie: [00:34:01] Yes.Yes.
Pete: [00:34:02] Gets us out of that parochial southern Ohio versus… Forget that! We are now the Great Supply Way.
Katie: [00:34:08] Yeah. Yeah.
Pete: [00:34:08] That’s one of the terms I kind of came up with. I’m waiting for someone to say “I don’t like that term,” but we’re now the Great Supply Way.
Katie: [00:34:14] OK. Alright, I’ll start trying that.
Pete: [00:34:14] You know, for the Midwest and I think there’s going to be massive potential that emerges from that.
Katie: [00:34:20] So….
Pete: [00:34:21] How’d I do? Is there a story brewing there?
Katie: [00:34:23] Yeah.
Pete: [00:34:24] OK!
Katie: [00:34:24] So the pattern across all of those… All of those stories, if we had to like, identify a story pattern for our city for right now anyway, it’s sort of the surprise reveal, the underdog. Right?
Pete: [00:34:37] it’s the understated overachiever.
Katie: [00:34:38] Yes. I love it! The understated overachiever!
Pete: [00:34:39] Because you’re going to get rid of humility.
Katie: [00:34:43] Yes.
Pete: [00:34:43] It drives me crazy sometimes because I’m like, hey, we’re not getting credit for this. But that is our identity. And so let’s figure out how to turn that into an opportunity. I actually think a lack of flash helps.
Katie: [00:34:58] Yeah.
Pete: [00:34:58] I think we’re all getting pretty sick and tired of the excess. You know, the massive, you know, income gaps in California, my former state. And, you know, the flashy tack. And so I think there’s a way we can do it in a way that is credible, it’s sustainable, it’s inclusive. I think our story, the story of inclusive entrepreneuralism….
Katie: [00:35:18] Yes, exactly.
Pete: [00:35:18] …is something that I believe – we’re not there yet. But there is an unmistakable will to figure that out. [00:35:23][5.3]
Katie: [00:35:23] Yes.
Pete: [00:35:23] And I think the nice thing about digital and tech, it allows you to kind of start with a clean sheet of paper and say, what will it take? And we know there’s a lot of regions that are getting that right. You know, Detroit is making progress. Atlanta is making progress. And this is where I think. But we need to kind of plan a flag and say. And I do think, you know, declaring intent is really important. It’s a very important part of the storytelling. What I’ve tried to do since I arrived is to really put some focus on the areas where we can tell a story and some of that links to incumbent strengths like, hey, future branding in retail, connected health.
Katie: [00:36:04] Definitely.
Pete: [00:36:05] [unclear wording] supply chain and logistics. And then underneath that kind of cutting across all of those is sustainability and also operating philosophies like inclusive entrepreneurialism, but really being very clear on why, you know, we have strengths. And if you look at other regions that are getting a lot of investment capital, bringing in more boomerangs. I mean, look at Pittsburgh, for example. They’ve really built a compelling narrative around…
Katie: [00:36:30] Robotics.
Pete: [00:36:30] Artificial intelligence, robotics, Carnegie Mellon. They’re getting a ton of jobs from Google, but they’ve kind of – it’s a real story – But they’ve also romanced it.
Katie: [00:36:39] Yes.
Pete: [00:36:39] Detroit is really putting a broadly defined narrative around mobility. Memphis and Nashville, around health tech. Austin’s got a couple, but it doesn’t need to be perfect.
Katie: [00:36:51] Right. Right.
Pete: [00:36:52] You know, I sometimes tell people I don’t care whether you call digital health, connected health, human health. Just pick one and tell the story. So people know it’s like. It’s like I say cause…
Katie: [00:37:05] Yeah. We can’t decide that one, in particular.
Pete: [00:37:06] You don’t like [unclear wording], pick another story, but let’s align and let’s tell the world, that’s that’s great marketing.
Katie: [00:37:13] Yes. Well, and I think it’s so critical as venture capital moves out of just New York and California. Right? And it starts to infiltrate the rest of the United States. And we see that happening. I am so grateful to live in a city that prioritizes innovation, that appoints leaders like yourself to continue to spark it and find those trends and to help tell our story and pull in those collaborations. I don’t think we want to take away from what’s happening in Silicon Valley or in New York. It’s just that we’re ready to play and we have a seat at the table. And it’s an important one at this point.
Pete: [00:37:49] We know who we are. We know our voice. We know our essence, and we know how to tell it.
Katie: [00:37:52] Yep. Yep. And we’ll work with the community to make it happen. Pete, thank you.
Pete: [00:37:57] Thank you.
Katie: [00:37:57] This was such an awesome conversation.
Pete: [00:37:58] And it’s great that you are in Union Hall. It’s great to have you as a partner. And best of luck with your podcast.
Katie: [00:38:04] Thank you so much. I know the listeners will get so much energy out of this conversation, so thanks.
Pete: [00:38:10] You bet. Thank you.
Katie: [00:38:12] Thanks for listening to this week’s episode. Be sure to follow us on social media and add your voice to the conversation. You can find us @untoldcontent.
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