Dinner Party Doyen: How to Ensure Your Brand Gets Invited to the Best Parties in Town, Every Time.



Have you ever been to a dinner party where there’s a lively, vibrant conversation going on about a particular topic, one that virtually the whole table is involved in, when someone interjects with something that’s completely off-topic. So off-topic, that everyone pauses, wonders why on earth they said that, and then resumes with the original conversation.


I’m sure you have. And I have to. And we usually wonder, after that fact, what was that guy (it’s usually a guy) thinking? Weren’t they listening? Didn’t they sense that no-one was interested in their particular hobby horse? Or, worse still, who invited them, and why are they at this party?


But, before you get too smug, this is what most brands do, most of the time. They attempt to inject their belief/idea/world view/story/product or service message into a conversation that has little to nothing to do with them. And then they get surprised when no-one listens, or if they do, they immediately shut them out.


Conversely, as we all know, what a good dinner party guest does is to listen to the conversation in progress and try to add value to it – with anecdotes, stories, ideas and jokes – always leaving room for others to build on their thoughts.


Put simply, in the marketing world, it’s the difference between interrupting and getting rejected, and adding value and being accepted.


So, the key question then has to be: how do we, as marketers, uncover the conversations that people are naturally having about what matters to us? The conversations that we can add to? And, how do we figure out where those conversations are happening, and who’s driving them? How do we, in effect, get invited to the right parties, with the right guests, and then know what to say to whom, when, and how?


This was the question we at Schwab asked ourselves in 2015. Charles Schwab fundamentally believe that when investing is done right, it liberates people to create better futures for themselves, their families, their communities, even the world. This is summed up in the call to action and tag line ‘own your tomorrow’; at the center of which is the concept of ‘ownership’.


Not just ownership of financial products, houses or cars, but ownership of your future. Ownership through investing and sacrificing today, in order to create that bigger, better, richer, more satisfying future – in all areas of life. From fitness and health, to community involvement, the environment and education. From business and entrepreneurship to political involvement and advocacy.


Our task then was to deeply understand everything we could about the stories that America was telling about ownership – in all walks and avenues of life. To do this we partnered with San Francisco company Monitor 360. They use a technique they term ‘narrative analytics’ which identifies the key beliefs, assumptions and sentiments of a target audience around a specific topic - and quantifies them to help companies connect on what matters to people, vs. what purely the company wants to say.


For Schwab, this approach enabled us to identify a number of positive and negative narratives about ownership that were prevalent in the US, understand their relative importance, ascertain what circumstances and themes were driving each narrative and, crucially, identify where these conversations were happening, and who was driving them.


Returning to our dinner party analogy, without ever having met any of the guests before, it enabled Schwab to develop specific conversations and ideas that directly connected with each of the guests’ perspective on ownership. It’s almost like having a private researcher figure out what’s of interest to each guest before they arrive, and then being able to develop stories, anecdotes and jokes that you know will resonate with each of them – individually and probably collectively.


So, rather than be the dullard at the table that interrupts, and is ignored or worse, set yourself to be invited back to the best parties in town, again and again. Not because you have the most money, the flashiest attire or the best looks – but because you are the one person in the room that knows stories that everyone is telling themselves about the topic you want to discuss, and you are the only person who can add value to those stories and ensure that they go home thinking‘wow, wasn’t she interesting! It’s almost like she knew what was going through my head …’


That, from our experience, is the power of Narrative Analytics and the benefit of reversing the story flow from ‘what we want to say’ to ‘what people want to engage with’. Bon appetit.