How Pixar’s 22 Rules for Storytelling Jumpstarted the Marketing of a Modern PaaS

When I first joined Reltio back in October of 2014 to start the marketing function at Reltio, my first challenge was to crystalize exactly what the company and its product represented in a crowded data management landscape. Of course I had plenty of time (2 weeks), as we were starting our fundraising efforts for Series A

The first order of business was to visit as many customers, prospects, partners, and speak to all of the employees to get their perspectives of what they thought made Reltio different and great. Next was a little exercise that any company can do which I've shared below.

I adapted a set of 22 rules originally revealed by Emma Coates, Pixar’s former Story Artist, that they used to develop every movie at Pixar. When I first saw it 7+ years ago, it dawned on me how they were able to produce incredible hit after hit, allowing their characters to find their way into our hearts, minds and wallets.

Those who have worked with me in the past know that I have a penchant for using emotional movie or TV theme based music and video in events, presentations and messaging. I believe that good marketing connects with its audience, much the way a feature film such as Pixar’s Toy Story or UP does. So ever since then, when I set about developing the product and solution marketing messages for the companies I've worked for, I have used the 22 rules listed by Emma (her full original rules follow at the end). I've listed how I adapted them to form the core messaging and ongoing marketing touchstone for Reltio. Specific edits in bold and CAPS with links to pieces, and articles that were written to tell the Reltio story:

22 Rules Applied and Adapted for Reltio's Messaging, Tagline, Story & Ongoing Marketing Efforts

  1. You admire THE RESULTING BENEFITS OF YOUR PRODUCT more than for the FEATURES.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to THEM as a BUYER, not what’s fun to do as a MARKETER. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for TAGLINE is important, but you won’t see HOW YOUR PRODUCT TRULY DIFFERENTIATES til you’re at the end of YOUR VALIDATED MESSAGING PROCESS. Now rewrite.
  4. Use this as the Elevator framework for you and your buyer: Once upon a time there was A SALES ORGANIZATION WITHIN A LIFE SCIENCES COMPANY. Every day, THEY STRUGGLED WITH A COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE, COMPLEX CUSTOMERS, AND INCREASINGLY STRINGENT REGULATIONS. One day THEY DISCOVERED DATA-DRIVEN APPLICATIONS. Because of that, THEY WERE ABLE TO EXECUTE BETTER THROUGH RELIABLE DATA, RELEVANT INSIGHTS AND RECOMMENDED ACTIONS. Because of that, THEIR IT TEAMS WERE CELEBRATED FOR EFFICIENTLY MANAGING ALL OF THEIR DATA, THEIR BUSINESS TEAMS WERE COMMENDED FOR INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY AND EFFECTIVENESS ... ALL WHILE STAYING COMPLIANT. Until finally THEY DEMONSTRATED SUCH COMPELLING BUSINESS VALUE THAT THE REST OF THE COMPANY JOINED THEM AND ALSO BEGAN USING DATA-DRIVEN APPLICATIONS.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine AND GROUP MESSAGES. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your PRODUCT good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? IF THEY DON’T DEAL WELL ON PAPER, DON’T PUT YOUR SALES TEAMS INTO UNWINNABLE SITUATIONS BY INCLUDING THOSE USE CASES JUST TO INCREASE MARKET OPPORTUNITY
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. CAN YOU DISTILL YOUR CORE PRODUCT MESSAGE DOWN TO THREE KEYWORDS OR LESS?
  8. Finish your MESSAGING, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. HOME RUN WILL OCCUR ONLY WHEN IT RESONATES WITH AUDIENCES.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of WHY SOMEONE WILL NOT BUY YOUR PRODUCT. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the MESSAGES FROM SUCCESSFUL PRODUCTS/COMPANIES you like. What you like in them COULD BE APPLIED WITH A FEW TWEAKS TO YOUR TARGET MARKET; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. COLLABORATE AND MARKET TEST.
  12. Discount the 1st PRODUCT FEATURE that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. FIND DIFFERENTIATION BEYOND PRODUCT FEATURES.
  13. Give your PROSPECTS AGGRESSIVE OPINIONS. Passive/malleable Q&A might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the SALES PERSON WHO WILL BE HIT WITH THE TOUGH QUESTIONS.
  14. Why must you SELL THIS PRODUCT? What’s the belief burning within YOUR COMPANY that your SALES TEAMS feeds off? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your CUSTOMER, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty BACKED UP BY REFERENCES AND PROOF POINTS lends credibility to unbelievable METRICS AND OUTRAGEOUS CLAIMS.
  16. What are the stakes? Give YOUR PROSPECT A REASON TO ROOT FOR YOUR PRODUCT. What happens if they don’t BUY? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later. WITH TECHNOLOGY AND MARKETING MESSAGES, WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN (Examples: Mainframes to Client-Server to Server-Based Computing to On-Premises Appliances to Cloud)
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. MESSAGING is testing, not refining. YOUR BEST MESSAGE IS NOT WHAT YOU OR YOUR COMPANY THINKS IT IS. IT’S WHAT YOUR CUSTOMER AND BUYERS TELL YOU IT IS.
  19. FACT-BASED COMPETITIVE JABS to get YOUR COMPETITION into trouble are great; USING RUMOURS AND INACCURACIES is cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of THE CURRENT MESSAGE OR YOUR COMPETITION’S MESSAGES YOU DON’T LIKE. How do you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your PROSPECT, can’t just CREATE ‘cool’ MESSAGES. What would make THEM BUY?
  22. What’s the essence of your MESSAGE? Most economical telling of it? DISTILL IT DOWN TO A FEW KEYWORDS ... LIKE "BE RIGHT FASTER". If you know that, you can build out from there.

You may be wondering why I'm sharing this with you? Whether you're an existing or future customer, employee, partner or investor, I'd like you to know that everyone at Reltio is passionate about what we do, where we are headed, and ultimately how we can help make a difference in the industries we are in. We believe in our story and we hope you do ... or will too.


The Original Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.