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Jan 17, 2018

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

According to Goethe, all the rope the British Navy uses, from the largest to the smallest, is made with a red thread woven into it. That means that even the smallest piece of rope can be identified as the property of the crown. What’s great about that story is that it represents a different approach to leaving your mark. A lot of advice revolves around stamping your work from the outside: using a strong graphic identity or naming something in a very particular way. While those things are important, they’ll be even more powerful if the core of something is recognizably yours, if it’s interwoven with the Red Thread.


Jan 10, 2018

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

Kurt Vonnegut had this idea that stories have shapes, but nobody had put it to the test until the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont decided to take a look. Tamsen looks at the three story shapes we should use in our messages, and how they correspond to the Red Thread method’s three types of talks: the How, Why, and What Now.


Jan 3, 2018

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

Here’s the best piece of writing advice that Tamsen’s ever received: after you finish your first draft, go back and delete the first paragraph. Why does this work? Because if we haven’t thought something through before we speak it or write it, we try to make ourselves comfortable first. The thing is, an audience or listener is asking a different question: “Do I care?” If you ramble, the answer will be no.

The Red Thread can help you because it’s about aligning what you say with how people make the decision to act. So how do you start? Think to yourself, “What is the Goal that my audience walks in with that I can help them achieve?” That’s how you get them to keep listening.

Dec 20, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

We all have confirmation bias: we tend to only seek out and remember information that confirms what we already believe to be true. This also means we tend to reframe, ignore, or dismiss information that goes against what we believe. As marketers, sometimes we focus too much on what our audience doesn’t know without thinking about what we’re blind to.

As much as you believe in your product or service, need to disconfirm as much as you can so that you’ll anticipate all of the pros and cons that will be coming at you from the marketplace. Acknowledging and anticipating your audience’s objections will allow you think more thoughtfully around them and develop responses to them, not just in your message but in your product or service itself.


Dec 13, 2017


Find your Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

Whenever there are two opposing truths that we believe to be true, we can’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance for long. In the face of this untenable tension, we’ll do one of two things: change the core fundamental belief about ourselves or change the core fundamental belief about how we see the world. As message makers, if we can create that tension then we can create change.

The Red Thread is structured to create this tension. It sets up three concepts that can be put in conflict: what do you want (Goal), what is the real problem you have to solve (Problem), and what is the fundamental truth that your audience believes about themselves that makes the Goal and Problem inconsistent with that belief? So when you’ve identified the Problem, the next step is to ask: why would that bother me so much? If you can create that tension between the Goal and the Problem for your audience, you can create the Change that you’re after.

Dec 6, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

In all the years that Tamsen has done branding and messaging strategy, the one thing that always been true is that no one is ever happy with the result of a branding or rebranding exercise. The reason for that is that we tend to confuse a brand with what creates it.

When we do a rebranding, we’re ultimately trying pass off the complete ownership of who we are to somebody else. The problem with that is that nobody is as much of an expert in who we are as we are. The only way to make such an effort successful is to find a way to blend your expertise in your own self with a branding company’s expertise in what the market looks like, what messages are effective, and what effective brands look like.

When you step back, you realize something very important: the brand isn’t the baseline of an organization— it’s the manifestation of something else: the Red Thread. It’s the manifestation of why you do what you do, the way that you do it. Figure that out, and the rest will take care of itself.

Nov 29, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

We all have jargon that’s useful in our industry or company, but we also need to make sure that our message is clear. A clear message means there’s a clear meaning, and a clear meaning is what inspires action, so that means we want to make sure that the words that we use to make that message are clear. This is where we run into trouble with jargon because it has a lot of meaning already attached for some of your audience, a different meaning for another group, and no meaning for others.

To reverse-engineer meaning, we need to look for the shared Problems and Ideas of our audience, so that we can find shared Change. Ultimately, we do need to use jargon in some of our messages, but if you ask yourself what a word actually means in your message and lead with that first, you can attach the jargon term to it later and keep everyone on the same page. That’s how you make sure people understand not only what you’re saying, but what you’re meaning as well.

Nov 22, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

One the biggest problems that businesses run into when they try to do business storytelling is that they mistake stories for storytelling. However, if we understand story from the right perspective, we have everything we need to turn anything we have to say into something that feels like a story even if it isn’t one.

The traditional story structure has three acts: a setup, a middle section or build that introduces conflict, and a resolution or payoff or conclusion. The key is to pay attention to how each act begins and ends.

Nov 15, 2017

Find the Red Thread at tamsenwebster.com.

The concept of deus ex machina is a great way to tie up the loose ends of a story, but it’s not such a great way to end a talk. Our audience wants to be engaged in our message the entire way through. In fact, they like to do some work, to be an amateur detective and see if they can guess where something is going. This is why structuring your message around the Red Thread works because it helps you make sure that you’re giving your audience the information they need to get to their own version of your conclusion.

Nov 8, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

If you’re trying to figure out what your Red Thread is all about, start with what you can do better than anyone else. For many people, figuring out what’s going to be powerful for them is easier said than done. Power is energy sustained over time. So, where does our energy come from? And how do we find a way to keep using it regardless of the situation?

There are three basic concepts surrounding energy that can help you clarify things. First of all, there are certain activities that are net energy negative: they drain our energy when we do them, probably because we’re not that great at them. There are other things that are net energy neutral: you might be pretty good at them, but you don’t necessarily feel one way or the other about them after you do them.

What you really need to pay attention to, though, are the net energy positive things that give you energy when you do them. What are those problems that you just can’t stand to see? What ideas get you excited? Energy is a signal of the potential power behind something. Pay attention to where you feel energy coming back to you, and you’ll have the key to unlocking the powerful pieces of your personal Red Thread.

Nov 1, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

When you’re putting together a large message, like an article, book, or talk, part of the challenge is figuring out what to put in between the pieces of your Red Thread. If you’re putting that much effort into a message, what you’re trying to do is get someone to move mentally from one side of something to another. That’s why thinking of your message in terms of trains, stations, and tracks can be useful.

So, using our metaphor, the pieces of the Red Thread are our stations, and the audience is the train, but if there isn’t any track they won’t be getting anywhere soon. The question to ask before each station is: what does someone have to understand and agree with before they’ll go with me there? For each piece of the Red Thread, you can use the previous piece to set them up for what’s coming next, like going deeper into the Problem to explain why the Idea is so important.

Oct 25, 2017

This week we’re looking at Ron Ploof’s work on proverbs and storytelling. Our brains automatically simplify complicated messages. The quote, “Play it again, Sam,” for example, isn’t actually what Humphrey Bogart says in Casablanca. For these messages, our collective consciousness somehow reduces them to what sounds like a proverb. We'll look at how you can use that to make your message stickier, using the Red Thread.

Oct 18, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

There are many times when we’re trying to figuring out how to position who we are and what we do (our Red Threads) for a particular situation: switching jobs, or expanding our business into a new industry. When you’re faced with these questions, you should ask yourself: are you a fox or a hedgehog? This concept was popularized by Isaiah Berlin, based on a saying by an ancient Greek poet, “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one important thing.” The fox has many different ways to try and get the hedgehog, but the hedgehog’s spines are a pretty effective defense, no matter what the fox may try.

Because the Red Thread allows us to tell any story in a way that makes sense to anyone else, no matter what you are you can figure out how to represent your foxy qualities as hedgehog-y ones or vice versa. Whatever you are, remember that you already have a powerful story that you’re already telling. Make sure your Red Thread makes sense to you, and then you’ll find the way to make it make sense to others.

Oct 11, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

A great conclusion is one of the best opportunities we have to make sure that our message really sticks. At the end of a message, people want to tie everything together and have it make sense, which means that all you have to do is recap the Red Thread. To do this, you can use a technique called the Red Thread Storyline:

"We can all agree [GOAL], but the problem is, despite no barriers, [PROBLEM]. In order to solve that problem and achieve our goal, we have to understand [IDEA], which means we’re going to have to [CHANGE]. How? [ACTIONS], which means that when we get there we will have achieved our [GOAL]."

Oct 4, 2017

We spend a lot of time and energy crafting our messages but sometimes an audience just doesn’t “get it,” even though it makes complete sense to us. This happens because of a well-known phenomenon called “The Curse of Knowledge.” Basically, our brains have a cognitive bias that makes it impossible to remember what it was like to not know something.

This is the reason that the Red Thread is organized the way it is: we can’t introduce our audience to Change language before we’ve sold them on the Problem and the Idea because they have to make those same steps of understanding that we’ve made. Put yourself in your audience's shoes and you can turn the Curse of Knowledge into a blessing.

Sep 27, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

Most of us have certain things that we care so deeply about that we’re willing to take extraordinary measures to defend or advance that cause or belief. The problem is that not everyone shares those beliefs and, what’s more, even people who agree about a cause can’t necessarily agree on what to do about it. Humans tend to judge decisions from their own perspective, so this kind of disagreement can be especially frustrating.

When we are trying to achieve the same Goal, when we have the same fundamental beliefs, it’s necessary that we find ways to weave all of our different Red Threads together to solve the overall Goal that we all have.

Sep 20, 2017

When you’re putting a message together you need to be aware of what kind of form people like to hear a message take. Some people like stories, or quotes, or to see the data behind something, or even to be coached through an exercise that helps them experience a message for themselves. In this episode, Tamsen explains the four message mindsets: the Commander, the Counselor, the Showman, and the Sage.

Sep 13, 2017

We want to make our message memorable, but how do we make it memorable to us? When we focus on memorizing things word-for-word, we often forget the meaning behind those words. The problem is that, as the Red Thread teaches us, it’s the meaning that matters. The meaning, not the words, is what transfers from person to person.

When you’re trying to make your message memorable to you, internalize, don’t memorize. That doesn’t mean you won’t find language and phrases that you’ll want to use over and over again, but when you focus on the meaning you’ll find the best way to say those words.

Sep 6, 2017

Find the Red Thread at TamsenWebster.com.

What do you do when your message starts to feel flat? First of all, don’t worry, because it’s a perfectly normal feeling, especially if all you’re working with is a tagline or a positioning statement. Those things often focus on surface details and don’t give us a roadmap for what we could potentially talk about.

However, when we think more deeply about what we can offer, then we have more detail we can add. The more dimension we can see, the more detail we can provide. The view you’ve been staring at has rich depth and dimensionality if you start asking the right questions.

Aug 30, 2017

When you’re trying to figure out how to craft your message for all of the different people you want it to reach, you can end up addressing the question you want to answer, rather than the question your audience needs to have answered. The good news is that there are three universal questions that everyone needs an answer to before they will change their behavior or their action: Why?, What now?, and How?

The even better news? Depending on which question is most important to your audience, it can help you determine which type of message you need to prepare.

Aug 23, 2017

So you’ve done a lot of great work on your Red Thread and you think you have a great talk mapped out, but there’s one problem: you need to figure out how to start. This week on Find the Red Thread we take a look at the three ways that comedians and other successful presenters do openings.

No matter how you go about it, the first step is the Goal, and you have a lot of different options for how to get people there. By changing up how you introduce your Red Thread you can make a talk or presentation that hooks them from the start.

Aug 16, 2017

Even if you’re not in Sales, the fact is you still have to sell all the time. A lot of the time we don’t know what to say when we’re on a sales call because it feels uncomfortable, or like we’re pushing ourselves onto somebody else.

However, when you understand how people make decisions, what you say in a sales call becomes very simple. It's even simpler when you realize that how people make decisions follows the same path as the Red Thread.

Aug 9, 2017

Our brains are wired to try to make meaning— scientists call it the “make-sense mandate.” When researchers gave people three random sentences they would always try to string them together into some type of story.


The pieces of the Red Thread can help because they help you put your message in those terms— a problem that gets in the way of a goal, an idea that reveals a new opportunity, and a change that results. Our brains are hungry for story, so take advantage of that to make your message more engaging.

Aug 2, 2017

The most powerful messages are heard at both the fast and slow levels. We need to appeal to the emotional, irrational part of our brains by following story structure and using the Red Thread. At the same time, we also need to make sure that our message makes intellectual sense, that each step has been thought through and stands on its own.

The next time you’re putting together a message or presentation, ask yourself: am I finding a balance between fast and slow thinking? If you can get it right, you can craft a message that resonates.

Jul 26, 2017

This week on Find the Red Thread, Tamsen looks at Warby Parker to show us a great example of a Red Thread being used to its best effect.

It all starts with the question, “Who am I for?” Warby Parker has narrowed that down with glasses are low price, high design, and that benefit someone in need when you make a purchase. Working backward from Warby Parker’s target audience, we can look at their about page to see how each step of the Red Thread lands with that audience.

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