In fairness, the strategy really comes from John Lassater,
Chief Creative Officer, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Although it’s fun to visualize Pixar’s storylines being hatched late at night by a bunch of caffeine fueled creative geniuses, in reality Pixar’s exceptional movies are the product of controlled creativity.

Controlled creativity creates a consistent level of expectation
and a Pavlovian response from us, the consumers. We hear the Pixar name and immediately smile. We prepare for
story lines that we have never seen before, ‘wow factor’ animation rendered at the highest level of technical skill, and expect subtle humor.

Pixar doesn’t disappoint

Stories about bugs, robots, toys, rats, cars, super heroes and fish emerge one after another from the Pixar Animation Studios. The subjects vary but each film is organized in the same way.

Every Pixar storyline is driven by three principles:



“I always believed that in order to make a really great animated film, you needed to do three things: tell a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seat, populate that story with really memorable and appealing characters, and put that compelling story and memorable characters in a believable world. If you can do those things really well, then the audience will be swept away and totally entertained.”
-John Lassater

Built-to-last communication strategy (or any strategy) begins with the development of organizing principles. These are the foundational elements and reference points that create consistency, establish the threshold of expectation and are the basis upon which decisions-your decisions and those of your audience-are made.


Photo from ‘Pixar: The Design Story’
on view at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in Manhattan through August 7, 2016 (

The universal nature of Pixar’s 3 organizing principles can be easily adapted for communications with clients,
customers and stakeholders.

Organizing Principle #1: STORY


Storytelling is the current darling of the communication world. In the last few years we have worked hard to migrate back to our ‘stories around the campfire days’ to create narratives that connect our customers to products or our supporters to our cause. Stories work. They create an emotional connection between teller and audience and generate a series of visual or emotional associations that help drive decision-making.

Here’s what you can do today
Create a Story Bank

Talk to the stakeholders in your organization that intersect with end user clients, customers/vendors or donors. Let them tell their favorite stories and capture the information- subject, conflict, outcome- in a central place (i.e. Dropbox) that others can access for use in their conversations with customers and supporters. Have photos and short videos available for download to support the story being told. A story with an auditory and a visual component is a powerful catalyst for creating emotional connection.

Organizing Principle #2: APPEAL


Boring doesn’t work. Stories that go on and on and wander around are boring. We live in a world of 140 character Tweets, Snapchat and IM. We have conditioned ourselves to take in and act on information quickly. As communicators, our job is to understand the trends and meet the expectations of how the world communicates today.

Here’s what you can do today

Part of the appeal of a good story is the ability to tell it well. Very few of us are natural born storytellers. Before engaging in a conversation to make a sale or ask for support, practice your stories and tie them back to the value of your organization. Children (yours or others), pets (especially dogs), and your partner/spouse are all great opportunities for practice. Ask what they liked/didn’t like about the story, if they had an emotional response and if it illustrated what is important about your organization.

Organizing Principle #3: BELIEVABILITY


We’ve all heardthe saying, ‘If it is too good to be true, then it probably is’. Tell a story that is ‘too good’ and the believability factor immediately goes down. People relate to stories where they can insert themselves and their own experiences. People also relate to stories where they can be an active part of the solution.

Here’s what you can do today
Include a Call to Action

Every good story has an ‘aha moment’, that tipping point where value is created, impact is shown or action is required. To add believability to your story include a decision making point that compels your audience to act. This juncture creates an emotional response and will help drive decision-making.

Let Woody and Buzz be your guide-

Create a set of organizing principles. They are your measure for setting and managing the expectations of your audience. Organizing principles provide a framework for your stakeholders/salespeople to deliver the facts and stories that drive your business and attract customers and supporters.

Use, Share, Enjoy
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