When people ask me what was my favorite Christmas gift, I often answer my first guitar. I still have it—an Eterna EF-15 six-string acoustic guitar by Yamaha—hanging on the wall with my other guitars. I get a lot of joy from playing guitar.
When I first got the guitar I wasn’t very good at playing it, nor was I as motivated to learn how to play as I thought I would be. It was harder than I thought. Then I met Tim Murnen.
Tim and I worked together at YMCA Storer Camps. Tim didn’t teach me to play guitar, he inspired me. You see, Tim wrote his own songs, powerful, emotional, poetic visions. I wanted to do that too. So I started learning how to play guitar. Tim had ignited a passion in me.
Recently I found an old notebook that had several of my early songs in it. I pulled a guitar down from the wall and began picking at a few of the tunes. It was amazing how quickly they all came back into my memory. They weren’t good. In fact, all but two of them would probably fall under the Geneva Convention rules for cruel and unusual forms of punishment. But it was fun to see the progress I have made from those early days.
The other Christmas gift that stands out in my mind was given to me by my radio advertising sales rep. Most years the radio station would give me a mug filled with candy or a clock with the station logo on it or some other tchotchke gift that collected dust on a shelf for a year or two. Linda, however, gave me a copy of Roy H. Williams book, Wizard of Ads.
That book ignited another passion in me. I was only halfway through the book when I found out there were two sequels. I ordered the trilogy the next day and started my journey into the world of advertising and marketing. The books spoke to me in powerful ways.
I was thinking about these two gifts recently, and the connection between them.
Both were about storytelling. Songs tell stories. The best ads tell stories. Tim told stories. Roy told stories.
Both were about emotions. Songs speak to the heart. The best ads speak to the heart. Tim spoke to the heart. Roy spoke to the heart. (My early songwriting didn’t really tell stories or speak to the heart. Hmmm … I’m sensing a pattern.)
One of my favorite singer/songwriters is the late Harry Chapin who wrote such fantastic, heartfelt songs like Cats in the Cradle, Taxi, and A Better Place to Be. He was the ultimate storyteller. His live album is even called “Greatest Stories Live.” It is an album I can never grow tired of hearing.
I’ve always loved stories. Love reading them. Love telling them. Every night when my boys were younger I would tell them a story. Often they would challenge me to make one up on the spot. I would ask them, “Real or made-up?” If they said made-up I would ask, “Funny or scary?” Then we’d get into the story. Those nights are some of my most favorite nights of all.
Where is the lesson in this for retailers? It is understanding the connections we make through storytelling.
Linda gave ten businesses the same book for Christmas. I was the only one who took it and ran with it. The other nine set the book on a shelf with the other tchotchkes and never went down that path. For them, Linda worked the same way she always had, with professionalism to a tee. But our relationship grew by leaps and bounds until I became one of her biggest fans and cheerleaders.
You’re going to tell a story. Not everyone is going to connect with it. But those that do connect will become the spark that sets your business ablaze. Don’t worry about the other nine. Focus on the connections you make, not the ones you miss. Those connections will always be deeper and more profound (and more profitable).
Speak to the heart and the hearts that respond will speak of you the way I speak of guitars and wizards.
PS My son wrote his college application essay on how he remembers facts and data better when they are in a story than just through plain old rote memorization. There is a lesson in that story for all of you teachers out there, too.
PPS This is the “why” stories work. Tomorrow we’ll discuss “how” to make them work. How to use stories is a big part of my workshops on advertising, but there is also an element of storytelling in The Ultimate Selling Workshop. Make sure you sign up soon.