Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Everyone Loves a Good #Story: A Girl, a Bullwhip, Kenny Rogers, and a Bottle of Jagermeister

Like a lot of stories in the naked city, this one happened in a bar one night.

It was back around 1996, and I was out with my bandmates, enjoying the energy of the city, after one of our nightly rehearsals. We played seven nights a week in those days, and for a few minutes, we were the buzz band of the New York scene. We considered ourselves the "greatest arena rock band on the Lower East Side." And I believe we were.

We had just walked into a bar that in those days was called the 119, and it was run by the Polish National Home. You can't make up details like that. The crowd was thick, and the music was loud.

As soon as we walked in, we knew it was going to be a good night. And because a lot of it is now a blur, I can say I'm sure it was. I have vague recollections of a dart game involving a girl with a bull whip and a bottle of Jaegermeister.

Beyond that, I have only one clear memory of that night, which started with a girl falling into my arms, and ended with her telling me something in my ear that I have never forgotten. She said, "I hear you are in a band. Well I have a song that you have to record, that is going to be a big hit for you!"

This really got my attention, and she leaned in closer so no one else would hear: "The Gambler, by Kenny Rogers, she said matter of factly.


She said, "I'm serious; Record that song, because everyone LOVES A GOOD STORY."

And with that, she basically tumbled away into the crowd from which she came, and was lost to me thereafter. But I've never forgotten what she told me, and now many years later, I know she was right about that. People love a good story.  It took me many years to really even understand that, even more to understand what makes a good story, why people connect to one, why they don't forget. Like Aesop's fables, stories retold for a hundred generations.

 It is more than the 5 W's they teach you in school: the "Who, What, Where, When, and Why." Perhaps you get closest to it with the "Why"

At the center of a good story, is the the moral, the theme, the underlying raison d'etre. You don't find it in the words, but between the lines, in the subtext. It's intangible, almost undefinable, but it somehow brings you into the emotional center, and you identify with the protagonist, and sometimes the writer too.

"You got to know when to hold em! Know when to fold em! Know when to walk away! know when to Run!

"You never count your money, when you're sitting at the table... they're'll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done."

You can just put yourself right in that story, and it plays like a movie in your mind. And meanwhile, it's teaching you abject lessons that you can apply to your life, while you're whistling the happy tune.

Now in the marketing world, there are certain brands that seems privy to this and it's really good to take a look at how they go about telling you about their brand inside a good story. Because they're the ones you can really learn from.

Take the Uncle Drew campaign from Pepsi. It's more than a cute character in a television commercial. It's an identifiable character that pulls you into a emotional connection about something he is clearly passionate about--the love of the game of basketball. And through that sharing that passion with you, you form not only an emotional bond with the character, but with the brand.

Another company that does this less directly, but no less effectively is Apple. Through their marketing, they start with the "Why" and without even knowing which product they are advertising, you know what they're about,  which is a clear passion for what they do. And people who follow Apple are so drawn to that passion connection, they form lines around the block to buy every product that comes out.

Sure they could wait a few weeks, and skip the lines, but they don't. Why?  Because there is a story at play and they are emotionally right there in it.  If Apple told them they believed that the best water in the world was made from Swiss Cheese, and put their little logo on a bottle of it, they could sell it as holy water, and people would buy it (Yes, that was a bad joke).

The bottom line is this. Whether you have a product, a service, or a song, it takes more than telling people what you do. It takes telling them why you do it. It takes telling them what you believe. If you can do this wrapped in a story that they can identify with then the better your chances of breaking through with a memorable message. Never forget in today's world what we compete for most is attention span. Get their attention with a good story, and you've got something.

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