Spin a Yarn
Our Relationship Begins When You Tell Me a Story!
This past November, I flew to New York City for the Silver Apple Award ceremony. My friend Murray Miller of American Express was among the individuals being honored, and my friends at Boardroom/Bottom Line received the Corporate Apple Award.
After each award, the honoree said a few words, well actually a lot of words, which is OK with me. It struck me, as it does every year at the Apples, that long-time direct marketers all seem to be great storytellers. I think that’s one reason the ceremony always is packed. We like hearing their tales of success, innovation, hardship, learning, gossip and relationships with other legends of the business.
Murray spoke of working with one of the first mainframe computers, and how those computers eventually changed everything we do. He reminded us how cold the computer room had to be, how slow the huge machines were and how vastly superior our tiny laptops are today.
Chris Paradysz of Pardysz Matera told a marvelous story about hopping on a bus in Pennsylvania’s Amish country and heading to New York to find a job—any job. He walked out of the Port Authority building on 42nd Street and stopped in his tracks. As small town folks, he and his family had worried about New York. But Chris saw lots of men with black hats and beards on 42nd Street, and called home from a phone booth to tell them not to worry. “There are a lot of Amish people in New York City, mom.”
Stories such as these bring us together. I call it “spinning a yarn,” and though that phrase may sound like it means “made up” or an untruth, I think true stories are the best, and resonate well with any audience, either in person or in direct mail.
To Tell Stories, You Need Customers’ Real Stories
A few years back, Lands’ End ran an ad with the headline “The day we found a monster in our mailroom.” The copy tells the story of a Japanese mother who’d returned a children’s parka for a refund. Someone in the shipping room found a goofy, 4-inch plastic monster in the pocket and figured the kid might miss it, so he sent it back. Next thing you know, Lands’ End gets a thank you from the mother. That goofy, little monster was her son’s favorite toy. The ad goes on to talk about other letters it has received, including one from a man who’d ordered a necktie but wasn’t sure how to tie it. Could they send instructions?
Great stories are ways to engage people and build relationships with them.
Sometimes a Simple Graphic Can Tell the Whole Story
When I worked on the Marshalls’ account, I visited the client in the Massachusetts office. We talked about ways we could run a campaign without doing a whole photo shoot of the merchandise.
Walking down the hall from the conference room, I met a Marshalls buyer who was grinning ear to ear. He told me he’d just made a huge buy of designer comforters—thousands of the highest quality, stunning comforters he’d ever seen. Truckloads were coming to the warehouse, and people in headquarters already were putting in their orders for them.
Hmmm, I thought. Truckloads. I decided to test an inexpensive postcard, and went back to the office and asked our art director to draw a lineup of trucks that said Marshalls on them. The headline read something like, “Our buyers just bought the most fabulous designer comforters and they are on their way to the Marshalls store near you. Just $29.95!”
It was one of our most successful mailing pieces ever. The downside was Marshalls sold out on day three of the event. The upside is once you get a customer in the store, they often buy other things they see there.
True Stories Make You Real
Many of 3M’s products came to life by chance, and customers find that sort of thing interesting. The now-ubiquitous Post-it Note was developed by Art Fry, a 3M scientist who wanted a way to mark his hymn book in church without tearing or dog-earing the pages. He used a low-tack glue 3M had discovered earlier on small pieces of colored paper. Now we all have these handy notes at work and home.
Spin a Yarn in Your Letter
It’s so much more engaging than getting into some product offer or corporate puffery first.
We’ve all seen the most successful direct mail letter ever written. Martin Conroy wrote it in 1974 for the Wall Street Journal. It is said to have generated almost a billion dollars in business, and the Wall Street Journal still uses it.
The letter tells the story of two men who are very much alike. Both graduated from the same university and had great ambitions. They return for their 25th reunion. They’re both still very much alike, married, with children. But there’s a difference. One man is the manager of a department at a company, the other is the president. The difference, of course, is the president had knowledge he could use from The Wall Street Journal.
It’s a great letter, artfully crafted with a story.
Sometimes a Customer Can Tell Your Story Better!
We used this trick a few years back for a car insurance client. Everyone sold auto insurance the same way, on rates. We asked the client for any unsolicited testimonial letters and, sure enough, it had plenty of them. One was perfect. The customer had just moved to a new city and immediately got into a fender bender. Our client’s rep got to her right away, took care of everything, and helped her get a check within weeks. It was a great story, and we made it the lead letter. The usual letter from the vice president became the lift note. It beat the control by 35 percent.
Start a Speech With a Relevant Story
I always do. Dale Carnegie taught me that years ago, and it still works. The audience gets involved right off the bat.
Last week I gave a speech in Ft. Lauderdale for the DM Summit. I met some interesting people, including a woman who told me she was working in New York (like we used to) and wanted to move to South Florida. She also mentioned she’d been a marketer at Scholastic. We chatted for a short time, and when she called for an interview, I immediately remembered her, especially a story she told me about Scholastic.
Other people sent resumes and cover notes, but this lady was memorable, and she recently came in for an interview.
Maybe the stories of our lives help us find things we have in common. I’m not sure, but I do know you might want to try them. It’s also an opportunity to do something new and creative. And, it can make you sound current if you talk about the time of year, a recent event, or something that happened a few months ago.
Stories are irresistible. They’re why people hang around the coffee maker. They’re talking about real life happenings that interest us all.
I want to hear your story, the story of your company, your product or service. Why is it great? Who thought of the big idea—any interesting, big idea? How do people use it? What does your teenage daughter say about it?
Let me know. And, go forth and engage your prospects and customers in new and creative story telling. Send some to me, and you might win a prize like a signed copy of one of the books I’ve written, or a T-shirt from Miami.
Lois Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct, a direct marketing agency in Hollywood, Fla. You can reach her at email@example.com