Earlier this week I was on a night flight from Indianapolis to Boston. I sat down next to a pleasant man who looked to be in his 80s. I smiled, put away my bag and opened my book. It’s not that I’m unfriendly, but when I fly I enjoy quiet time to read, catch a cat nap or simply be alone with my thoughts. Opening a book usually signals to others I’m not in the mood to talk. But it doesn’t always work! On this flight the man sitting next to me asked if I was going home. I said yes, looking forward to seeing my boys, then went back to reading. He asked a couple of more questions which I politely answered. Inside, I started to strategize how I was going to extract myself from this conversation. But then I looked at him. This man I didn’t know, and would never see again, had a story to tell. I asked if he was on his way to vacation and he looked sad and said no. In fact he had just buried his wife of 54 years.
Well you can imagine how I felt. I was completely unprepared for what this man wanted to share. I felt terrible for his loss but now what? For the next few minutes I just listened as this man showed clearly a love lost. Tears glistened in his eyes even as he turned away to hide them. And then something magical happened. He said something so compelling I had to engage. He told me he felt lonely. Lonely was a feeling I could identify with so we started to talk about family. It turns out he has 4 children, 11 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. This was a blessing we could bond over. We talked about the army – his career for 30 years. He lit up talking about his work and we laughed as I told him my husband had been a mortarman like him. After a half hour of chatting I went back to reading my book, and this man, whose name I never learned, leaned comfortably back in his chair with a temporary peace on his face. A little less lonely for the company of another person. Even if that person was reading and napping besides him for the balance of the flight.
Once upon a time brands could tell you about their product and buyers would listen. But like me sitting next to this man; we don’t listen just because of our proximity. I only listened when I saw the look in his eyes, the small smile on his face, the yearning of his heart.
Our job as marketers is to convince the world we have a compelling story to tell, not a product or service to sell. And if we’re lucky enough for buyers to listen we must weave a tale of insight that draws them in and shows them who we are in character and value, not just figures and facts.
I was lucky that flight to be reminded that not only is our time precious, but that we have the power to heal simply by sharing stories. May all our brand tales be powerful reminders of how we address the challenges and complexities of every day life.