Information Underload

(Listen to this post, here.)

I turned the corner onto a quiet side street near my office. I was walking; he was driving a mail truck.

As he came past me with the sliding door open, we nodded to each other in that not unfriendly, but not particularly inviting way that men here in New England are famous for.

Something about him was definitely familiar.

Before I could figure out what it was, I heard the truck stop behind me and an upbeat voice yell, “Hey, Mr. Katz, is that you?!” 

You won’t be surprised to learn that yes, that was me.

Dave had been my office mailman six years earlier. Nearly every morning, for I can’t remember how long, he’d walk in the door, hand me the mail and wish me a nice day.

Turns out he had been transferred to another town for six years and had only recently been transferred back to mine.

He looked about the same: a little older, quite a bit heavier. We had a few laughs, shook hands, and away he went.

That’s when I had today’s fascinating insight (you’re welcome): 


Letter carriers live at one of two extremes: Either you’re in incredibly good shape, because you walk 10 or 12 miles a day, or you’re in incredibly bad shape, because you sit in a truck for eight hours.

Dave used to be in great shape. His route – my route – was in the downtown area. The houses and offices here are relatively close together, so he parked the truck and walked most of the time.

When they moved him to the next town over, they gave him a neighborhood route. The only work-related exercise he got then was reaching out the window, opening mailbox lids and pushing the mail in.

Same job – deliver the mail. Two entirely different approaches. 

The reason I’m telling you this is …

OK, let’s stop right there. 

Today’s newsletter, unlike what I usually try to do, is not about sharing a useful marketing lesson.

Rather, it’s about showing you how to use an opening story – in your newsletter, on your blog, in your presentations – to capture attention and stand out from the crowd.

A few things to notice:

The connection. 

If I were going to continue today’s newsletter as I usually do, my next step would be to find a way to connect the letter carrier observation (one job, two different approaches) to an insight related to the subject matter of my newsletter (professional services marketing).

So, for example, I could talk about the contrast between relationship marketing and cold calling. Or the difference between hourly and flat fee pricing. Or the relative benefits of including the entire text of a newsletter in the email itself vs. requiring a click to a web page.

As long as I talk about the tradeoffs between two separate approaches to achieving one goal, my opening story has relevance.

The engagement. 

But aren’t I wasting people’s time by using an opening story instead of just getting to the point?

Well, I’m definitely taking more time. And yes, you will lose some people as a result. But I’m not wasting it.

Humans are hardwired to pay attention to stories. Stories are easy to follow and we can’t help but want to know how they turn out. When you start with a story, the reader/listener perks up and comes with you.

If you offer nothing but “the information,” you’re making it harder for me to engage – with both the topic and with you. It’s a burger without the bun. It’s sports scores without the game.

The differentiation. 

Here’s the problem with using the creation and sharing of content as a marketing strategy: You don’t know anything that your competition doesn’t know just as well.

So sure, maybe you’ve got a little tweak of insight here and there. But if you sell a professional service – financial planning, consulting, recruiting, coaching, whatever – chances are, your knowledge is very much the same as everyone else’s.

The only thing that’s truly (and noticeably) different, frankly, are your personal stories. Dave the letter carrier and I are the only people on Earth who can tell the story I told you earlier. It literally is unique.

Now, when you wrap your unique life experience or observation around useful (even if unremarkable) business insights, you’ve created a little package that’s both valuable and one of a kind (kind of like you, if I may be so bold).

Here’s the bottom line. I don’t tell stories in my newsletters and presentations because it’s fun. I do it so that I don’t have to do any research.

I’m kidding. I do it because I know that it’s the most effective way possible to both share information and stand out from the crowd in a positive, memorable way.

Extra Credit. OK, try this. Scroll down to the comments section below.  Then, in a sentence or two, tell us how you could connect my opening letter carrier story above to an insight related to the subject matter of your business.

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18 thoughts on “Information Underload

  1. Kim Dixon

    You are a genius! I am truly inspired by you. I am planning to implement a new marketing plan/strategy soon. I need to grow. Four employees and bought a building. Yikes!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Four employees and a building! Wow, that’s impressive, Kim. Good for you.

      (My apologies for the late reply, I was on vacation last week!)

  2. Pamela Van Nest

    Michael, this was such a great example of connecting with someone with no intent of selling something.
    YOU left an impression on HIM. Who knows to how many people he may have mentioned you and what you do!
    Relationship, which is one of your themes. As a Coach I would weave this into an insight on, being open to meet anyone no matter their job, whether they might be an “ideal client” or not. It’s not what you tell people that they remember, it is how they feel after connecting with you.
    I would say you left your mail carrier with some positive vibes! Thanks Michael.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Pamela! I think that conclusion to the story for your profession works well. You never know who can help spread the word.

  3. Howard F Pierpont

    I did a presentation on Wednesday and one of my peers was in the audience. I used your technique and had great feedback. The peer came over afterward and said I did a similar presentation to 2 different groups. Ok, so she’s better than me….. She said she can’t get invited back because the information she gave scared them. It was my personalization based on the audience that got me recognized. Thanks

  4. Mary Wasmuth

    Easy for a job search coach. If you’re thinking of accepting a transfer or applying for a new job, imagine the experience of the new job. How would it differ from your current experience? Would it be an improvement? A struggle? How much weight are you likely to gain?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Good point, Mary. I wonder if it’s a topic of discussion within the post office and if certain routes are preferred (the guy who walks a lot has to deal with the cold more as well, so it’s not all positive!).

  5. Edgar Valdmanis

    This is clearly related to networking. You have apparently built a relation with him previously, by being nice and freindly when receiving your daily mail in the office. Too many people ignore “lower functions” such as cleaners, mail people and similar. If you were friendly and attentive back then, uou stood out and it clearly left an impression. An impression which means he recognised you and remembered your name 6 years later. Fantastic!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I have to say I was amazed. Not just because of the time lapse but given the number of people he must see every day. His daily visit was always a highlight for me since when you work alone, people wandering into the office is not a frequent occurrence!

  6. Grace Kennedy

    I’m a writer, so my connection would be that the thing that seems easier could be the thing that ends up holding you back from being the best version of yourself. Driving around all day seems easier if you’re just looking at effort expended. But driving around all day will keep you from being healthy or making personal connections. As an introverted writer, it may be “easier” to sit and write all day and keep all your connections virtual. But making the effort to network, set up face to face meetings, and lead workshops will help you be a stronger writer with better gigs.

  7. Laurie Schnebly Campbell

    Love this analogy! And the story.

    I teach fiction writing, so the two approaches people can try for learning are attending a live workshop where you get face-to-face interaction with other writers and take home notes but no individual feedback, OR taking an online class where the only interaction is via email but you get a personal analysis of your writing.

    Neither choice is bad, but neither offers ALL the benefits…so I encourage people to do the face-to-face version when it’s convenient re location & cost, and the online version (which pays me more) when it’s not.

    If it won’t alarm Dave, tell him “thanks from an Arizona writer for inspiring a great story!”

  8. Nikki

    I love using stories to connect with clients. As a dog trainer, I’m often faced with emotionally charged situations and handling emotions from the start is vital. Getting rid of unwanted behavior you can use punishment which only adds to stress an anxiety or teach alternate behaviors with other science-based learning techniques that are gentler and a lot less stressful. Sharing my own choices with my own dogs’ training helps others make more positive decisions without the negative emotions.


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