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:
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.
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.
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.