Your Story is Important

September 1st, 2013 by Bob Burnham

A few weeks ago I read an article by Ty Montague in the Harvard Business Review titled “If You Want to Raise Prices, Tell a Better Story.” In it, he explained that having provenance gives everyday items cachet, which makes people want to buy them. Back in 2006 a New York Times columnist set out to discover what makes one piece or art or pair of shoes or household object more valuable than another. He took a random sample of thrift shop items (all less than $1.00) and asked storytellers to include one object in a story. Then he placed the merchandise on eBay replete with story and watched in astonishment as the value of each object rose spectacularly 2,700%.

How does this concept of value work? Well, back in the 1920s, Alberto Alessi’s grandfather took simple household items such as tea and coffeepots, creamers and sugar bowls and made them iconic. He gave the tradition of gabbing informally over coffee a twist. These coffee sets were modern takes on ancient forms, they oozed style, and were engraved with the company’s distinctive mark. That mark told the story of the Alessi family. These items were made available to middle-class people, allowing the to have modern style and sophistication drinking after-dinner coffee with friends. A slew of famous designers, most recently Michael Graves and Philippe Starck have designed tea kettles for Alessi, with Graves’s designs showing up everywhere from Target to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

We can imagine the impact of the tea set story by asking these simple questions:

How would your grandmother or great-grandmother revere these items back in the 20s?

How would that story be embellished if the tea set had been a wedding gift to your grandmother? What if the gift were from her mother?

How would you cherish these items if they were handed down to you by your precious grandma and sat proudly in your own dining room?

And what if the exact design of your heirloom were in the Museum of Modern Art?

As you can see, this layer of stories makes these items even more precious. The same is true for your own story. The more intricate and astonishing the story you tell about yourself in your own book, the more people will want to read your book. Guy Kawasaki talks about having a relationship with your readers through trust and transparency, by over-delivering and being likeable. People want to follow distinctive or funny people on social media because of the cool factor. Think of someone you know who is just the coolest. Wouldn’t you be thrilled if they wanted to be your friend? Seth Godin even goes so far as saying that people may know all about you and what you have to offer but will still buy your book as a souvenir of the relationship they already have with you (because they think you’re cool).

Establishing that kind of bond with your clients, readers and followers takes mining your life for what makes you unique and not being afraid to share it, because your story can be just as important as the information you impart in your book. It’s about stepping up, branding and becoming known in your field, but also about being honest and authentic at the same time.

My next newsletter will give you tips on how to do that.