The Magic and Power of Story

June 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Book Magic

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine visited the The Antiques Garage on 25th Street and went home with a fab find – a beautiful, dark, moody painting, at least 80 years old.  My first question: “What’s the story?”  I can’t imagine buying a piece of art without getting the story – the name of the piece, the name of the artist, when and where it was created, and for an antique, who owned it.

In the latest issue of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, “Summer Culture 2013,” Miuccia Prada is profiled by writer Andrew O’Hagan.  Towards the end of the piece, they discuss Ms. Prada’s costume design for Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.”  Mr. O’Hagan asks her, “You like diamonds?”, to which she replies:

“I’m interested in jewels,” she said. “I know what it is: I only like antique jewelry because I like the stories attached to them. I like to know who was wearing them. It’s the life of people that interests me. Also, they are beautiful. Flowers and jewels are part of a woman’s history. I like to look at these jewels and wonder if the woman was happy. For instance, I have a brooch which features a boat in the sea and on top there is a little gold rose and over this a spider. And I wonder who gave it to the woman? Was she a lucky woman? What does it mean?”

Sometimes we create our own story.  Case in point, I acquired a painting by Argentinian artist Alicia Quanini years ago at the Union Street Fair in San Francisco.  My good friends also made a purchase that day, so there was an immediate emotional connection to the artist and her work.  I was living on the East Coast at the time, so the sizable piece needed to be shipped cross-country. When it arrived at my apartment, there was a large gash in the cardboard container (an ominous sign) which, upon unboxing, revealed an equally large gash in the painting.  The name of the work?  “Dangerous Thing.”  Dangerous, indeed.  It was sent back to San Francisco to be repaired, returned to me on the East Coast, only to be transported back to San Francisco when I moved there, and then to the East Coast one last time when I moved to New York.  Story.

Story intrigues us.  It gives our purchases meaning.  Hits an emotional chord. Provides something to talk about (or tweet about).  Gets us to assign value.  Gets us to pay a premium.

Online retail phenom Fab.com gets this.  On the occasion of the company’s second anniversary, they launched a series of video interviews with design collaborators who love what they do and are passionate about what they create. The series is titled “Designer Stories.  While Fab always provided brief designer bios (as do many other retail sites), as their business has grown, the bios have shrunk.  But Fab knows that story sells, and with this video series, they’ve found another way to share it.

On Monday, I wrote about an article published in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times, “Invasion of the Beetles, and a Rancher’s Revenge.” Montana property owner Larry Lipson took what could have been a devastating infestation of the mountain pine beetle and turned it into an Apple accessory business, Bad Beetle.  His products are beautifully crafted and his prices reflect that.  Mr. Lipson is counting on the compelling story to tug on the pursestrings of potential customers.  He is not the only one.

John Stein, owner of Kirei, a company based in Solana Beach, Calif., says architects and interior designers have been enthusiastic about the beetle-kill wood panels it began selling six months ago. When they hear the back story, “it resonates,” he says. That’s especially true in the West, where many prospective buyers have firsthand experience with the beetle infestation.

Think about the products and brands you love.  I suspect that those that are top-of-mind also have a compelling story.  They are brands that represent more than their products, and products that mean more than their function or utility.  Think about this in terms of your business.  If you don’t have a good story to tell, create one.

Struggling with the idea of what exactly constitutes an engaging story?  Read Seth Godin’s post, “Ode: How to tell a great story” and Bernadette Jiwa’s insightful missive, “What’s The Story They’ll Tell About You Tomorrow?

The end.

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