On a whim I went to a talk last year by Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of A Manual for Heartache. I’ve forwarded the email I wrote at the time below. So far it’s stood the acid test of time.
With the benefit of hindsight I’d like to share a quote from the book that strikes me as a fundamental truth.
“A lot of growing up is about learning to hide how you are feeling so you can protect yourself, and then a lot about being really grown up is unpicking all those defensive measures and working out who you actually want to be.”
The only way to do that is to understand your story, whether or not you choose to tell it publicly. Only once you understand your story can you decide what your marketing really ought to communicate.
Communicating some kind of fundamental truth is the highest goal in marketing.
A great email doesn’t have to be deep, spiritual or aspirational. It just has to be fundamentally true for the people you’re writing to.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Rob Drummond <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 25 October 2017 at 09:01
Subject: Your story is an (anatomically incorrect) Octopus
The ultimate marketing contradiction
October 25, 2017
There’s a literary festival on in Sheffield at the moment called Off The Shelf. Last night I went to a conversation with Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of A Manual for Heartache. I had no particular reason to go, other than I often find these things unexpected and interesting.
I found the conversation warm, and deeply engaging. I picked up a copy of Cathy’s book afterwards. I’d like to share a few paraphrased passages:
Everyone has a backstory. From the moment of our birth, we are accumulating experiences and those experiences will be many shades of light and dark as we learn the meaning of both joy and pain. Most people have a defining thing – sometimes a death or a loss, but not necessarily – that is a source of grief, and often guilt and shame.
I didn’t always know this. I used to think I had a talent for appearing OK and showing a false front to the world was specific to me. I’m glad I now know that I am far from alone in hiding my heartache from other people.
For us to truly know one another we must share our heartache. This is hard to do. It’s exposing, and we are frightened of revealing too much about ourselves. We all feel a desire to be understood that runs alongside a fear that no one will care. We worry that if people knew what we were really like, they’d run away.
I think of my story as an octopus. All those tentacles, wriggling around, some fatter than others, some newer than others… (It’s not an anatomically correct octopus, obviously.)
How are you going to tame it? Because tame it we must, as best we can. This is the danger of an untold story: it festers within, causing all sorts of problems.
The sentence hat really caught my attention was:
“We all feel a desire to be understood that runs alongside a fear that no one will care.”
I think that illustrates the contradiction at the heart of storytelling, and even marketing. We want people to understand our value, but we’re scared of being judged. We fret that nobody will care.
I’ll be talking more about this contradiction – and how to overcome it – at the first Big Story Workshop. You need to book by Friday for the best price.
(Note: the Big Story Workshop came and went in January. I’m slowly getting round to arranging another. You can read the event feedback on that page.)