By Emily Lacy (@emstheticket)
This past weekend, I visited a shop in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom neighborhood for my regular dose of neo-hippie products. College times past left their mark, and I have a shamefully soft spot for huge patterned pieces of cloth. Furthermore, much to my parents’ confusion and dismay, no apartment for me is complete without the smell of incense smoking up the place. New apartment calls for new incense, so it was time. Little did I know, I’d also be walking away with a renewed wonder at brands and the captivating stories at their cores.
As I was picking up a familiar box of hippie sticks, something weird caught my eye. Atop a shelf, it looked like a dusty piece of driftwood that had been long forgotten. I didn’t know if I was allowed to touch it, but I did anyway, and it turned out to be a homemade incense burner. Someone had taken a piece of wood, bored two tiny holes into it, and carved their name in the bottom. I was at a loss. Was this even for sale? Did someone actually think they could put two holes in a piece of wood and garner money for it?
Yes, someone did, and his name was George.
The owners of the shop told me George spends his days down by the James River, finding and picking up objects he finds beautiful. If he sees something special in that object, thinks it might be useful to someone, might serve a purpose, he helps it along its way. This is what he loves to do.
I paid seven whole dollars for a nondescript piece of wood that day. However, looking back on the experience, it wasn’t the piece of wood I paid for, it was the story. I love that in my apartment sits a piece of wood that George noticed, picked up, and touched with his own hands. I love that he took the time to carve tiny holes in it, and that those holes now hold my incense. I love that I got a chance to help him do what he likes with his time and life. I can go find a piece of wood down by the James any day, but it won’t contain the story of George. Herein lies the magic of brands and their unique stories.
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the products of our clients and completely neglect the place where much of the true value lies: their stories. I’d have a pretty hard time meaningfully connecting with a piece of stray wood, but I can definitely connect with and get behind George and the way he makes his living. Great brand stories impart energy to the products and services they inspire. They forge connections where none existed previously. In this day and age, when distinction can be fleeting and consumers are practically bombarded with choice, we can use brand stories to give them something we all hunger for: meaning, and the chance to be part of a story larger than ourselves.