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This story will definitely trigger you

CH0000A147What do the crisis in Syria and a dying giraffe have in common?

Sometimes you come across a story that at first glance simply doesn’t compute, but then as you dig a little deeper, not only does it make sense, but it teaches you a great deal about yourself and how the world really operates.

I am going to share two stories with you, which will probably trigger you, but please stick with me anyway, OK?

One story I’m about to share got MAJOR press attention, the other didn’t. Inside each of these stories is a major lesson in marketing.

Story # 1- A sweet giraffe Mario had one issue – he was born with the wrong set of genes. European law has very strict rules for what is defined as inbreeding, and Mario clearly fell inside those boundaries. Since his genetic pool was already represented at the Copenhagen zoo where Mario lived, the zoo had two choices – either neuter this 18-month old giraffe, or put Mario to death!  The zoo-keeper decided to end Mario’s life, in spite of other European zoos offering to take him. His death was highly public, and the act was done in front of a live audience. The entire slaughter was taped. Mario was pictured being fed to a local lion in the zoo after he was killed.

Story # 2- In Syria, 100 people died in a car bomb explosion in Homs. Many of the victims were women and children. Every day Syrian children are killed just walking down the street, enjoying their every day lives. UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has expressed outrage at this, and the escalating situation in the country, and how it is impacting the children of the county.

Can you guess which story got more coverage? More public attention?

If you guessed story one – you are correct. The story of Mario got tons of international attention and resulted in much outrage, while the story of children dying was barely a blip in the news cycle.

This seemingly makes no sense that we are valuing the life of a giraffe (as much as I adore giraffes) over the lives of children.

And to find out why this seeming lack of prioritization in media coverage actually makes if you look at it from a marketing perspective.

Lesson # 1 – Personalize (not globalize) your marketing

The reason why Mario got all the attention is because he had a name. We knew his age. We knew where he lived. We could practically picture the cuteness that was Mario.

On the other hand, the Syrian kids were a faceless sea of people. If one journalist would have taken the time to follow and track one Syrian child, it would have made for a story that would have gotten picked up by all the media outlets. If this journalist would have dug around to find out one name, and talk to the family members or local community, and bring this child to life, we would have had more of a relatable story, and it would have gotten the attention it deserves.

This is how marketing works as well. When you bring what you do to life with a specific story of a client, and tell us who that person is, what is their personal situation is truly like, that story becomes more relatable. It magnetizes your potential clients who can see themselves in it.

Here’s an example of what I am talking about:

“My amazing client, Jeremy, was so stressed out about his failing business that when he got home at night he barely looked at his kids. The romance with his wife as practically gone because all he thought about was work. And the more he worked, the less effective his work got. After we worked together for 6 months, Jeremy’s whole life turned around. Because he was starting to make more money, his stress level practically disappeared.  When he came home in time for dinner, he was able to spend more quality time with his wife Betty. And he got back to tucking his kids at night, too.  As you can imagine, Betty was ecstatic.”

So remember to personalize, not globalize.

Lesson #2 – Facts Tell, Stories Sell

Get into the heart of your story. It’s what people want to hear, and what will draw more attention to your mission and message. Did you notice in the second story about the Syrian children I didn’t have much to say? I could only offer the fact that 100 people died, and they were from Homs. I only had the facts. I didn’t know the names of the kids, or the names of the schools. I didn’t know the specifics of their story. With Mario the giraffe, I knew all kinds of details to give you a strong painted picture of the horrible atrocity of what happened to him. I gave you a reason by the end of one small paragraph to feel an emotional connection to him, and to have an opinion about what happened to him.

In my example above about my client Jeremy, I did not just give you facts about his business failing – I also painted a picture of the impact it was having in his life, including the relationships that were closest to him. I also painted a picture for you of how his life got better after he started to make more money.

Now the ball is in your court…

What is one story that you could tell right now that would positively impact your business?

I would love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below.


  1. Thanks for this, Bill. I understand the point that you’re making and I’d like to add that it isn’t only personalizing, it’s humanizing. I don’t know how else to put it. I went to Syria, alone, in 2002, so, even though I didn’t personally know the people who were killed, my heart breaks. Also, the tragedy reminded me of the picture of the young Vietnamese girl running down the road after being napalmed. It’s one that will never leave my mind.

  2. Carl lives in a quiet town but the war in his mind-body is relentless. Despite heavy meds, the nightmares from 40 years of active combat still jolt him from his slumber so violently he often smashes his head on the wall. But one by one we have been taking on these horrific memories and reducing their intensity so that they no longer wake him, if they return at all. He is finally finding real peace. My work using EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) with Carl is pro bono, my expression of gratitude for his contributions towards peace for all. My focus in EFT practice is helping you overcome your intimate relationship woes, even if you have given up.
    Can register for free 30 min discovery session at http://www.RootsEFT.com -clearing what disturbs you most from the roots.

  3. This explanation puts into black and white the idea I have been trying to convey to my team. They are so used to working inside a format for mass marketing that it’s a fight every time to get them to understand that I want to do the opposite and bring a personal and inspiring story to a company that is in it’s baby stages. I want there to be dialogue with the customer even tho it’s an internet based business I put my number on the site so that if someone has questios about the product, they can get answered. And who better to talk to than the person who designed it right? Thanks Bill, I’ll use this in the next meeting.

  4. I don’t know if it would positively impact my business right now, but one of my favorite “success stories” is that of my lovely client, “Julia”. She was 61 y.o. when she first came to see me a few years ago. She had been adopted at birth, and had been denied information about her birth mother until after her adoptive father died and his estate was being settled. Julia found some paperwork and, through internet research with the help of her husband, thought she may have located her biological mother. She had been sitting on this information for a couple of years and, although she had “written” many letters in her head, she had been unable to reach out and pursue this lead. Julia wanted help in understanding her lack of motivation to follow up. Within a few weeks of working together, Julia wrote an actual letter, which she mailed on a Saturday. The following Tuesday, she received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as Julia’s mother…They began exchanging phone calls and letters, sharing family information and photos. Several months later, Julia traveled half way across the country to celebrate her 62nd birthday with her 84 y.o. mother — on Mother’s Day! In working through her various (understandable) fears, she realized her life-long dream and actualized the sense of belonging and loving connectedness she had only ever imagined.

  5. It has long been my view that personalizing your story captures your audience. I will be sharing the story of how I turned life’s challenges (career-ending car accident, failed relationship, etc) to success and happiness when I speak on the Main Arena stage at the Long Beach Convention Center May 20th. I talk more about pulling through pain and disappointments in my blog, MoreLemonsPlease.com Personalizing stories connects us to our common humanity and endears our message. Thank you for sharing your insights and for allowing us a space to express our thoughts.

    • Thanks, Constance. I am excited for your May 20th speaking opportunity. May you feel amazing going into it and coming out of it, too.

  6. Bill:
    While I agree with your marketing points, I don’t think the only reason Mario got so much attention was because he had a name and we knew where he lived. It was for a couple of other reasons:

    1) The perpetrator was identifiable. We didn’t just know where Mario lived. We knew where his killer lived. And
    2) People get to an empathy-saturation state when they feel helpless to stop a problem or a crime in anyway. It’s not that we don’t care about children getting killed in Syria or the deforestation of the Amazon or a host of other problems in the world going on every day. It is that there is no clear cut or identifiable course of action offered. And somehow, signing a petition against the US drones in Afghanistan just doesn’t ring as “effective” to any logical thinking person.

    If there had been one child who was healthy and thriving and full of life; who was suddenly orphaned let’s say; and we had photos of that child; and there was a long line of people wanting to adopt the child; and the President of the country decided to execute the child in public and donate his / her body to science and then hold an open science class for other children to come and see “how nature works” — I do believe the outcry would have been just as great as for Mario the Giraffe because this kind of insanity goes even beyond the insanity we call “war,” that we all live with and have been taught to justify as “necessary.”

    No matter how much we are against suicide bombers, we understand they are driven by an ideology. In the case of Mario, it was even more terrifying to think that someone who is put in charge of “curating” a zoo–meaning supposedly to protect the animals in it–chose this course of action and somehow thought the whole venture would prove educational and enriching for children to watch.

    It got more attention because human depravity stooped to a new level. Suicide bombings–as atrocious as they are–have become old hat. When people are confronted with something they know they cannot stop, we grow numb. RE: the Copenhagen Zoo (since there has been a second case of this kind of behavior in that zoo) is under scrutiny and public opinion is making its outrage felt.

  7. Susan says:

    Thanks for sharing, Bill. You always tell beautiful stories. In this short post, you really showed me how to get to the point and provoke emotions. Thank you.

  8. Your theory is true SOME of the time. Every personal detail of Afghanistan Pow Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl has been put out there yet they prefer to print stories of nameless people over him. Can you explain why?

    • I don’t know the particulars of his story, but often stories don’t take hold because the hook of the story hasn’t been established. There’s artistry in stripping away everything unnecessary in a story to find a through-line from which to communicate. This is vital.

  9. Great post Bill!
    Concise and to the point; and what great points! Recently have been going thru @ 400 testimonials and writing up each Story, almost as case histories, but more toward your point of personalizing so they’re easier to relate to. Statistics (even when they’re fantastic) still mean almost nothing unless they tell a story. And the ripples are almost always the coolest part. 🙂

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