“What do you do?”It’s an odd question, really. Presumably in most cases, it refers to what you do for a living and while that should be easy enough to answer, it isn’t.

 

What do you do? I’ve never been able to get it down to the elevator pitch. I’ve never been able to be succinct and snappy. On occasion, I have gaped like a codfish, in the words of everyone’s favourite nanny, Mary Poppins.

 

I used to work at a newspaper. I did that for nine years, and the question was easy to answer then. I had a title and a clear function, both of which were visibly expressed in the pages of the newspaper day after day.

 

“What do you do,?

 

The question was easy to answer then.

 

It became a thorn in my side after I left the paper. I set up a small media consultancy with four other editors and really, we did much the same thing, except that we did it without the context of one single publication.

 

We wrote, edited, proofread, readied manuscripts for publication, did market positioning and media relations. Almost invariably, the rejoinder was, “yes, but for which magazine?”…

 

We were also in our early days and we hadn’t really talked about our corporate values in a structured or cohesive way. We knew exactly what we didn’t want to be. Defining what we wanted to be was a little more tricky.

 

A few years later, and I left this little outfit too, wanting to explore other areas, like training and social enterprise.

 

Naturally, this complicated the idea of “What do you do?”And if you haven’t already noticed, it does not bode well for someone who works in the field of communications to not be able to crisply, calmly and with wit, just answer the damn question.

 

Physician, know thyself.

 

It is for good reason that this Delphic wisdom has stayed with us through the ages. We are all excellent at assessing other people’s situations, both personal and professional, and dispensing divinely sound advice.

 

Knowing thyself, however, is a whole other ball game, and I had given up wanting to play. Instead, I remained content to stay on the bleachers and splutter something fast and jocular.

 

A few months ago, however, I had the opportunity to attend a branding workshop, The Listening Tree’s (TLT) Brand Masterclass, facilitated by TLT’s managing partner Jia-Ping Lee.

 

For my first few years as an entrepreneur, branding fascinated me. I tried, through reading and various (animal-friendly) experiments, to figure out why some brands were magnetic and powerful, while others remained, quite simply, boring.

 

There was little difference in the quality between Adidas and Nike products. But I wanted to sport a swoosh, not three stripes. A swoosh made me feel that I could do it. Stripes weighed me down.

 

Google was in its most active experimenting phase, with any number of apps. Many were later dropped simply because they failed to gain popularity —or even attain a critical level of functionality. But I didn’t want a Hotmail address, thank you very much.

 

Every time Apple released a new device, I saw how my world would change if I owned it. With every Apple product I have, my work and enjoyment, have indeed swirled beautifully into the new structures I imagined.

 

What made me want these brands?

 

And by the same token, what then, would make people want to hire me?

 

The Masterclass was a great mix of lively case studies, Q&A sessions and exercises. None of it was easy —all of it was immensely useful.

 

There were the basics:

 

That people don’t buy into lousy brands because of great marketing. They buy into great brands because of great brands.

 

That brands are really personalities, and if you claim to be a type of personality, are you behaving accordingly? If, for example, you sell travel goods, with an emphasis on toiletry bags, I’d expect the store washroom to be well-appointed with soap, towels and a whole lot of clean.

 

If you don’t get that clean is important to me, I can’t very well trust that you will make a toiletry bag I’d enjoy using.

 

We also talked about what lay at the crux of businesses.

Uniqlo, for example, positions itself as a technology company. Their advanced techniques allow them to make good-quality clothing at affordable prices.

 

Round about then, I got my take-home point.

 

My company is called The Story Box. From the time I started working with the paper, that was what I did —I told stories.

 

But so did lots of people.

 

So what business was I in? I helped free your story.

 

So did lots of people.

 

I help find the value in your story…? Perhaps we were getting a little closer.

 

Everyone has a story to tell. That’s just fact.

 

Sometimes, these are academic theories. Sometimes, they are money management systems. They could be human rights, conservation-based, memoirs —they could be a collection of unheard-of kitchen tips; everyone has something they want to tell the world.

 

That’s what I help with. I help with identifying story angles to appeal to target audiences. The storytelling medium could be anything from a book to a concert or art exhibition.

 

We’ve all lived uniquely. Through those years and experiences we’ve gathered great handfuls of insight, astuteness and clarity.

 

Helping People Coax Their Stories Out Of The Box

Helping People Coax Their Stories Out Of The Box

 

 

What most people don’t have is the confidence that they have something of value to say, that their story matters.

 

And so I sit with them and I talk to them. I listen to their stories and at the exciting bits, I punch the air in triumph with them.

 

Good stuff. Write that down. Stuck? Write a mock letter to Obama. Stucker? Explain it to a child, using drawings.

 

Free your story.

 

What business am I in? I’m in the people business. Writing and expression are unnerving processes. Few people can stare down a blank piece of paper.

 

My job is to be there while they do it. It’s to remind them that they have something of value to say and people need to hear it.

 

It’s to tell them that it’s ok to put a little of themselves out there for the world to see. That is the way humans connect. It’s to think of innovative ways to show their ideas to the world, ways they are comfortable with. It’s to tell them to take their stories out of the box and shine some light on them.

 

What do I do?

 

I help you tell your story, whatever it may be. Because it matters very much and not just to you. I’m here to assure you of that.

 

 

Brand Masterclass is conducted once a year. For details on The Listening Tree’s 2015 Brand Masterclass, please contact Jia-Ping Lee at jp@thelisteningtree.com.my or call +6013-3690371

 

 

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