I’ve been very privileged to see one of my great friends totally redefined as business category, by creating massive differentiation through the power of story.
I’m the guy who came from the unemployment line and I’ve been involved in stories like Canada’s “Huggable Car Dealer” – I transcend what everyone thinks about with respect to marketing and branding and creating differentiation.
What can I say? It’s been unbelievable experience knowing how much the power of a great story can open doors, opportunities. That is what inspires me to share with others.
You have been on top and have been considered an International Keynote Speaker & Author for more than 10 years. What do you feel is the secret to your evolving success?
Oh, I love that question. That’s a great question because I think the secret – whether for me or anyone – is how do you fuse that which is timeless to that, which is timely.
“How do you create longevity and sustainability – a long-term brand strategy and a long-term vision in a short-term world?”
We are creatures of habit. And the biggest habit of them all started about 400,000 years ago. There is a researcher from the University of Utah named Polly Wiessner who figured out when storytelling went mainstream. Dr. Wiessner researched ancient hunter-gatherer societies that have not changed. She’s spent time in the jungles of Botswana and Congo and New Guinea, observing societies that escaped all forms of modernism.
Think about hunter/gatherer societies. What did they do before fire went mainstream? They all went back to the cave. Their day was done. So when fire went mainstream – not when it was invented but when it went mainstream -that’s when storytelling, rituals, dance began – all those things that people love to do to entertain themselves. That’s when it really started to happen.
So think about 400,000 years ago – our ancestors gathered around campfires and engaged in and enjoyed storytelling. And now 400,000 years later we sit around at night and we binge-watch Netflix. Which leads me to believe that no matter how much technology changes there will always be the innate, powerful urge for humans to enjoy each other’s stories. That will never change.
You have done more than 400 presentations with Vistage International – the world’s largest CEO Peer Advisory Group – The say your presentations are packed with real-life stories and benefit from decades of “in-the-trenches” business experience – Can you briefly share one of those real-life stories and benefits?
The greatest story is my signature story that I referred to briefly: It’s the story of the guy who was in the worst business category in the world when it comes to public perception. Nothing slides down the greasy totem pole of credibility further than the used car lot. Just the way it is. No one dreams about working at a used car lot. No one wants their kids or grandkids to work at a used car lot. And yet the guy I met in 2002 when he only had five employees when he was only doing about one and a half million a year in annual sales. Well, that guy now stands on a single location that’s five and a half acres. Employs 38 people and in 2017 they did $42 million dollars in business.
A flashpoint is when we changed the story in September of 2006 and he became known as “Canada’s huggable car dealer.” And the best way to describe it is if Walt Disney imagined a used car lot, this is what it would look like. So at Jim Gilbert’s, there were hundreds of teddy bears. He’s got the mascots, he’s got the merry go round out front. He’s got the nature trail to go walk your dog. There’s the children’s book that’s been written. I could go on and on and on with all of the different things that Jim at Dawna Gilbert did to bring the story to life. Well, over time it went from telling the story to actually living it.
It’s not just a story about creating differentiation – significance. It’s a story about reinventing what’s possible. It’s a story about stretching one’s imagination. More importantly, it’s a story that speaks to the power of when you actually know who you are beyond the products and services you sell.
So, I hear that you have a new book in the works! Do you care to give us a sneak peek, maybe share the title and brief description of your book?
It’s called Big Little Legends. How everyday people build irresistible brands. We are finalizing the manuscript so I don’t want to be premature with it or anything like that. What we’re doing is making the connection between the lineups: Lineups for Apple, lineups for Disney, lineups to go see the Mona Lisa, right? Well, what do those lineups have in common with the lineups of a certain fish market in Seattle or a certain coffee shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans or the lineups of a certain hamburger stand on a northern Ontario highway. What Big Little Legends is about is explaining why you don’t have to be a huge company with massive marketing budgets to have a huge impact with your brand.
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