There are two kinds of advertising.

The goal of the first is to make yours the company the customer thinks of immediately and feels the best about when they – or any of their friends – need what you sell. This is called a “relational” ad campaign. It works better and better with each passing year.

The goal of the second kind of advertising is to cause the reader/listener/viewer to buy something from you immediately. I began my career writing these “transactional” ads. I was good at it. This type of campaign is called “direct response.” Transactional ads work less and less well the longer you run them.

Today I write only the first kind.

If you have the staying power to build a relational ad campaign, you’re going to need to remember your origins. You’re going to have to write your Genesis Story.

There are two kinds of staying power. The first is financial. 

Here’s my advice: Don’t launch a relational ad campaign so big that you would not be able to sustain it indefinitely. If you say, “I can fund this for 6 months, but by then it needs to be self-supporting,” then you’re spending more than you can afford. It’s impossible to predict the moment of breakthrough, that moment when all your previously fruitless efforts will begin to radiate results like a newborn sun.

This is why you have to have the second kind of staying power: emotional staying power. Three or four months into your campaign, you’re going to begin to panic. But the only thing worse than never launching a relational ad campaign is to launch one and then abandon it.

Relational ad campaigns are never about having the lowest price. A customer who switches to you for reasons of price alone will just as quickly switch from you for the same reason. And there is nothing that some other company can’t do a little worse and sell a little cheaper.

People don’t bond with companies so easily as they bond with people. We bond with people we like, people we feel good about, people we think we know.

Here are three examples of well-told stories of origin:

“My Dad was a house painter. He taught me to sand and scrape old paint until my fingers were aching and raw. But I wanted to make him proud, so I always worked hard. I’ll never forget the day we opened our brown bags at lunchtime and he said, “Son. I’m proud of how hard you work, but I hope that someday you’ll get a job where you can wear a tie.” And because I wanted to make him proud, I decided to open a jewelry store. I watched as my Dad took his last seven hundred dollars out of his sock drawer to help me get started. But he never got to see that store. He died just before it was open.  I lived on wieners and beans for the next 11 years until I finally figured it out:  Lose the tie… And be a regular guy just like your Dad. That’s when things turned around for me. I’ve been sharing the story of that 700 dollars with young entrepreneurs in High Schools and Colleges for years. America’s newest and best Kesslers Diamonds is about to open in front of Cabela’s next to the Rivertown Mall in Grandville. I’m Richard Kessler, and I’m hoping to become your jeweler.”

Your origin story doesn’t have to be your first ad. Some of the most successful stories of origin have been introduced after the advertiser had already become a household word.

Tom Heflin was a railroad conductor. His wife had a sister. That sister had two little boys. One day she took those boys on a train to Winslow, Arizona to spend a few days with them. Tom took those boys out into the desert to collect rocks. One of the little boys grew up to be a pediatrician. The other just kept pickin’ up rocks. I’ve never been able to explain what got into me that day …but it’s never left me. It has something to do with how the beauty of nature is made permanent, and becomes transferable, only in natural gemstones. Blood-red rubies. Piercing blue sapphires. Emeralds greener than the greenest grass. And diamonds …rocks that are perfectly colorless, clear and pure. Rocks! Call me crazy. Call me naïve. But I don’t think gemstones are here by accident. I think God put them here. And he made them beautiful, and he made them rare, and he made them hard to find, so that you and I might give them as symbolic gifts to those rare and hard to find people who are beautiful in our own lives. You know who I am. And that’s all I’ve got to say today.

The power of your origin story doesn’t depend on your category of business.

I was a ten year-old boy holding a flashlight for my Dad while he worked on an air conditioner for a customer. His name was Duncan Goodrich. He didn’t talk much. But there’s a certain kind of magic that happens when a son holds a flashlight for his father. I held it steady and quiet and Dad talked to me while he worked. He said, “When a person needs help, you respond right away. Not when it’s convenient for you.” He said, “Always do the right thing. Always do what’s right.” And he said, “The Goettl Iron Horse is a magnificent machine. Nothing else even comes close.” That was the first night I held a flashlight for my Dad but it wouldn’t be the last. A few months later at Dad’s funeral, I realized that every time he handed me that flashlight, he was passing the torch. And my Dad believed in Goettl air conditioners. So I bought the company. Goettl. Gee Oh Ee, T-T-L. It’ll keep you cool, but it’s hard to spell. You can count on us to respond right away and do the right thing… Always. Gee Oh Ee, T-T-L.

Search your heart and mind. Find your story of origin. Make yourself vulnerable.

Richard Kessler told us that he was once so poor that $700 made a huge difference in his life. The late Woody Justice told us that he believed in God and he believed gemstones are here for a reason. Ken Goodrich told us the memory of his father drives his actions to this day.

What’s the story of how you got to where you are now… from where you were?

You really need to share that story.

Roy H. Williams

PS – Jeff Sexton and Chris Maddock help students develop their origin stories in a class called Brandable Chunks at Wizard Academy. The next session is May 24-25. Also, Professor Sexton has written about Origin Stories in his blog.