The Story Economy Blog

I Want to Smell (Really)

I’ve been going to Lookout Joe’s in Cincinnati (if you’re local, it’s Mt. Lookout to be exact) with my laptop to work for about 8 years (it’s sort of my second office). I get wooed by a different delicious coffee drink each year. I’m on the Red Velvet now. But feeling nostalgic the other week (my big business anniversary and all), I decided to go back to the Milky Way—my very first regular, circa 2004.

Sitting down with my Milky Way, something unexpected happened. One whiff of the steamed espresso/chocolate/caramel/milk concoction, and it was 8 years ago in my mind. A single inhale, and my brain time-traveled for 3 or 4 seconds, transporting me into some random moment in that coffee shop 8 years ago. I felt a flood of associations: magazine story deadlines and the burning desire to climb the women’s magazine ladder and be picked, what it felt like to wonder if I was really going to make it as a writer, and what it felt like to be dating my husband, without the responsibilities of kids.

It was that clear, pure, totally unexpected memory jaunt that’s only associated with the sense of smell. Site, sound, touch, taste: none of the other senses have that kind of immediate memory association that takes my breath away (I think this is universally true). Engine oil, dust, and hot metal and I’m on the tube in London; cigarette smoke and Joop cologne and I’m walking down the street in Oxford, Ohio with my graduate school boyfriend; engineered strawberry fragrance mixed with plastic and I’m 7 years old brushing my Strawberry Shortcake doll’s hair. And although I’ve experienced smell-associated memories probably thousands of times in my life, every single time it happens, it’s amazing and unexpected and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s remarkable—every single time.

The Way Toward Remarkability

I gave a talk last week to a group of marketing professionals about how your brand is your roadmap for customer service. One of my main points was that the thing you do or the product you make is your customer service. Your brand isn’t separate from your marketing, and it certainly can’t be separate from how you treat your people. In other words, you have to be remarkable, pretty much all of the time. (This is straight from Purple Cow, of course.)

Whenever I give a talk where I’m spouting off stuff (I do like to spout), I try to take a minute to think about how it applies to me. So, what does remarkability mean for me?

In a word, smelling.

I want the work I do to be like that unexpected smell that takes you somewhere you love to go. I want to give people an experience that takes them by surprise and connects them to something crazy powerful—to their own memory, story, or experience. Whatever it is, it really has nothing to do with me. What I write is just the smell: they bring the rest.

Now, I suppose I could hire a private investigator to find out my clients’ deepest smell associations, hire a lab along the New Jersey turnpike to manufacture that smell, and then set up a time-release of it into their office, to go off when they interact with me.

Or . . . I could just capture their voice and tell a really, really great story. When people hear the voice of their brand saying all of the stuff that it needs to say about the things they believe matter, it’s almost as good as smelling the smell that effortlessly transports them.Almost. I mean can’t compete with biology. But I can use storytelling to tap into brain wiring. That’s my most remarkable gift and action.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: “Judi Ketteler stinks.” (Oh I know, the puns are endless.) But if Malcolm Gladwell made “sneezing” cool in Tipping Point, I can make stinking cool.

Here’s to stinking it up.

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