Baby shoes and marketing

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

As legend has it, this 6-word novel was penned by Ernest Hemingway in response to a bet. It has been the topic of many English classes ever since.

What makes this story so powerful are the five most important elements of great writing:

Setting: The assumed birth.
Disruption: The assumed death.
Recognition: The believed grief.
Response: The acknowledgement of what probably happened.
Resolution: The decision to move forward.

So much was offered. Considerably more was held back.

The wonder of this story is realized through its restraint. It takes a couple seconds to read, yet a century later we’re still discussing it.

This is also the essence of great marketing.

The terse tale of marketing

Many viewed “Baby Shoes” as an elliptical tragedy. Birth. Death. Grieving parents. I viewed it differently. Parents selling an extra pair of shoes gifted at a baby shower that the child outgrew before he or she had a chance to wear them. The margin of interpretation – it’s a beautiful thing.

What is marketing if not that? Is it merely a vehicle by which to notify, communicate and impart loads of information? I think it’s more than that.

All too often we are exposed to marketing copy that is lined with facts and features and layered with bales of benefits. In a marketer’s attempt to tell all, they smother interest, intrigue and emotion. The reader is left with little room to ponder and no place to insert their own interpretation.

At 1000watt, we take a different approach across a myriad of assets: website copy, brand stories, value propositions, headlines, recruiting brochures, listing presentations, product pages, advertisements and all manner of marketing collateral.

In every attempt, our goal is singular – apply literary compression to create a greater impact by inspiring the reader before informing them.

This practice is not as simple as taking a minimalistic approach or subscribing to a less is more ethos. This is about composition and creating a narrative – whether through a tagline, web page or a comprehensive brochure – that enables the reader to form a picture in their mind that dilates the story the brand is trying to tell.

Hemingway further exemplified this writing construct in his novel, “The Hills Like White Elephants,” in which he uses the Iceberg Theory (theory of omission) that renders the reader into a contemplative state long after the closing sentence.

The secret to all this is not simply editing to shorten but rather, knowing precisely what not to say and how not to say it in a way that says it all.

Baby shoes, baby steps

Rumor has it that Hemingway stole “Baby Shoes” from a newspaper ad he’d read a few years prior that was written inside a classified section titled: Terse Tales of a Town.

The ad read: For Sale, A Baby Carriage; Never Used.

How cool is it that the origin story of this famous short novel was actually an advertisement? I think it is so apropos.

Real estate is rich with marketers – people responsible for describing and selling things. People responsible for finding ways to differentiate their things from their competitors’ things. Real estate is also rich with publishers – prolific contributors of content and social musings who are also trying to drive interest.

Everyone is working tirelessly to say something. But very few are doing it with impact. Skillfully. Artistically. Our industry places so much attention on fact, and so little on editorial discipline. Composition. Omission.

As we kick off 2016, take baby steps. Go beyond mere marketing. You have a fraction of a second to convey your message, to tell your story and move people with enough gusto to leave them wanting more.

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