Have you ever noticed how an orange changes depending on how you eat it?
Peel it, and your mouth salivates in anticipation as you peel layer by layer – white pulp underneath your fingertips, stinging the small, indiscernible cuts burrowed beneath your fingernails. The entire room fills with the most intoxicating smell as tiny sprays of juice fight back against your full-on-orange-assault and aim straight for your unguarded eyes.
Slice it, and everything changes. Juice spills out on the cutting board and everything is much more neat and tidy – until you put the orange up to your mouth. No longer in its translucent skin, the entire essence of the orange spills through your fingers and down your mouth, and the flavor is more mild – as though you’ve somehow tamed its fruit-bellied rebellion with your knife.
Same orange. Different experience.
Here’s why it matters.
In 1955, Emmett Till traveled from his home in Chicago to Mississippi.
He was a 14-year-old kid who was excited to spend a few weeks of his summer with his aunt and uncle. But when he whistled at a 21-year-old white woman (as many 14-year-old boys are prone to do), her husband and brother-in-law took that as a justification to brutally murder him.
When Emmett’s body was finally discovered, he was unrecognizable. His aunt and uncle had to devise a super secret plan to get his body back home to Chicago, and when his mother Mamie saw the heartbreaking reality of what had happened to her baby, she made a decision: It was time to tell the story of racism in a new way.
Instead of hiding, instead of mourning in private, instead of closing his casket so no one could see evidence of the demonic forces of racism unleashed upon her son, Mamie kept the casket open.
She wanted the world to see the horror.
And it did.
Tens of thousands of people attended Emmett’s funeral.
They were shocked at the depravity. Grieved at the inhuman display of hatred. Angry that they had been silent for too long.
Three months later, Rosa Parks credited Emmett Till for giving her the courage to stay put in her bus seat. The year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott followed. In his death, Emmett became the catalyst for the modern civil rights movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King would go on to say that “pressed in the minds of the Alabamans was the image of Emmett Till.” And 10 years later, he would follow Mamie’s example and orchestrate a very visible, very public march from Selma to Montgomery.
When white citizens saw the violence unleashed on peaceful protestors, their own narratives on racism began to change. Outcry followed, and less than five months later, the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Like Mamie, King knew that the story hadn’t changed. It was the same story that had been unfolding for more than 300 years.
So he didn’t waste time changing the narrative.
He didn’t reinvent the characters or find a new enemy.
He didn’t reshape his mission or his vision for a better world.
He simply changed the form — delivering the story in a way that would anchor deep within the souls of white Americans.
Form changes everything.
Brand stories are supposed to lead your audience to transformation. Is yours?
If not, here are 3 ways I can help.
- A deep-dive story audit for small business owners who want to use every bit of their brand story for more growth and more audience connection. Get the details here.
- Power Hour: Get clarity on your next step forward, or strategize on your message or new offer with this one-hour Power Hour Session.
- Brand Story Intensive: If you’re ready to dig deep and really uncover your true, authentic brand story (so you can connect with your right-fit clients), let’s chat.