I originally wrote this article on LinkedIn in March 2019. A lot has changed since then, but one thing that hasn’t is the story I tell people about my friend Tony and the real work he does in my hometown, Wokingham. I tell this story to founders and business leaders because it’s a great example of purpose and what it looks like in everyday life.
Let’s face it, as much as we might miss it now (okay, I do a bit), the commute to work can be pretty painful at times with delayed trains and no seats. Since moving to Wokingham a few years back, I can put my hand on my heart and say that my mornings aren’t that blue anymore because I’m greeted with an uplifting poem (or two if I’m lucky) from a chirpy chap called Tony.
Tony (age 65) is the platform announcer at Wokingham station and has been working there for a good five years now. After months of saying the same dull thing — “Please stand behind the yellow line” — the phrase suddenly reminded him of a poem he enjoyed as a child by A.A Milne called “Lines and Squares”. After his shift, he went home and dug around in his old bookcase and found his original two Winnie the Pooh books. The next day, he took them to work and to his surprise, people LOVED what they heard.
This made him realise the power of his words and how they can change people’s moods first thing in the morning. Now his mission is to make everyone that steps onto that platform a little bit happier before they get stuck into their busy day.
This is the poem that woke him up to his true purpose on the platform at Wokingham’s train station.
Lines and Squares
Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”
And the little bears growl to each other, “He’s mine,
As soon as he’s silly and steps on a line.”
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It’s ever so ‘portant how you walk.
And it’s ever so jolly to call out, “Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!”
The poems he reads have become an integral part of people’s lives at Wokingham. When Tony isn’t there, I actually really care. In fact, I miss him!
Tony brings happiness and joy to my mornings before I get sucked into my laptop screen. I actually call him my morning maker because no matter how anxious and stressed I feel about my intense day ahead, I know that I can expect a few minutes of calm and charm from the short poems he’ll read. Those few minutes mean the world to me.
The positive impact Tony has on my mornings should be something brands strive for. Sadly, most of them don’t because they get caught up in their own why and forget their customers’ why.
Every day, people are bombarded with thousands of ads and communications from brands fighting for attention and sales. But consumers won’t respond unless brands show that they genuinely care about them and their goals.
The Meaningful Brands study by Havas shares some stats that might wake you up.
People wouldn’t care if 77% of brands disappeared. Ouch!
58% of brand content is not meaningful. Double ouch!
And there are a few simple reasons why that is.
Take Tony, for example. He’s not just listened to his audience — he’s watched them, and he’s mindful of how they feel first thing in the morning because their train might be running late, or maybe they just have a lot on their plate.
Tony says he knows that he can make a positive impact on their lives, even if it’s just for a short moment of time. That’s why he reads poems to take their worries and anxieties off their minds.
On top of that, he’s consistent. Every time you see him, you know he’s going to entertain you with some joyful words while you wait patiently for your train.
So there are a few things brands can learn from Tony:
How are they feeling, and what mood might they be in?
How do we want them to feel after they hear, see, or engage with us?
What meaningful difference do we want to have on their day?
2. Be thoughtful with your communications and treat them like a gift. Ask yourself:
Is this going to inspire my customers?
Is this going to help them?
Is this going to teach them?
Is this going to make them feel happy?
Tony’s purpose is to bring a moment of joy to all the people that walk onto the platform at Wokingham train station every morning, by reciting the poems he enjoyed as a child. It’s clear, genuine, and LOUD.
Brands, more than ever before, need to reconnect with the stories that got them here, to this very point— starting with their purpose story. Why? Because brand purpose gives people a real reason to buy into the work you do. It’s the story that gives people a reason to rally around you and not your competitors.
Brand purpose is so critical to surviving this pandemic and the brands that continue to live inside their stories and put people at the heart of them
will continue to rise above and beyond in years to come.