The rabbit and the banjo

A fable about what we do.

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, there was a great forest. An old raccoon made his living making and selling banjos to the animals who lived there.

One day a young rabbit entered his shop.

“How can I help you?” asked the raccoon.

“Well, I would very much like to play the banjo,” said the rabbit.

So the raccoon sold him a basic, but lovely starter model.

The rabbit went his way, rejoicing in his new purchase. The raccoon was also quite pleased, reckoning he had just gained a repeat customer, as the rabbit would certainly be back for a banjo case, strings, fingerpicks, a pitch pipe, sheet music, and, eventually, a top-of-the-line banjo.

The rabbit went home and flailed away at the instrument for several days.

But, as the timbre of his playing did not meet his expectations, discouragement soon set in. He stashed the banjo under his bed and did not revisit the raccoon’s shop.

Soon after, at the forest tavern, the raccoon was lamenting this circumstance to some of his friends.

Frankly, it was not the first time a promising customer had failed to return. Business was flat.

“Your brand experience must be re-platformed for radical shareability in new, emergent liminal spaces,” said the mole, a global branding guru. “Let’s drill-down to find your secret sauce. My take-away from our re-group today is the clear need for rabbit-centered, aspirationalized, future-proofed, game-changing, data-driven, plug-and-play micro-content for accelerated meme generation. It must be: Authentic! Accessible! Aspirational! It must also be: Desirable! Viable! Feasible! At these intersectionalities, we need to articulate new narratives to support vibrant, but de-complexified strategies for targeted personas to maximize KPIs and APIs. I will build you decks filled with many such words and with colorful charts where other such words all overlap inside of colorful circles! In fact, you should circle-back with me for a touch-base and some whiteboarding, iterative ideation with a hard-stop, next week. And your old, hand-painted sign? No, no, no! We must be the new, new, new!”

“I’ll make you famous! A TV spot! That’s all you need!” said the bear, a local advertising legend. “I’ll hire a great director to direct! I’ll film the film in Hollywood! Rome! Paris! London! It’ll win at Cannes! I chair it this year! So we’ll win. Win big! You’ll join me! We’ll be served champagne! Rosé! Caviar! On yachts! It’ll be so cool. So awesome! A TV spot? Yes!”

“You need a scalable, trans-media, omni-channel, dynamic/responsive content-driven, snackable tech platform!” said the deer, a social media ninja. “Time to evangelize those eyeballs through predictive analytics and building AI-enhanced virtual reality spaces! You’ll need a 24-hour dynamic content newsroom to feed Instagram! We will turn you into a Tweeting Snapchatting TikToking influencer in a week!”

The raccoon felt paralyzed.

Then the fox, who had been listening in the corner, spoke up.

“Perhaps what your customers want,” he said, “is not a banjo whatsoever.”

The raccoon, mole, bear, and deer all stopped.

“May I suggest that what your customers really want is the magic of banjo music. So you should be in the art of delivering them that magic.”

“Wait, what?” said the raccoon, but dimly comprehending.

“Look, why not let me paint up some signs offering banjo classes. Then allow me to redesign your shop so it feels more…inviting. I will set up some nice chairs, put out some hot coffee, biscuits, and invite everyone in. Then you can hold jam sessions in your shop, where new players can mingle and hone their skills. And I will invite a visiting virtuoso to give a recital there.”

“And what about my old sign?” the raccoon asked.

“I shall clean and scrub your old sign, so everyone can see it. And then I will create a little newsletter you can send out that explains what you do every week. I can also film the sessions, create a website, and make it all available online for creatures living in the outlying hollows.”

The raccoon listened.

“In this way, you would start giving customers banjo…joy,” suggested the fox. “Consequently, I believe the demand for your instruments will grow.”

“Capital!” exclaimed the raccoon, catching on.

And that’s just what he did, following the fox’s suggestions.

In no time, his shop changed from a mere banjo store to a hive of banjo action. The rabbit, hearing that lessons were to be had, came back. And he told others. Who then told others. Demand skyrocketed. The raccoon hired assistants and opened a recording studio. Customers came from everywhere.

The dells resounded happily with the dulcet ding-a-dang of banjos.

When the raccoon went to pay the fox for his remarkable services, the raccoon asked him what line of work he was in.

“You are not a global branding guru. You are not an advertising legend. You are not a digital media ninja. Yet you made all of these things work. What do you call yourself?” asked the raccoon.

“I am…a designer,” answered the fox.

And very soon after the raccoon came to see himself not as a banjo seller, but a “maker of musicians.”

And so did everyone else.

Brian Collins is the Chief Creative Officer of COLLINS.

Illustrations by Eric Hanson.

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