Last week, I posted an unfiltered photo of my desk in a light-hearted and playful attempt to ‘keep things real’ on Instagram. My friend Donají noticed three little toy cars on the edge of the photo and asked me about them. I tried for a few minutes to send her a simple response but couldn’t come up with one. For me, those little cars have deep emotional resonance and a little story to go along with them.
When I was a child my family used to vacation in London for the summer. We did this several years in a row. One of my favourite things to do whenever we made it to London was to go to what I knew then as the hugest toy store to exist: Hamleys!
It was (and still is) seven storeys of glorious chaos. Toys lining the walls from floor to ceiling, many activities and demonstrations happening all around. Children and adults alike running about, and a constant din in which you could barely hear yourself think. It was unlike any place I knew.
My favourite floor was the fourth because it was where my favourite toys were found: miniature cars. Every year, it was the first stop I made to see what new cars were released that I did not already have in my growing collection. They came in all sorts of shapes and colours, including fluorescents and metallics. Some had moving parts, others had tiny accessories. Vintage cars, muscle cars, sports cars, monster trucks, and tanks. Boats and planes too, but I didn’t much care for those. I loved each one of my cars. I played with them by myself for hours and took pride in how I kept them in their special briefcase that we had somehow retrofitted for their storage. They were kept in London year long and to this day I’m not quite sure why I never took them back home with me when the summers ended. Didn’t I miss them during the rest of the year? I can’t say. But I do know this: we arrived at our London apartment one summer and they were nowhere to be found. They were lost and I was utterly devastated.
Shortly after, we stopped going to London in the summertime and I never saw them again. I also never forgot about them.
Fast forward 20+ years to when I decided to Google something along the lines of “tiny toy cars 90s” and there they were! Available through eBay. I wept…and sobbed. The joy they brought me as a six, seven, eight year old child washed over me. I couldn’t believe it. I had found them! Well, not my cars exactly, but ones just like them, perhaps previously owned by other children for whom they brought the same kind of delight (or toy collectors). Of course, I immediately purchased a bunch of them, and a few of my childhood favourites now sit in front of me on my desk.
What does all of this have to do with branding and strategy? Everything. We are made of stories and so are our businesses, and I believe that in the best of cases, our most enduring personal stories work as building blocks for our work. The why of my business is about helping others step out of hiding, owning their truth, and tapping into the rich resource that is their personal narrative to get clarity and achieve alignment in their branding. The happiness those cars brought me is vital to how I approach my work with new clients: with an openness to play and explore their stories together, and a curiosity for what insights may be found.
Think back to what you enjoyed doing as a child. What are some of your earliest memories? What excited you? And what about it was the exciting part? How we play is just as telling as what we play. Did you like to take things apart and put them back together? Did you make believe? Were you cautious in your play or did you go all in? Were you the main star or did you prefer to play the supportive role?
Our childhood play activities can help us gain insight into how we can better align our branding with why and how we work. Can you connect any of your personal stories to the core mission of your business? I’d love to hear about it!