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B2B Storytelling Case Study: Some Ideas Take Off In Unexpected Ways

March 24th, 2011 · 2 Comments · All Posts, BillyMitchell

I’m in the idea business. As a senior creative director and partner at a B2B marketing agency, I work at creative ideation and storytelling as it relates to branding and content marketing.

Every once in a while, when I have a really wild idea I think may have no chance of flying, I’m reminded of a story I was once told. It’s one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it.

Barbershop-to-Biplanes: A tall tale turns out to be a true story


I don’t remember his name, but I will never forget him. One summer during a break from college, I was working as a physical therapy assistant at a rehab facility when I met this interesting old guy with a great story. He was a patient recovering from a stroke, and he told me the tale while I was helping him exercise one day.

Just as World War I was breaking out in Europe in the early 1900s, this fellow was still a teenager in a small Southern town. He and his best friend were both popular guys, but they also had a sense of adventure and a tendency to show off. They had heard somewhere that in Canada, young men were being trained as fighter pilots for duty in England’s Royal Flying Corps, which later became known as the Royal Air Force. Now, this was before the United States got involved directly in the war and, to two guys with wanderlust, it seemed like a fantastic idea. They envisioned how exciting it would be to travel to Canada to become fighter pilots, and how the ladies would one day swoon over their heroic exploits.

The two began talking about this one day in the local barbershop and, before they knew it, word had spread through the whole town. A parade was soon organized in their honor to wish them well on their way to aviation glory. They were too embarrassed to explain that it was all a lot of tall talk, and both got caught up in the momentum of the big idea that only days before was but a figment of their wild imaginations.

Within a few weeks of sharing their big idea in the barbershop, they were both on a train to Canada with the whole town wishing them godspeed.

They both went through flight training and became fighter pilots. And they also went to war. The happy ending of this story is that they both came home alive, and remained pals for the rest of their days.

The other old flyboy even dropped by the rehab center one day to visit his friend. One used a cane and the other a walker, but each had a special air of confidence and a solid handshake. Both had a good sense of humor and great laugh, as well, but the most important thing they shared was an amazing story of how even the wildest idea can take flight – even if you don’t really expect it to.

Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell is a partner and senior creative director at MLT Creative, an Atlanta-based B2B marketing agency with a Northeast office in Rhode Island. As a B2B marketing specialist for more than two decades, Billy brings creativity and leadership to his team while serving national clients. He contributes regularly to the B2B Ideas@Work blog for MLT Creative.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Awesome story Billy! You know how to spin a tale!

  • Billy Mitchell

    Thanks Mark. It’s been my experience that some the best stories come from the oldest people I’ve met. It’s easy to complain about how they tend to repeat themselves but I discovered something really interesting. Maybe they repeat themselves because we’re not really listening.

    When I was in my twenties, I had the opportunity to spend time with my grandfather before he died because he got a little apartment in Atlanta to be near my grandmother while she was in the hospital.

    I would drop by to visit and watch the Braves games with him. And when I would listen to his stories, I mean really listen and ask questions, it was like we both went back in time and he would remember new details and expand on the parts others had heard a thousand times.

    Like the two old birds I described in this blog post, he was a WWI veteran too. And he was a great story teller with a sense of humor and positive spirit his whole life. Both my grandfathers were good storytellers and if I could only be half as good, I’d be happy. I get my first and middle name from them and I’m very proud of that.