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OWNER'S MANUAL

The Power of Genuine Emotional Connection

Inc. columnist Jeff Haden goes to a Def Leppard concert...and walks away with much more.
Def Leppard's Phil Collen (left) and Joe Elliott (right, facing away).
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"Why are they doing this?" I shouted in my wife's ear as the photos appeared on the big screen. "It's a huge mistake!"

For nearly an hour Def Leppard had been amazing, with a set list built to please: hits, hits, and more hits, plus three of my favorite songs from High 'n' Dry. Even though I've been to a lot of concerts and I'm somewhat jaded, I was blown away.

(Is it too late to fully disclose that I've been a fan since 1980?)

But I cringed when 30-year-old photos of the band started to appear on the big screen during the first chords of Hysteria.


Why? Time has its way with all of us. None of us are what we were in our youth.

For most of us, though, at least professionally, that doesn't matter. We can still build careers, run companies, and excel in our fields. Age and the experience are a competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, some others are typically judged by a different standard: models, actors, entertainers...and rock bands. Visibly aging is almost always a competitive disadvantage; most do everything they can to hide the signs.

So I couldn't understand why the band would show old photos. In an industry almost slavishly devoted to youth--and to celebrating youth--why would they intentionally call attention to the fact that they are no longer young? It seemed crazy.

Then I felt a nudge from my wife. I turned, and she shouted, "You're wrong. Look around."

She was right. The audience loved it. The montage didn't simply capture an earlier time in the band's career, while honoring Steve Clark, a founding member who passed away in 1991. Those old photos took the audience back to a time when hard experience and cynicism had yet to diminish their own sense of innocence, excitement, and hope.

While the screen displayed photos of a youthful Def Leppard, in our mind's eye, what we really saw was ourselves.

At the end of the song the ovation sounded different; just as loud, but definitely different. I looked at my wife to see if she had noticed. She nodded and cupped her hand to my ear. "They're cheering for the band," she said, "but they are also cheering for themselves."

My initial reaction had been wrong. Chris Keating, the band's video designer, used images to create a genuine emotional connection between artist and audience. The blend of visual images and sound served as an implicit reminder that we may all walk different roads, but ultimately we all take the same journey.

Rock stars or not, we're all in it together.

Sure, sometimes music is just music. But sometimes, as it was for the people in the audience that night--and for me--music can mean, and can be, much more.

So can almost anything. What your business sells--no matter how seemingly impersonal or disposable--can often carry a larger meaning.

A restaurant doesn't just serve meals; treat people well and a favorite restaurant can become a touchstone for a family's memories. A mobile device doesn't just store images; it may contain a teenager's most prized possession, the photo album of her life. An attorney creating an estate plan doesn't just put together a set of legal documents; she leaves her clients feeling that if the worst does happen, their families are taken care of.

Every business can provide a lot more to its customers than just a transaction.

The products and services you provide can make a lasting impact--as long as you know your customers and focus on what they want and need. Of course, that might mean you have to put yourself out there and even be a little vulnerable.

But there's a definite payoff. Your customers--just like the 20,000 people who simultaneously cheered for Def Leppard, as well as for themselves--hunger for an emotional bond. They crave a sense of meaning, a sense of belonging, a sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Create that connection, and you no longer just run a business.

You make a genuine difference in other people's lives.

IMAGES: Helen L. Collen
Last updated: Aug 14, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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