The Way Frankenstein Makes You Feel

There is an old saying: “Years from now, people will not remember specifically what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

That sentiment is the entire reason why you are able to conjure up a picture of a monster when you hear the word Frankenstein.

In 1818, Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus”. She was a teenager when she wrote it, and it contained many of the errors that you would expect from an unexperienced writer. It was written with a frame story that contained an exchange-of-written-correspondence format, and despite having three different narrators, they all shared a similar voice. As far as depth of character development and analysis, this was not Faulkner.

But this technical deficiency did not bar extreme commercial success. The impulse that is created when you read about Dr. Victor Frankenstein trying to make something great—fiddling with natural law—but inadvertently messing up and creating a monster—is so grapping that any stylistic shortcomings can get overlooked. The point that we remember our emotional reactions more than specific facts is also proven by the fact that Frankenstein was actually the name of the doctor that made the creature now popularly known as Frankenstein.

This is why, so often, cost-cutting from luxury brands often presages a deterioration in the business itself. A prominent luxury clothes distributor recently talked about how it was eliminating some of its sales staff that would call up its most regular customers and offer them insider deals. Instead, there will be an algorithm that sends out an e-mail offering 25% cuts in its place.

This business move will not produce the intended business effects. We all receive dozens of unwanted e-mails per day. That is typical, banal, and easy to ignore.

Someone who calls you and tells you that something at the store that sells for $600 is being specifically set aside for you at $225 will inspire your loyalty and will have a chance of closing the sale. Why? Because receiving an individualized phone call tied to a local piece of merchandise creates an emotional connection between the buyer and the seller—people will come back again to capture that same emotion.

It is a common business flaw to assume that merely giving someone X in a competent manner is the only objective. If someone wants to buy something, and they get that something, haven’t you done your job? No—not if you want to be excellent or best in class. If you want repeat business, there needs to be some emotional warmth associated with your product. And if not, you’re a commodity who will be discarded the moment a more convenient or cheaper option arrives.

This was on my mind when I read Frankenstein. It is of such historical importance—less than a hundred pieces of literature from the 1800s survive as common knowledge today—that I expected the work to be excellent in both composition style as well as originality of the storyline. But the success of the work relies almost entirely on the latter. The enduring value, and reason for the success, is the obvious metaphor of seeking your most ambitious intentions thwarted.

I am now more sympathetic to companies that make attempts to hijack the latest social fad in an effort to sell their products. While the application of this principle is often flawed—we encounter ingenuine, gimmicky, and contrived sales pitches—the insight that an emotional connection is a component of building enduring value is an important element in building a great business.