“United Breaks Guitars” is a Fun and Fantastic Read

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united breaks guitarsYou won’t believe how I got a copy of this book.  Staci, the Operations Manager here at Small Business Trends, sent me a link to the promotional video on the book site.  Then I watched the video.  She and I instant messaged about it for a few minutes exchanging “ha ha ha’s” and “LOLs.”   That’s when I knew that I had to get a copy of the book to review it.

But I didn’t know Dave Carroll and I didn’t have a lot of faith in reaching him via the website.  So I found Dave Carroll’s Twitter ID (@DaveCarroll) and told him who I was and what I wanted in less than 140 characters.  Within a week, I had a review copy at my door (along with a sweet inspirational calendar).  I’d say it was a win-win all the way around.  And now, I’m going to tell you all about United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media.

The Backstage Story in an Afternoon

I read United Breaks Guitars – on a Sunday.  Yup.  That’s all it took.  It was a perfect weekend read because it told the tale of a video I had heard of but knew little about.  On July 6, 2009, Dave Carroll uploaded the original United Breaks Guitars video to YouTube.  Nearly 13 million views later (as of today), he continues to represent the impact that one person can have using social media and a message that resonates.

United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media is his first-person tale of his experience with United Airlines’ handling of his Taylor guitar … and the ensuing circus that was his journey through their massive customer service system.

How United Breaks Guitars Kept Me Glued to My Chair

I can assure you it had nothing to do with any kind of cutting edge marketing or customer service strategies that were revealed in the book.  That’s because there weren’t any.  It wasn’t that kind of book.

It was the authenticity and the sheer humble curiosity of the story that kept me sitting in my favorite reading chair. Of course, I had my computer close by so that I could revisit all three United Breaks Guitars videos – just so I can have the experience and take a second look at some of the details Carroll reveals throughout the book.

Here is a quick tour of what you may not have known behind the United Break Guitars phenomenon and the small business lessons you can take away from the book.

Male Musicians Pick Up Guitars Like They Pick Up Women

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether this is a healthy relationship to be having with an inanimate object.  But the chapter on how a musician chooses a guitar is an absolute hoot.  You’ll never look at someone carrying a guitar through an airport the same way.

As I read this chapter, I immediately thought about the myriad special requests our customers make.  While every business can’t fulfill on the special needs for every customer situation, if you’re in the service business, this is something you need to be prepared for.   In the United Breaks Guitars book, I learned that most airlines make musicians sign waivers that remove all responsibility for instruments from the airline.  In other words, if you have to check your instruments (or other fragile piece of luggage) you do so at your own risk.

You’ll Need More Than One to Get the Job Done

Did you know that there were actually three United Breaks Guitars songs and videos? Dave had a plan and he fulfilled on it.  Once he had come to terms that United was not going to take any responsibility for the damage done to his guitar (despite the fact that he had not signed a waiver), he decided to create three videos of varying styles telling the story.  He had a goal to reach a million views between the three videos.

I got a powerful lesson from this.  Carroll had made a mental shift and redirected his energy to doing what he does best; writing songs as an emotional and creative outlet.  He set three primary goals with this:

  1. To take a frustrating experience and make it positive.
  2. To create something with his friends.
  3. To change the way one of the world’s largest companies deals with it’s customers.

He could control the first two goals, but he threw the third one in there as a stretch goal.  He knew he couldn’t exactly control the outcome, but his efforts on the first two could certainly make a dent.

You Can Strategize the Impact of a Song

Here is another little tidbit I got from United Breaks Guitars that I didn’t know.   You can program or create a song to get the desired response.  I didn’t realize that.  I thought songwriters were inspired and just wrote what came to them.  I thought it was magic, and maybe sometimes it is.  But for Dave Carroll’s project – it was all by design.

As a small business owner or expert in your field, you have amazing powers at your disposal that you can use to influence how people respond to you and your product or service.  Dave knew from experience that certain beats and types of songs influenced how people reacted.  He knew how important the refrain was.  He knew it had to have a certain beat and a certain style.  All in all, I was blown away by the strategic planning brilliance he used to write the song.

Ask Your Friends to Help

One of Dave’s goals was to work with his friends and enroll them into his project.  A phrase that he keeps repeating in this section is:

I love how [insert industry or expertise here] professionals don’t need a lot of details before saying yes to a gig.”

The lesson for small businesses in this chapter of United Breaks Guitars is clear – don’t insulate yourself.  You are not on your own.  There is a community of partners in the wings ready, willing and able to help you achieve your goal.  All you have to do is ask.

Storytelling is Powerful Stuff

We aren’t all songwriters, but we all have stories that can ultimately help other people and make a real difference in the world.  Don’t wait for a frustration or life changing experience to tell your story.

Stop to think about how the stories you have and the stories you tell can ultimately help other people and make a difference in the world.  You can start by reading United Breaks Guitars for inspiration.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

3 Reactions
  1. Hi Ivana, I loved the United Breaks Guitars video – I remember watching it a half dozen times. I can’t wait to read more of the backstory to it. Storytelling is indeed powerful. It pays to tell a great story — it makes your message “stick” in people’s minds.

    – Anita

  2. Martin Lindeskog

    And David Carroll’s video ended up with a business project: Gripevine.

  3. Martin Lindeskog

    Ivana (Taylor), I have to ask: Do you have any relation to the guitar manufacturer, Taylor?! 😉