In 2016, Swedish blogger/photographer Jonna Jinton posted a video of herself to YouTube. In the clip, she practices kulning (pronounced “cool-ning”); an ancient Scandinavian singing technique used to call home herds of cattle that had scattered into the mountains. As the singer’s voice resonates across the countryside, cows begin to appear; their bells clanging ever louder to announce their approach.
The practice of kulning has medieval origins and was developed out of necessity. Without modern technology like GPS to track livestock, or four-wheel capable vehicles to go after them, families needed a way to keep their cattle – literally their livelihood – from wandering off. Left to their own devices, the animals were at risk of theft from competing farmers or slaughter from wolves and other prey.
After seeing Jinton’s video, I looked further into the idea of kulning and I was fascinated by what I saw and heard. In video after video, cows, goats, and even birds are drawn to the voice of the singer (typically a female since kulning relies heavily on high-pitched tones). The sound is haunting. It transports me to a far-off place and time.
It also reminds me that we each have our own siren call; or at least we should. Given the incredible number of choices that customers have at their disposal, and the ease with which they can move their business; it’s essential that we identify our own unique means of connecting with them – of calling them home.
Kulning involves a series of familiar tones. Families would pass down basic sounds specific to their flock. Often these included the names of lead animals or specific combinations that alerted the animals to a specific family’s call. Yet, each member of the family would incorporate these common themes into their own song, improvising and adding their own elements. In this way, individual expression turned the root expressions into unique compositions. Likewise, we must identify core elements that customers can identify with us. Elements that can then be incorporated into the individual delivery styles of our team members.
The high notes prevalent in kulning are used because they are strong and carry over long distances. Studies have shown that these tones can be heard up to six times farther than other types of calls, making them perfect for penetrating deep into the mountain forests of Sweden and Norway where some families still practice kulning. In the same way, our brand must be a strong one. Our competitive advantage is of little value unless we deliver it in such a way that the message carries farther than we can see. It has to reach its intended audience, no matter where they are.
Even those who aren’t specifically the target of a kulokk (the term for a particular song), the melody is attractive. Rather than simply announcing the presence of the caller, kulning resonates deep within your soul. It creates a draw that’s almost irresistible. Like the kulokk, our own message has to not just grab the listener’s attention, but penetrate their heart. We have to communicate in such a way that those we are trying to reach feel compelled to respond.
Just like great service, kulning is a dying practice. Only a handful are even aware of its power and even fewer get it right. Perhaps that’s why, once you encounter someone who’s mastered the art of it, you can’t help but answer the call.