Marketing Through Storytelling

Heard a good story lately? Do you have one to tell about your business?

In his book “All Marketers Are Liars,” Seth Godin talks about how storytelling is at the heart, or should be at the heart, of all successful marketing. The basic premise is that people buy what they want, not what they need, and that they demand stories from marketers to help convince themselves to buy what they already decided they want. If you want to sell you’d better have a good story to tell.

Storytelling is old as communication itself. It’s how our history was passed down and how people share their day with each other. We all know people who tell stories better than the rest of us and more often than not these people will have a group around them hanging on every word.

We have stories to entertain us, stories to teach us, and stories to make us feel better. We tell stories to each other and stories to ourselves. As marketers we tell stories about our products and services. We convince people of the wonderful things that will happen to them if they choose to buy from us. The stories we tell help shape perceptions about the value of our products and help people make the decision to buy them.

A Tale Of Two Computers

Just as I’m writing this one of those Apple computer commercials came on with the Mac guy and the PC guy. It’s telling a story. It’s telling us that a Mac is young and hip and cool and that a PC is old and staid and dull. It does this less by telling us anything about the computers themselves, but in how it cast the roles of the actors. It tells us that Macs are exciting artists and PCs are boring corporations. And the story it ultimately tells is we are which computer we choose to buy.

Is any of it true? Will a Mac make you more youthful? Will it make you more creative? To a degree, perhaps, if you believe the story, but it doesn’t matter because it’s a good story and it will likely convince many who want to believe they are youthful artists that a Mac is the computer for them.

A Wine You Won’t Soon Forget

Earlier this week i came across a marketing story of a different kind. A story that helps a company name and brand spread. A story that makes the company memorable. A true story that a company capitalizes on simply by their choice in a name. Blasted Church is a winery in Okanagen Falls, British Colombia. The story came to me via Step magazine and you can also find it on the Blasted Church site.

In 1929 a work crew approached an abandoned mining camp church and used a controlled blast to “loosen the nails’ and take down the church in order to relocate 16 miles into Okanagen Falls. They lost the steeple in the explosion, but everything else worked as expected and the blast spared the wood, which was used to rebuild the relocated church where it stands today.

It’s almost impossible to see the name Blasted Church on a wine label and not wonder what’s the story behind the name. The name starts a conversation that leads to the story of the relocated church. The conversation continues with the illustrations on the labels featuring characters that bring the story to life; illustrations and characters that would be just as home in a children’s story. The story is emphasized by naming wines after some of these very same characters.

And after hearing the story are you likely to forget the name. No, but you are more likely to purchase the wine at least once. I can’t tell you if the wine is good having never tried it, but I can guarantee that if it’s even marginally ok it will create loyal consumers. The story alone is enough to sell the wine.

Marketers Are Storytellers

Marketers aren’t liars. Once found out a lie will no longer work. Marketers instead, are storytellers. Stories are believed and stories are passed from one person to the next. Stories spread in ways your message never would because they are memorable and entertaining and we are predisposed to accept and believe them.

Apple tells a story about Mac computers that convinces those who want want to believe the story that they should buy a Mac. And a wine company in Canada tells a story and starts a conversation about their wine with every bottle they produce, simply by adding their name to the label.

What story do you have to tell?

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  1. I have to disagree with Master Seth here, slightly. Those who are less influenced by emotions (like men), will still learn the exact benefits of the product.

    Take Apple and PC. While I know how they both started and work (and I truly sympathize with Apple), I still use PC, because a) I don’t know about Macs here b) I won’t spend my time on learning a new interface, unless absolutely compelled by Apple.

    Same with Linux and Windows. While I don’t particularly love Windows, I like Linux for its passionate community and that it works. Someday, I’ll have a Linux box to test-run my websites, but until then, I am using Windows, because I don’t have to learn all that Linux stuff.

    I am sure women would fall onto emotions, though. You can surely tell how fluffy and cute your kitten is to sell anything feline-related to women.

    Now that when you don’t want to engage your readers with emotions, but to understand something about the product, that’s another story. If your story teaches something, then you can tell something that basic copy can’t.

    Inserting a meaningful story or two should help personalize a product or whatever and connect with the readers.

  2. I don’t think this is an issue of men and women or of emotions. Why do men buy expensive sports cars when they turn 40? They generally aren’t driving faster. But it’s a way for them to convince themselves they are still young. Men want stories just as much as women do. The stories may be different, but they still want stories.

    It’s true that you and I might logically look at the various computers and operating systems when makiing a choice. I too use Windows, mostly because it’s what I’ve known for so long and it’s the OS I know best. I also have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each and agree that the best decision for buying one should come down to those strenghts and weaknesses.

    But I can’t deny wanting a Mac or learning Linux in part just to be off the beaten path and see myself as someone different from the majority. It’s part of the story of Macs and Linux.

    Outside of the basics, food and shelter, we all buy based on wants and the emotions tied to those wants. It’s been shown often that people are less interested in the features of your products than in the benefits they will get from your products. Thos benefits are telling a story about what the product will do for you.

  3. Not sure most men over 40 buy expensive sports cars just to try and convince themselves they’re still young.

    Could simply be that by that age they are more able to afford what they most wished when they were younger :-)

    • I agree. I don’t think most buy the expensive sports car as part of a mid-life crisis thing, but some certainly do. And I also agree at times it’s finally being able to afford something you’ve always wanted.

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