A friend’s daughter asked me the other day what it was that I did for a living.
Given that she is 7 years old, my usual answer, “I own and run my own marketing communications agency,” wasn’t cutting it.
I could tell by the blank stare I got in return for that answer.
Considering my audience, trying again I said, “I help companies market their products and services so they can sell stuff and make money.”
Better – she seemed to be considering that.
“So how do you do that?” she asks.
“I create websites and brochures, I write direct mail packages and newsletters and I help my clients get these things in front of their new customers,” I said.
“So that’s all you have to do to get people to buy stuff?” she asked me.
“Well, no,” I said. “It’s more than just the brochures and websites and stuff.”
“So what do you really have to do then?” she asked.
And about this time I was wondering if all 7 year olds were this curious. I looked pleadingly to her mom, and all I got from her in return was a shrug and her reply, “welcome to my world.”
“You have to put a whole integrated campaign together so that everything makes sense. You have to make sure everything is consistent with the image of the company you’re promoting. You have to tell the customer a story,” I answered.
“You tell stories for a living?” she asked, obviously amazed.
And I realized it was true. “Yep,” I said. “That’s what I do. I tell my customer’s stories to their customers. That, in a nutshell, is what marketing’s all about.”
“Cool!” she answered.
Of course, marketers didn’t invent storytelling – we just perfected an art that has been around since time began.
As humans, we’re all looking for ways to explain the world we see. Early humans noticed things in their environment and invented stories to help understand them.
The sun rising in the East was the “Great Sun God” smiling upon them. Sickness was a curse brought on by any number of transgressions, and rain could be summoned by dancing in circles.
We’ve progressed (some) since that time. But we still all rely on stories every day to explain the world around us. We tell stories to each other, and we tell stories to ourselves.
And because we are used to telling stories to each other, as consumers we expect and demand that marketers tell stories to us about the products and services they promote.
Some marketers tell great stories, and some are pretty bad. But here’s the catch – no matter how great the story is, if the product or service experience isn’t consistent with the story, consumers will turn on you like month-old milk.
Apple Computer is a company who tells a masterful story. It’s the key to their success and cult-like customer following.
The famous “1984” ad – which aired only once during the Super Bowl in 1983 convinced legions of the faithful that using a Mac was akin to fighting George Orwell’s “big brother” and everything evil that he stood for. Their “Think Different” campaign – and every bit of marketing they do reinforces that story.
The fact that Apple makes beautiful, innovative products and cutting-edge software supports the story they tell us. (And yes, it’s obvious that I’ve bought their story!)
On the other hand – remember the campaign, “This is Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile”? Great story. Oldsmobile had an image problem – their cars were for “old folks” – so to combat that image they created a campaign aimed right at the heart of the matter.
Too bad the product development people didn’t get the message. The campaign was a miserable failure and Oldsmobile went out of business because the cars really were still “your father’s Oldsmobile.” A story told to a consumer that isn’t consistent with the product experience is a story better left untold.
So – what’s your story?
What promise does your story make to your customers – and is that promise upheld by their experiences with your products or services? If it is, consumers will trust you, and they’ll listen to your story indefinitely.