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Marketing and Storytelling

Written by: Bill Sherman on Monday, 14 July 2008, 8:44 AM

Mother and Child Reading TogetherWhen we were children, many of us loved storytime, when a favorite adult (perhaps a parent or teacher) read a well-loved book Storytime was a magical moment that caused us to envision new worlds and explore new possibilities.

If we’re wired, as humans to enjoy stories, why does marketing often fail so spectacularly? Because most marketers have forgotten how to tell an exceptional story. We’re often stuck with poor substitutes.

  • Story-yelling–the marketer broadcasts the story from every rooftop. Story-yelling generates intense volume but little content. It’s the annoying commercial that appears everywhere. Louder (and more of the same) isn’t better.
  • Story-selling–a content-rich story that’s maximized to push buyers towards a single pecific action. It overplays the “call to action.”Most savvy people prefer to buy rather than have a story spoon-fed to them
  • Story-telling–a compelling story that’s rich in content, properly balanced for volume, and invites listeners to form their own opinions.

Whether we’re children or adults, an effective story causes listeners to lean in and say “tell me more!”

What stories do you tell your clients? How can you move beyond story-yelling and story-selling to true story telling?

6 Responses to “Marketing and Storytelling”

  1. Ray Bruels Says:

    It’s difficult to break out of the Story-yelling and Story-selling mindsets. Corporate mindset pushes to increase revenue, leaving some advertisers feeling the need to bludgeoning the public with ads out of their desperation of making sales.

    I guess it ties into the concept of “Quality over Quantity.” Make the advertising effective, allowing the customer to feel they still retain the buying decision and doing it without over-saturating the market.

    July 14th, 2008 5:36 pm

  2. Bill Sherman Says:

    You’re right, Ray. In a tight economy, it’s especially tempting for marketing and sales to move to a “story-yelling” or “story-selling” perspective.

    “Buy . . . and buy now!” becomes a rallying cry for marketers and salespeople alike when they feel like they’re on a burning platform.

    When people become concerned about today’s dollars (or quarterly earnings reports), it’s hard to focus on long-term investments in the future.

    Some of that fear is reasonable–after all, there is no “payroll fairy”. Companies have to be able to pay their bills.
    Yet, that fear also causes marketers and salespeople to focus on the short-term rather than the long-term.

    When that fear takes hold, it’s easy to start bludgeoning the target audience out of desperation–even if it reduces the chance for future sales.

    July 14th, 2008 6:37 pm

  3. Ray Bruels Says:

    I would think that depending upon the industry, long term planning could be difficult, due to the highly competitive nature of business these days.

    To be able to develop a product that is unique or a spin on an old concept that can be marketed for the long haul is laborious.

    How many companies look to cut a slice of the pie as quickly as possible in fear that the market or industry will dry up? But that is more into the strategic planning and mission statement of a company rather than focusing on the topic at hand.

    I haven’t gotten to read completely through your blog, but I wondered if you had touched on product identity and target markets?

    July 15th, 2008 9:50 am

  4. Bill Sherman Says:

    There are some product-driven businesses that have an insanely short-shelf life for their products.

    For example, companies that sell t-shirts for championship sports teams. Those products sell the hottest right after the victory, and then they soon fade into a long slow tail of unsold merchandise. There, the viability of the business depends on a constant stream of sports championships–not just one championship.

    If you’re selling accessories for an iPod, then your products have a little longer shelf-life. However, Apple continues its march of products . . . it becomes evolve-or-die.

    There’s the old chestnut that the global market for computers was once envisioned as a total of five. No one else could afford them.

    Rapid change is the only constant. And it’s only going to continue to accelerate. Robert Scoble, in his blog today said that in 1996, it took six weeks for ICQ (the killer app of the day) six weeks to generate 65,000 downloads.

    Some apps for the new iPhone exceeded 100,000 this weekend.

    But even in a fast environment, you’re building a brand relationship with your customers. If you screw them over with the 2G version of your product, they won’t be around to stand in lines for your 3G product. Customers are smart and remember how you treated them.

    Microsoft has been struggling with Vista. They had a campaign that story-yelled “Vista WOW!” But, it’s become pretty clear that Vista failed to wow customers. Those same customers will be skeptical for the next Microsoft product launch.

    If your company’s business model requires you to be around for more than one product-cycle, you need to be story-telling rather than story-yelling or story-selling.

    July 15th, 2008 12:07 pm

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