The Story Behind A Great Story

We all know that behind every great company is a great story. We are all completely infatuated with stories, we love hearing them and we love telling them. I think it goes all the way back to when we were kids and got to listen to a story being read to us every night. Then later on we learned to read first it was our Little Golden Books, then the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and then later the Harry Potter books. Okay we get it…everyone loves a good story. 

In recent years, the trend in marketing has moved to telling your company’s story. A few years ago, all of marketing was about flat advertising – listing a company’ features in print and on television and radio. These ads were just an endless and sometimes mindless stream of what you should buy from one company over another, why Tide was a better detergent that Cheer, or why the new and improved Crest toothpaste was better than the old Crest and certainly better than Ipana (remember Ipana? I can still sing the jingle if you like).

But now  in the age where content is king, we have moved over to storytelling. It’s all about my story, your story, your company’s story, your organization’s story. Today when I start off with a new client, I begin by interviewing their key individuals and using that interview to tell their story in two thousand words or less which becomes the basis for all of their marketing messaging. We get it! People want to hear stories they want to hear your story…or do they? I just read, reread actually, a great book by my favorite marketing guru Seth Godin. The name of the book is All Marketers are Liars , Tell Stories and in it he has some great insights into how stories work and why they work. I was surprised to hear what he had to say, and I think you will too.

Here from the book. What makes a great story?

  • A great story is true. Not because it’s factual but true because  it’s consistent and authentic. Consumers are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for a marketer to get away with a story that just slapped together.
  • Great stories make a promise. They promise fun, money, safety, or a shortcut. The promise is bold and audacious and not just very good, it’s exceptional or it’s not worth listening to.
  • Great stories are trusted. Trust is the scarcest resource we have left. No one trusts anyone. Consumers don’t trust the beautiful women ordering vodka at the corner bar. Consumers don’t trust the spokespeople on commercials.
  • Great stories are subtle. Surprisingly, the less a marketer spells out, the more powerful the story becomes. Talented marketers understand that the prospect is ultimately telling himself the line,  allowing him to draw his own conclusions which is far more effective than just announcing the punch line.
  • Great stories happen fast. They engage the consumer the moment the story clicks into place. First impressions are far more powerful than we give them credit for…Great stories match the voice the consumer’s worldview was seeking and they sync right up with their expectations. Either you are ready for what a Prius delivers, or you aren’t.
  • Great stories don’t appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses. People decide if they like someone after just a sniff.
  • Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone. Average people are good at ignoring you. Average people have too many different points of view about life, and average people are by and large satisfied. If you water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one.
  • Great stories don’t contradict themselves. If your restaurant is in the right location but has the wrong menu, you lose.
  • Great stories agree with our worldview. Great stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.

Interesting stuff, right? It reminds me of when you meet a person for the first time and during the course of the conversation you discover how many things you agree with and then you walk away thinking how that person is really smart!

It has been proven time and again that a great story makes great and credible advertising and often the company with the best story wins. We have all heard them and all repeated them. Remember the story of Nordstrom’s refunding a customer’s money when he returned his snow tires, even though they don’t sell snow tires! Or the car company sending a technician all the way to Alaska to fix a door hinge on one of their cars. Or the one about how an operator at Proctor and Gamble screwed up the formula for the soap he was making and found that the soap floated and the company decided to go with it and named it Ivory, the soap that floats. Or the 3M engineer who created weak glue that could not hold anything for any length of time and invented Post-it notes. These are all great stories…but sometimes you have to wonder what came first…the product or the story? Think about that…It’s only common sense.

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