Marketing Basics: The Story Customers Tell Themselves

shutterstock_storytellingStories are universal. No culture has survived without them. They are widely recognized as an essential part of human cognitive development.

As toddlers, when we listened to someone telling a tale, we built emotional bonds with others while developing empathy, encountering common cultural touchstones of morality and ethical behavior, and learning the ability to use language to express our thoughts and feelings. As social animals that crave connection with others, we find that stories—whether told orally, written on paper, or conveyed on film—are our most immediate way to enter the imaginative minds of others.

Business and commerce continue to be fundamental ways we interact outside of our family. And while we may not fully realize it, stories are an inescapable part of how we communicate professionally 

Mastering the Art of Effective Storytelling for Business

Critical to an understanding of story in business is how customers tell themselves the stories that define them (their worldview) and how these relate to the products and services they use.

For example, I’ve been using Apple products for more than a decade now, and I tell myself a story like this: “I like great design and products that are easy to use, so Apple is the brand I buy.” This story I tell myself intersects perfectly with the story that Apple tells about its products.

Similarly, a mother tells herself a story: “I want the best for my family, so I buy only organic food even though I know it is more expensive.”

When the story that you tell customers matches the story that customers tell themselves, your business is in alignment. However, all too often, companies are completely out of alignment with their customers, which makes for difficult work.

It is really tough (but not impossible) to convince someone to change their worldview and therefore the stories they tell themselves. If you sell organic food but emphasize its low cost, you’re out of alignment because people accept that organic costs more. Organic being expensive is a deeply embedded aspect of people’s worldview and it’s the story they tell themselves. Since spending more on food because you care about your family doesn’t square with seeking out cheaper prices, the company that sells lower-cost organic food will encounter difficulty.

As storytellers, companies need to consider customers’ existing worldview as they work on the ways they communicate to the market. Drawing from some of my past blog posts, here are some stories that people tell themselves that align with the companies they patronize:

“I love visiting new places. I’ve been to all 50 U.S. states and over 100 countries and territories. I enjoy traveling to remote places I’ve never been to before.” This, actually my very own story, framed why I was so excited to research an Antarctica expedition. Yes, I am a travel geek. Having visited six continents, I was eager to travel to the seventh. Quark Expeditions’ stories fit perfectly into my worldview.

OPEN Cycle: “Mountain biking is a big part of who I am, and I don’t mind paying $10,000 for the best bike there is.”

NOLA Buenos Aires: “Small, exclusive restaurants that you can learn about only on social media are much more fun to visit.”

Or consider other examples of stories that people tell themselves:

“A $900 Louis Vuitton bag is better than cheaper bags.”

“Facebook is only for young people.”

“Democrats are better at running the U.S. government than Republicans.” (OR) “Republicans are better at running the U.S. government than Democrats.”

“I care about the environment so I drive an electric car.”

To best align the stories that your organization tells as part of its marketing and sales content, you need to first understand the stories that your customers tell themselves.

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David Meerman Scott

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