Marketing Through Storytelling

    December 15, 2006

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 shold 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?


Steven Bradley is a web designer and search engine optimization
specialist. Known to many in the webmaster/seo community by the username
vangogh, he is the author of TheVanBlog, which focuses on how to build
and optimize websites and market them online.