Stories make it easier to understand the world. Stories are the only way we know to spread an idea.
Marketers didn’t invent storytelling. They just perfected it.
YOU’RE A LIAR
So am I.
Everyone is a liar. We tell ourselves stories because we’re superstitious. Stories are shortcuts we use because we’re too overwhelmed by data to discover all the details. The stories we tell ourselves are lies that make it far easier to live in a very complicated world. We tell stories about products, services, friends, job seekers, the New York yankees and sometimes even the weather.
We tell ourselves stories that can’t possibly be true, but believing those stories allows us to function. We know we’re not telling oursleves the whole truth, but it works, so we embrace it.
We tell stories to our spouses, our friends, our bosses, our employees and our customers. Most of all, we tell stories to ourselves.
Marketers are a special kind of liar. Marketers lie to consumers because consumers demand it. Marketers tell the stories, and consumers believe them. Some marketers do it well. Others are pretty bad at it. Sometimes the sories help people get more done, enjoy life more and even live longer. Other times, when the story isn’t authentic, it can have significant side effects, and consumers pay the price.
The reason all successful marketers tell stories is that consumers insist on it. Consumers are used to telling stories to themselves and telling stories to each other, and it’s just natural to buy stuff from someone who’s telling us a story. People can’t handle the truth.
GEORG RIEDEL IS A LIAR
Georg is a tenth-generation glassblower, an artisian pursuing an age-old craft. I’m told he’s a very nice guy. And he’s very good at telling stories.
His company makes wine glasses (and scotch glasses, whiskey glasses, expresso glasses and even water glasses). He and his staff fervently believe that there’s a perfect (and different) shape for every beverage.
According to Riedel’s Web site: “The delivery of a wine’s ‘message,’ its bouquet and taste, depends on the form of the glass. It is the responsibility of a glass to convey the wine’s messages in the best possible manner to the human senses.”
Thomas Matthews, the executive editor of Wine Spectator magazine, said, “Everybody who ventures into a Riedel tasting starts as a skeptic, I did.”
The skepticism doesn’t last long. robert Parker, Jr., the king of wine reviewers, said, “The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these galsses on fine wine is profound. I connot emphasize enough what a difference they make.”
Parker and Matthews and hundreds of other wine luminaries are now believers (and as a result, they are Riedel’s best word-of-mouth marketers). Millions of wine drinkers around the world have been persuaded that a $200 bottle of wine (or a cheap bottle fo Two-Buck-Chuck) tastes better when served in the proper Riedel glass.
Tests done in Europe and the United States have shown that wine experts have no trouble discovering just how much better wine tastes in the correcdt glass. Presented with the same wine in both an ordinary kitchen glass and the proper Riedel glass, they rarely fail to find that the expensive glass delivers a far better experience.
This is a breakthrough. A $5 or a $20 or a $500 bottle of wine can be radically improved by using a relatively inexpensive (and reusable!) wine glass.
And yet when the proper tests are done scientifically -- double-blind tests that eliminate any chance that the subject would know the shape of the glass--there is absolutely zero detectible difference between glasses! A $1 glass and a $20 glass delivers precisely the same impact on the wine: none.
So what’s going on? Why do wine experts insist that the wine tastes better in a Riedel glass at the same time that scientists can easily prove it doesn’t? The flaw in the experiment, as outlined by Daniel Zwerdling in Gourmet Magazine, is that the reason the wine tastes better is that people believe it should. This makes sense, of course. Tast is subjective. If you think the pancakes at the IHOP taste better, then they do. Because you want them to.
Riedel sells millions of dollars’ worth of glasses every year. He sells glasses to intelligent, well-off wine lovers who then proceed to enjoy their wine more than they did before.
Marketing, apparently makes wine taste better.
Marketing, in the form of an expensive glass and the story that goes with it, has more ipact on the taste of wine than oak casks or fancy corks or the rain in June. Georg Riedel makes your wine taste better by telling you a story.
Successful marketers are just the providers of stories that consumes choose to believe.
I believe that marketing is the most powerful force available to people who want to make change...Marketers have the leverage to generate huge impact in less time -- and with less money -- than ever before.
Marketing is about spreading ideas, and spreading ideas is the single most important output of our civilization. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have died because of bad marketing. Religions thrive or fade away because of the marketing choices they make. Children are educated, companies are built, jobs are gained or lost -- all because of what we know (and don’t know) about spreading ideas.
If you care aboutthe future of your company, your non-profit, your church or your planet, marketing matters. Marketing matters because whether or not your’re in a position to buy a commercial, if you’ve got an idea to spread, you’re now a marketer.
BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE
Before the golden age of television, marketing wasn’t partibularly important. Companies made comodities - things that people needed. If you could make something that answered a need, was fairly priced and well distributed, you’d do just fine.
Famers didn’t worry too much about marketing corn. Blacksmiths knew they’d do well if they could shoe a horse for a fair price. And the local barber cut hair. People bought stuff they needed and those with a skill made money providing for their customer’s needs.
During the golden age, if you had enough money, you could buy a ton of commercials and magazine ads and tell the story of your choice to each and every consumer. But you had to market to all the consumers at once - there were only three channels, after all.
You had sixty seconds to tell a simple story, and if you did a good job, you could create demand. Instead of satisfying a need, you could actually create a want.
“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”
“Ring around the collar!”
“You’re soaking in it.”
Television was a miracle. It enabled companies with money to effortlessl create more money. Consumer would gladly pay extra for Tony the Tiger or would wait in line to see the new 1954 Chevrolet.
To grow your company, all you had to do was cerate a commercial that generated demand - and then make something to sell. Businesses quickly recalibrated and fell in love with what they thought was marketing - using commercials to sell more stuff
Marketers had a great run. Truly average products were sold for significant markups because of good advertising. Entire industries were born, stores were invented (the supermarket) just to sell the things that were now in demand because of commercials.
This was the age of the mass market, when all consumers were equal and you could sell anything to everyone. The best brands told stories, but all products with decent ads made money.
Then it fell apart.
In a heartbeat, television commercials ceased to be the one-stop shop for all marketers. As consumer, we realized that we didn’t trust commercials, we don’t watch them, and we’ve got so many other ways to hear stories that they’ve lost their effectiveness....Marketers can no longer use commercials to tell their stories. Instead, they have to live them.
This is a hard less for a lot of marketers to learn. It’s easy to tout your features, focus ont he benefits, give proof that you are, in fact, the best solution to the problem. But proof doesn’t make the sale. Of course, you believe the proof, but your audience doesn’t. The very fact that you presented the proof makes it suspect. If a consumer figures something out or discovers it on her own, she’s a thousand times more likely to believe it than if it’s just something you claim.