All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche is vastly superior to a $36,000 Volkswagen that’s virtually the same car. We believe that $125 sneakers make our feet feel better—and look cooler—than a $25 brand. And believing it makes it true.
As Seth Godin showed in this controversial book, great marketers don’t talk about features or even benefits. Instead, they tell a story—a story we want to believe, whether it’s factual or not. In a world where most people have an infinite number of choices and no time to make them, every organization is a marketer, and all marketing is about telling stories.
Marketers succeed when they tell us a story that fits our worldview, a story that we intuitively embrace and then share with our friends. Think of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, or Fiji water, or the iPod.
But beware: If your stories are inauthentic, you cross the line from fib to fraud. Marketers fail when they are selfish and scurrilous, when they abuse the tools of their trade and make the world worse. That’s a lesson learned the hard way by telemarketers, cigarette companies, and sleazy politicians.
But for the rest of us, it’s time to embrace the power of the story. As Godin writes, “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.”