Marketing gets a bad rap for a number of reasons. First, there’s the consumer side. How many of us have bought into great marketing only to be disappointed by a lousy product? Then there’s the business side. Many business owners have horror stories about how they spent thousands on a marketing firm that didn’t deliver.
There are reasons enough to be suspicious of anybody marketing a product.
The root cause of bad marketing is the failure to deliver on a promise. In the first instance discussed above, the consumer was promised a great product. In the second, a business owner was promised growth. Bad marketing promises things its product can’t actually deliver. Now you could argue good marketing is anything that convinces people to buy, but the purchase is only one tiny piece of a much larger picture. Truly good marketing not only attracts the right audience, it converts them into delighted, repeat customers. Neither our consumer nor our business owner are delighted and neither will be buying again from the same companies, no matter the marketing message.
Good marketing tells the truth. This is both freeing and terrifying. If your products aren’t that good, you can’t tell the truth and gain customers. You either have to convince people your business can offer something it can’t or you have to use incentives that will convince people to put up with a subpar product. There is a place for the latter—a huge market of people who will put up with bad quality, bad service, lots of bad things, if they get something on the cheap. But if you want to sell quality, you have to be quality.
Let’s say you know you’re quality. In fact, you’re better than your competitors by a long shot and you can prove it. How do you tell the truth in a compelling way? Call it cliché, but the answer is to tell a story.
What Storytelling Is and Isn’t
Think about the pitches you’ve heard over the years. Which ones do you remember? Why? There are lots of well-meaning people armed with PowerPoints, charts, graphs and other compelling evidence. There’s a place for these things (after all, what is marketing without metrics?), but when it comes to clearly telling your target market what you do in attractive and compelling terms, go beyond the charts and graphs and tell the story.
We’re moved when people tell us their story. When you consider how the masses spend money, there’s usually a story behind it. Films, plays and music pull in billions every year worldwide. Each piece tells a story and people will pay to watch or hear it unfold. These stories intertwine with personal stories all over the globe—just look at the role music played in Cuba or behind the iron curtain. People act in response to a story.
Consider sports. Last week an estimated 40 million people tuned in to see Game Seven of the World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, teams from cities with a combined population of less than 3 million. Why? Because even people with only a casual interest in baseball know the saga of the Cubs and their 108-year losing streak. Every rivalry is a story. Every sport has a story. Every season tells a story. And people will pay top dollar to watch.
Now imagine you see a film trailer and the story grabs you. You buy a ticket, the lights go down and a movie bearing no resemblance to the previews plays. Are you disappointed? Of course! This isn’t what you signed up for. The same is true for your marketing. Tell the truth. Sure, you can attract more people from more demographics if you don’t tell the truth, but how many of them are going to be interested in your product? None, if you had to make things up to reach them. People outside of your target market are not going to buy from you, so there’s no point in trying to pull them in.
Your business has a story. Your products have a story. Tell the story.