We need to change the narrative about “stories”—and about the businesses we are in—if we hope to avoid tumbling any further down the rabbit hole of entertaining ourselves to death. It’s time for businesses and governments and news organizations to stop telling themselves they are selling stories and focus instead on providing what we all need. Products that work. Services that serve. Facts.
And it’s time for consumers and citizens and readers to send a clear challenge to the assumption that we are buying what they think they are selling.
Today’s post started on LinkedIn, in my response to a quote that’s promoted as one of many (101!) good strategies for marketing. Beth Comstock, V-P at GE, has famously said that businesses must tell a story before they can sell a story.
With all respect to Ms Comstock, I am not taking issue with what she might have meant, but rather with what some readers from the world of marketing strategy take her to mean. If we re-tell the story from a consumer’s point of view, the flaw is obvious.
Consumers don’t buy stories. We buy the container the story comes in, and expect the story to be free. We buy the book. We buy the running shoes. We buy the coffee maker with its shiny pods. But we aren’t buying what the business or its marketing department thinks it is selling. Their stories, called by other names (brand, identity, mission, news), are free with every purchase. Some are worth keeping; others are best discarded with yesterday’s junk mail.
To those who create the clever ads that entertain us, be careful what you wish for. Consumers and citizens are far better at reading between the lines than you might imagine. We’re making up our minds based on far more than the surface of the story. When you invite us to willingly suspend our disbelief, you are also reminding us to disbelieve you, as any child who has read a fairy tale will tell you.