Successful marketers tell a compelling story, and that story creates word-of-mouth. They don’t talk about features or even benefits. They tell a story that we intuitively embrace, buy into, then pass on to other people, writes Robert Clay of Marketing Wizdom.
Companies go from start-up to market leadership through the correct use of stories. By articulating everything you do in a compelling manner in the form of a story, you bring everything alive, you make the invisible visible, you enable everyone in your team to rapidly understand exactly what you’re about, and deliver your product, service or expertise in a better and more consistent manner.
Present your story to the right people in the right way, and they will intuitively embrace it, buy into it, develop a passion for what you do and pass your story on for you. And this will happen in a fraction of the time it would take to get your message across by any other means.
An Innocent Promise
In less than 10 years Innocent has become one of the best selling juice brands in the UK. As it now prepares to burst through the £100M turnover barrier, it has become one of the most feted brands in the UK. That success has been achieved, despite the expense of its products, more because of the story they tell on each bottle or carton than for any other reason. People pick up the bottle, read the story, and immediately buy into the brand’s values. Once they’ve done this they happily come back again and again, and pay a premium price for the privilege. Here’s a simple example taken from one of their bottles:
“An Innocent Promise: We promise that anything innocent will always taste good and do you good. We promise that we’ll never use concentrates, preservatives, or any weird stuff in our drinks. And we promise to eat our greens.”
Pret’s Passion Facts
Pret have always been brilliant at this, too. Their sandwich boxes, bottles, napkins, paper bags, coffee and soup cups … and anything else you might pick up and take away invariably tell a story. Bit by bit Pret’s values seep into your consciousness. And before you know it you’re buying from Pret in preference to anywhere else. Here are some examples of the many “Passion Facts” they use to educate you:
“Just roasted. Like bread, coffee beans go stale. Big coffee companies keep schtum about this. The truth is, after a couple of weeks the flavour goes out the window. Anyway, we get ‘Just Roasted’ beans delivered every day to every Pret. Coffee beans not used quickly go to the compost heap. We grind a generous 14 grams of ‘Just Roasted’ into every Pret cup. Our Barista Council is obsessive. Our milk is organic and has been for yonks.”
“Chop Chop. It takes three months to slice our vegetables. Sounds mad but that’s how long we train our people before they’re able to get chopping. This means they’re super-fast, scarily accurate and can spot a badly sliced vegetable at 500 paces. Only then are they let loose on the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.”
Stories like this succeed because they make the invisible visible. They capture the imagination of large and important audiences. They make a promise. They explicitly set out what you do, how you do things and why you do them. All of this engenders trust, one of the scarcest and most valuable resources in today’s world where no one trusts anyone.
Great stories allow readers to draw their own conclusions … resulting in a higher level of buy-in than would otherwise be the case. They also work fast. The reader is engaged the moment the story clicks into place. This often eliminates the need for twelve-page colour brochures or face-to-face meetings.
Great stories should be aimed at a specific group of people who are in the market right now for what you offer. If you have to water your story down to appeal to everyone, it will likely appeal to no one. Runaway hits like Innocent and Pret take off because the values they communicate in their stories match those of a small group who share the same passions—and that group then spreads the story.
The best stories fundamentally change the way the target audience experience your product, service or expertise. They don’t teach people anything new. Instead, they reinforce what the target audience already believes and makes that audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.
A classic story is that of the Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which in 1904 was caught up in a market share war with the other major US breweries.
All the breweries at that time were claiming superiority with headlines that emblazoned the word “PURE” across their ads. One would extol “PURE” in bold capitals. The next would take a double page spread and put “PURE” right across the two pages. They didn’t explain to the beer drinker what pure really meant, they just said “pure, pure, pure”. It was a market share battle going nowhere.
Schlitz, at number seven in the market, realised they had to bring in the best advertising advice to gain an edge. So they called on a brilliant copywriter called Claude Hopkins, famous for his ability to dig and delve into a client’s product and the market to find a compelling story to tell. His first request was to do a master brewing course.
They obliged, and showed him large rooms with double airlock doors and foot thick glass walls that kept the air inside pure. Inside he saw giant pulp filter towers filtering the purest of water over and over. He was shown how the water came, not from the nearby Lake Michigan … but from two specially constructed 5,000 foot deep artesian wells right on the shores of the lake. Even though the water back then was very clean, they had to go deep enough to find the right combination of water with the mineral content to make the best possible beer.
They took him to the laboratory and explained how they went through 1,200 separate experiments over five years to identify and develop the finest mother yeast cell that could produce the richest taste and flavour, and explained that every bottle of Schlitz beer came from cells grown from the mother yeast cell.
They showed him how they went through a process of distilling the water before they used it to brew the beer, where it was heated to five thousand degrees Fahrenheit and then cooled down and condensed, and they did that three times to make sure it was absolutely purified.
He saw bottles and vats being cleaned and sterilised by super-heated “live” steam, where they steamed each bottle at temperatures of sixteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit to kill all bacteria and all germs so that they could not possibly contaminate the rich taste of their beer.
Then they explained that every batch was aged for six months until thoroughly fermented, then tasted to make certain it was, in fact, pure and rich and at its very best before they’d bottle it and send it out of the door.
Hopkins became very excited. He went back to the Schlitz management to tell them he’d discovered the theme that would set them apart. Hopkins told them of his discoveries about the mother yeast cell, and the pulp filters, and the live steam and the 5,000 foot bore, and the foot thick glass walls …
Well … the Schlitz management just looked at him. “Why is that anything special?” they said, “ALL BEER IS MADE THIS WAY!” … “Yes!” Hopkins replied, “You know it, and now I know it, but no one in your industry explains that. The first person who tells that story and explains how and why you do something, will gain distinction and predominance in the marketplace from then on!”
So Hopkins wrote a wonderfully engaging full page ad, telling this fascinating account … all things that not merely CLAIMED purity … but perfectly articulated what “purity” WAS!
Schlitz became the first company who ever told the story of how their beer was made. It made the word “pure” take on a very different and much more dimensional and tangible meaning in the eyes, the minds and the palates of all beer drinkers around the country.
To cut a long story short … Hopkins’ ad caused a sensation. People who’d never consumed beer in their lives or let a drop of alcohol pass their lips were compelled to try Schlitz just to experience its purity. So many people changed to Schlitz as a result of that story that Schlitz soared from number seven in the market to equal number ONE in a matter of months. And it retained that number one position for nearly fifty years!
That’s how powerful your story can be.
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