A marketing message: The importance of selling a story

Modern life is filled with choice. It is good that we have created an environment where social class is irrelevant and regardless of background, financial wealth or parental support anyone can go on to become very successful. The introduction of the internet has meant that we are not constrained to physical borders, footfall or the costs of large stores. The modern day entrepreneur can reach billions of people sat in their bedroom with nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection. The growth in opportunity has led to a surge in new businesses and this surge has brought with it a significant volume of choice. Whilst choice is a positive it means that it is increasingly harder to stand out, grab the customers attention and get them to purchase.

This is why it is so important to sell a story.

Selling a story is the art of getting a customer to imagine themselves in a different state than they currently exist. This could be getting them to believe a certain set of values, imagine the outcome of being in a different situation or visualise their use of a particular product.

To give you some examples:

  • Apple is very good at selling their products through the use of example. Their advertisements are renowned for showing the use of a product, how it integrates in a lifestyle and how it can be a benefit to the intended purpose. It is very rare that Apple markets its products with facts and figures, it focuses more on what problem the product is trying to solve and as such gets their audience ‘imagining’ them using it.
  • Fashion brand Kurtis Paul entices its customer group through the use of product personas. Rather than listing the features of their products, I.e. ‘This is a bag’, they start by describing the type of person who would use such product. As with Apple this allows the audience the be captivated by more than simple product specification. People are much more likely to remember how you made them feel rather than what you told them, by appealing to and creating an emotional impact they are creating a brand that is more memorable.
Kurtis Paul Persona Marketing Example
Kurtis Paul Persona Marketing Example
  • The final example is AirBnB, they have a huge range of video and their advertising focuses on the emotional journey of others. It aims to inspire and appeal to our inner explorer. They are not selling accommodation but more selling the sense of excitement, and warmth of happiness that come from making memories.

To show some bad examples, here are some brands who focus on the product and specification more than the story.

Bad Advert Example
Bad Advert Example
Bad Marketing Example
Bad Marketing Example


To bring these examples to life, if I were to ask in 20 minutes for you to repeat the specifications of the above products do you think you could? What about after a few days or even months?

What about if I asked you to tell me how you felt the last time you went on holiday, got a promotion at work, saw your child at a sports day or when you went through a break-up. I appreciate not everyone will have been through these scenarios about at least one will be relevant and I expect you will remember the event quite vividly. This is because we are recalling our emotional state. It does not matter that we cannot remember word by word what was said or what we did, our memories remember the general story and we then fill in the blanks. This is where the real power kicks in, our minds are much more reliable at remembering ‘the plot’ rather than the minute details.

If I asked you to think back to the Apple advert (assuming you watched it): I expect you will remember clearly that the watch was used by many different athletes with the intent of measuring performance but could you recall what all the different sports were? What about the colour of the swimmers cap or the colour of the tennis ball? The detail doesn’t matter as long as we can remember the story we are being told. In this instance Apple is telling us that the IWatch should be used by athletes and I imagine anyone watching that advert will be asking themselves the question “would an IWatch benefit my lifestyle”. The other major benefit in selling a story is that we, as consumers, don’t feel like it’s a sell. We are presented with a nice, well thought out product story and it is up to us whether this fits within out lifestyle or not. It’s a softer blow than presenting loads of facts and figures (which won’t be remembered).

The above examples are predominantly product based but story telling can be used in most scenarios; a fitness class can present the story of good health, a restaurant can sell the story of romance and a self help seminar can sell the story of success.

To conclude, the true impact of marketing comes when you can attract an audience, appeal to their lifestyle or values and entice them to follow and believe in your story.

In future posts I will detail how to create a story.

Written by

2 comments / Add your comment below

Leave a Reply