Think you go out shopping for products and services? Wrong. What you really shop for are stories. For those in marketing and selling, you better make sure you know what story you’re selling advises Justin Cohen.

The Porsche Cayenne and a VW Touareg have a lot in common. They have the same chassis, similar shape, same engine. In fact they’re built from the same blue print in the same factory. But there is one little difference, the Porsche costs double. Why would anyone spend more than double the price on the same car? Because we don’t buy a car we buy a story. When you drive a Porsche the story is: “I am rich, young and sexy.” Even if you’re eighty years old, impotent and the bank owns the car. What’s the VW’s story? “I am solid and reliable, I like value for money”. No wonder that story costs half the price. We don’t buy what we need, we buy what we want, and what we want is a particular kind of story.

Story is more than perception, it’s reality. Antonio Rangel, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology, found that when volunteers were told that the wine they were drinking cost the equivalent of R50 a bottle, the medial orbitofrontal cortex – the part of the brain that registers pleasant experiences – didn’t register much activity. Later they were given the exact same wine but told that it was a different wine from a R900 bottle. This time the pleasure centre of their brain lit up like a Christmas tree. The brand, the price and the package all tell a story, which in many cases is worth far more than the intrinsic value of the product

Increasingly, customers are looking for stories with a conscience. Harvard researchers placed two sets of identical towels in a home furnishing store. The one set carried a note with the following: “These towels have been made under fair labour conditions, in a safe and healthy working environment which is free of discrimination, and where management has committed to respecting the rights and dignity of workers.”

The other set had no such note. Not only did sales increase when they carried the note, they kept increasing as the price was raised. Same towel, different story.

Each one of us also tells a story, and not just through what we say. In the 1960 American presidential election, Richard Nixon was widely expected to beat John F Kennedy. The debates were supposed to put the nail in the coffin of Kennedy’s aspirations. If you were listening on radio that’s probably what you would have thought. Listeners awarded Nixon a victory. Yet the larger television audience thought Kennedy had won. How did that happen, given that the TV and radio audience heard the exact same thing? They may have heard the same thing, but what they saw was very different. Kennedy looked tanned, fit and well rested. Nixon was wearing an ill-fitting shirt, sweating under the hot lights and worst of all, his five-o-clock shadow made him look shifty. It’s not just the story you tell that counts, it’s the story that people read into how you dress, look and speak.

Whatever story you want to tell, make sure you don’t just tell it, you live it consistently and authentically. That’s what keeps them buying.








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