Telling People a Story They Want to Hear

I really enjoyed Hugh MacLeod’s interview with Seth Godin (two great reads who read great together). And it was especially interesting to hear about the frustration Seth feels when people sometimes don’t get what he means.

This reminds me of some of the flack he caught when his book All Marketers Are Liars was released. Now, I’m quite sure Seth knew exactly what he was doing when he titled the book (students of headlines take note). But I think he might have been caught off guard when some people didn’t get the real points within the pages (like the reviewer from Publisher’s Weekly).

Good marketers aren’t liars, except to the extent all people are—because we all lie to ourselves constantly. We want to hear stories that fit our existing world views, whether those views are accurate or not. And we want to primarily satisfy emotional needs, because ultimately that’s where we all seek happiness and contentment.

And we also want stories that help us make decisions without an actual full analysis of all relevant data. It’s the only way we can function psychologically in the extraordinarily complex information environment we call everyday life.

Good marketers tell (and live) authentically true stories about what they sell so people can essentially lie to themselves in order to buy it. It all boils down to that.

That may not by crystal clear to all, so here’s some homework that will give you everything you need to get it and become a master storytelling marketer:

1. First, Read The Story Factor by Annette Simmons

Inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling. This could be the most important book you ever read as a businessperson and blogger.

2. Next, Read Influence by Robert Cialdini

Unless you already have a background in psychology, this book will challenge your assumptions regarding humans as purely rational beings. Pay particular attention during the first chapter, where Cialdini explains how all the subsequent influence categories work due to our own desire and need for mental shortcuts (officially called judgmental heuristics).

3. Now, Read All Marketers Are Liars

See?

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Comments

  1. You’re right on target here, as usual.

    Kinda like playing golf with Tiger. Nice shot, is all you get to say, all day.

    The part of this equation that’s not being discussed is this :

    Most people, by a wide margin, are not marketers, nor do they have any sales skills, so they don’t catch on to things like this.

    And they don’t know that they don’t catch on.

    That’s one of the reasons Cialdini is so hard for them and so easy for us.

    Seth wasn’t caught off guard, as much as he overestimated the general publics ability to catch on.

    Marketing is all about suspending disbelief long enough for the buyer to find a way to justify the expenditure.

    If you do, they will. If you don’t, they won’t.

    Simple. And you know I like simple.

    Whattaya think ?

  2. Here’s what I think.

    Seth didn’t underestimate the intelligence of his audience.

    He underestimated the visceral reaction that people would have when faced with the truth that you and I and social/cognitive psychologists simply accept as the way it is.

    These smart people had a strong emotionally-based negative reaction to what he said.

    In other words, he told them a story they did not want to hear.

    And by failing with them, he proved his point.

  3. I’ll first prefix my comment with kudos – great blog Brian, I’m always looking forward to your posts.

    I love reading Seth Godin and I’ve read “All Marketers Are Liars”, is it still worthwhile to read “The story factor” and “Influence”?

  4. I skipped (or rather, never heard of) the other two books.
    My issue with Seth’s books (blasphemy!) is that they are repetitive and bang on about one thing. They are essays extended to 50,000 words through lots of subheadings, subsections and (frankly) repetition.
    Nonetheless, the essay at the heart of his books is always timely, extremely articulate and clever.
    If only we can find a way to sensibly market ideas that doesn’t require 50,000 words. cf. Long Tail

  5. Adrian, I think so. Seth has a brilliant ability to tie it all together in an engaging fashion. But a deeper exploration of the large volume of information that’s already in Seth’s head is required reading for anyone who wants to effectively apply what he’s talking about.

  6. You’re probably right.

    But I’ve lowering the level to which I market and getting better results.

    Does that say something or am I misreading the results due to my prejudging the ones to whom I market ?

    Maybe simple is 2.0 !

    Adrian, if I might butt in – the ability to tell a story will trump knowing why to tell the story, so read that one before Cialdini. THEN read Cialdini, too.

    Mastering the skill of storytelling will make (or save) you scads of money, yet there are thousands of overeducated poor people who come out of college every semester.

    They are destined to be poor due to being trained to memorize, rather than learn and not being in the position to actually learn by doing.

    Too much learning and not enough applying is worse that being undereducated, by far !

    The #1 problem, business-wise, today, is not lack of education, it’s lack of application.

    Like Phil Knight says, ” Just ( freakin’ ) do it ! ”

    Sorry to commandeer your blog Brian.

  7. Ian, speaking of blasphemy, I like to tell people that Seth’s books are simply long-form sales copy for his ideas.

    Some people have the same complaints about long-form sales letters, but they still work best in certain situations.

    That’s why I posted these books. Read them if you want more meat.

  8. What came first? (a non-rhyming poem)

    What do you call an egg dressed in a chicken suit?
    A Philosopher!

  9. Brian, why do you think long copy still works online, even though teh internets is a channel surfer’s dream?

  10. Hey! I had to read Cialdini’s “Influence” at my Psychology studies (I am licensed now). The book is simply great, and a must for anyone wanting to understand publicity and PR world.