Why story-based marketing works

Whether they know it or not, humans make decisions on emotion.
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When I was in 3rd grade, I had an experience I should have learned from sooner. It had nothing and everything to do with marketing.

My class had been learning about plant biology—specifically how plants draw water up from their roots into their leaves through transpiration and cohesion. (Yes, I had to look that up.)

To demonstrate this visually as a sort of quasi science experiment, my teacher brought two bundles of white carnations to school, which we’d be dying by adding food dye to the flower vases. You probably remember doing something like that in elementary school.

It was also decided that we’d vote on what color to use, because…America.

Someone piped up first with the idea of making a rainbow bouquet by mixing all the colors together. Naturally, everybody thought this was a great idea.

When I pointed out why this was actually a dumb idea, people said, “You just don’t like the idea because you didn’t come up with it, Johnny.”

I was overwhelmingly outvoted.

Well, you know what happened? The “rainbow” experiment failed; all of the flowers turned brown. That’s what happens when you mix more than two or three colors together. It was very frustrating. And I’ve been a curmudgeon ever since.

In business—and B2B marketing in particular—we know what we bring to the table and we too often talk about it in purely rational or rhetorical terms. Nobody forgets to mention their credentials. We realize that we have to be able to rationalize our pricing.

There are also tangible things that demand our attention day-to-day. We’re wrapped up in the nuts and bolts of running our businesses. So we can fall into a very analytical mindset, and it shows up in our marketing.

You get in your own way a lot by doing this.

As entrepreneurs, we’ve all gotten pushback on our ideas. Some of it was useful, earnest criticism. Some of it revealed blind spots. But some of it was just reactionary: “If it ain’t broken, why fix it?” It’s very frustrating when you can’t convince someone of an idea with obvious merits.

When our marketing is based on rational appeals or marketing rhetoric, we get dumb objections, just like I got dumb objections when I tried to explain basic color theory to my class. The idea of a rainbow bouquet was enticing enough to get them to ignore reason, and I didn’t have a good story to counter it. I had facts.

Rational appeals don’t work well in sales and marketing, just like they didn’t work on my classmates all those years ago. People buy on emotion and rationalize it after the fact. They buy because they feel some sense of shared purpose, warmth, or trust.

Forget about your “what” for a little while. Sure, your credentials, product features, years in business, processes, and “commitment to quality” (or whatever) are all important.

But when your “what” gets in the way of your “why,” you’re missing out on some of the greatest opportunities to differentiate yourself. Your would-be customers end up with an inferior vendor who knew how to communicate more simply, tell a story, and connect on a deeper level.

Story-based marketing works where rhetoric fails because it’s imbued with emotion. Whether they know it or not, humans make decisions on emotion. You do. I do. Your clients do.

I have a lifelong grudge against carnations. I can’t rationalize it away; I can only laugh at it. Don’t be like I was. Learn how to tell a good story that brings your marketing to life.

Or hire someone who will (ahem).

John Garvey is a copywriter, marketing consultant and StoryBrand Certified Guide. Garvey helps purpose-driven entrepreneurs elevate their marketing through storytelling, humor, and clear strategic messaging.

Get a free copy of John’s marketing guide, 7-Point Checklist for Websites that Convert, by using this link or texting “Garvington” to 33777.

Categories: Business Insights, Sales & Marketing