Innovative Marketing? Great Stories Stand Out

We often think of marketing in terms of channels, budget, medium, or any number of variables that can be cooked up into a complex blend suitable for big business. At its core, though, marketing is much simpler than that. When it comes down to it, great marketing involves telling a story that captures the attention and imagination. Where, when, who, and how much you spend to tell it are all elements that come after the most important job: crafting a tale that tells customers what you do in the most entertaining way imaginable. [caption id="attachment_2146" align="aligncenter" width="459"]neon lighting and pen Image Credit: Flickr[/caption]

Digital Storytelling

The digital world demands a great deal of our finite attention spans. You'll need something special to cut through the clutter of clichéd adverts, 24/7 news items and incessant cat memos that cross the online eyes of prospective customers. What this means it that your marketing communication has to be unique, now more than ever, and there's nothing more unique to you than the story of your business and what you sell. Products and services that have the most thoughtful stories earn our attention. These may not always be the best in class, or even lead in any individual category, but a great story will break through and help even limited offerings stand out from the crowd. Conversely, even the best of the best require effective storytelling to communicate their excellence. Like the frequently referenced tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it, a great product with no buyer attention is destined for the scrap heap of history. Breaking through in the digital world, more than ever, requires someone who can tell their story well.  

A History of Marketing Innovation

Throughout history some of the most important innovators have also been remarkably inventive marketers. The quality crosses disciplines enough to be a requirement of each. Both Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte were unrivaled in selling their own stories. It helped, of course, that Franklin owned his own newspaper and Napoleon ruled a vast empire, but each crafted his own legacy as he made it, as Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators” explains in great depth. For a more contemporary flavor, look to innovators like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Elon Musk as modern masters of the art of marketing. Apple's products are clearly excellent. But to get the company where it is now, Jobs had to convince a significant consumer segment that buying a more expensive computer that did the same thing as its much less expensive competitors was preferable. Sure, the design is great, but it takes a great marketer to make you spend twice the money for the same product for the sake of design. Richard Branson sells a wide range of products and services, but we'll focus on Virgin Air for our example. Air travel is a commodity service; we need to travel from A to B on schedule and safely. Cover those two criteria and the competitive differences become marginal. Branson told us the story early on that flying with his airline makes you a different kind of traveler; cooler, less formal, more modern. Virgin was the way to go to stand out, in turn helping the airline stand out itself. All of this had to be pretty wonderful if we were to move from collecting frequent flyer miles with other regular carriers. The flights, though, in reality are really only so-so. Food, entertainment, and overall experience are little better or worse than any other flight you might take. Here's an example of marketing elevating an average service to something larger than life, worth trying because its owner found a way to weave his unique personality - his story - into the fabric of the purchase decision. Finally, there’s Elon Musk and Tesla. Musk must be given great credit for launching what appears to be the first viable vehicle manufacturer to join the established brands fordecades. Cars are mostly about the marketing. There’s little difference between cars at similar price points, even though Tesla does have the electric/eco-friendly angle on its side. And with a limited range between charges there are some significant negatives, which is where the marketing goes to work and Tesla is carving out its own niche as a stand out brand. Musk's story is compelling enough to make us care. That being said, a major challenge of successful marketing is sometimes to distinguish the persona from the brand. Sometimes it’s better for the brand to be less closely associated with the individual. Michael Dell has been trying to do this with his eponymous computer brand, and now a similar process is underway at Apple as Tim Cook carves his own path for the company. Only time will tell if future Apple products live up to expectations, but no one is under any illusion that the story established by Steve Jobs will endure and keep the company's brand strong for years to come.

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