All of Us Market
All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World
We tell stories. We share reports, rumors, and memories of events to one another. Some of us are better at it than others perhaps, nevertheless, it is something we all do. These stories vary not only in their length, ability to captivate the audience, and the way they shape the thinking of others, but also in the ways they ultimately lead us to perceive the surrounding world. And some of them stick.
Historically speaking, oral storytelling predates writing. Oral stories used to be passed from generation to generation by storytellers who combined gestures and expressions to spin memorable at the edge of your seat kind of tales. They entertained, they taught, and they helped keep alive our beliefs about our history and traditions. By combining music, movement, and symbolism to the storytelling different art forms were created and ultimately particularly valued in different parts of the world. Over time written and particularly televised media has turned out to be alluring for many, as the need for creating and experiencing emotions has not diminished. Just as before, stories still hold the potential power to unite and to forge connections between people and ideas.
We may not be contributing to legends or fables when we gush the details of our latest adventures while conversing with friends or when we share selected snippets of the highlight reel of our lives on social media updates; however, we most definitely tell stories. We tell stories to others and we tell them to ourselves just the same. And amongst the ones we hear and tell, we pick and choose the ones we actually want to believe. Some are told by those near and dear to us, however, many, many more are told by marketers.
All marketers are liars is a bold claim about dishonesty in marketing and about the mindset among everyone who works in it. It is a claim publicized in a purposefully selected catchy title for a book by Seth Godin. While Godin utilizes a lie in the title of his book in combination with an eye-catching color choice and a provoking picture for marketing purposes, he does not in his own words believe that marketers should tell lies. In fact, he seems outraged, for example, by the claims of the baby formula manufacturers that their commercially produced expensive product combined with whatever available water is superior nutrition for newborns. According to Godin, fibs may help enhance our experiences as they often meet or exceed our expectations. Fabricated stories, however, won’t hold up to scrutiny in the long run. In fact, even the subsequent print of Godin’s now classic book on marketing has the words tell lies crossed and replaced with tell stories, for that is what he says they really do. Marketers tell us stories to make us believers of the brands and ideologies they serve. It is their job to do so.
According to Godin, it behooves the marketers to be authentic and tell stories that are great in an effort to successfully compete in the lying world. In his book he shares several examples of impactful stories that have shaped consumer behavior, such as the belief that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass, the perceived quality differences of Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg that are virtually the same car, and how slow cooked processed meals are somehow better for families than microwavable frozen dinners, as they are home cooked.
Stories have the power to change the world. Hence, it may be worthwhile to examine what factors make stories great. According to Seth Godin great stories:
- are consistent and authentic.
- make a promise.
- are trusted.
- are subtle.
- happen fast.
- appeal to our senses.
- are targeted.
- agree with our worldview.
That is to say that in order to succeed, marketers must tell stories that agree with what the audience already believes. They must paint a vivid picture that enforces the already held notion, makes them feels smart and secure in their believes, and ultimately prompts them to disseminate the story to all their friends. Hence, empowering these new potential believers to decide if they believe in the story and let it guide their decision making.
Great stories must have the right time, the right way of delivering, and the right audience. For the average consumer, the truth may be elusive, and the facts may very well be boring, but it does not change the fact that the stories that are told need to be trusted. We will easily come up with the justification for the desire to purchase something we don’t necessarily need when we want it. What matters is how the item or service reflects our beliefs and worldview. Hence, we must take a hard look at how we draw our own conclusions, for most often the lies that are told are the ones we tell ourselves.
Boris, V. 2017. What Makes Storytelling So Effective for Learning? Harvard Business Publishing, Corporate Learning blog. Published 20.12.2017. Read 1.3.2021. https://www.harvardbusiness.org/what-makes-storytelling-so-effective-for-learning/.
Choi, A.S. 2015. How Stories are Told Around the World. Ideas.TED.com. Published 17.3.2015. Read 1.3.2021. https://ideas.ted.com/how-stories-are-told-around-the-world/
Godin, S. 2005. All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. Audible Audiobook. Narrated by Seth Godin. Audible. Requires subscription. Cited 1.3.2021.
National Geographic Society. n.d. Storytelling and Cultural Traditions. National Geographic Resource Library. Read 1.3.2021. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/storytelling-and-cultural-traditions/