Branding with storytelling (1)

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Can you promote any branded product with storytelling? Yes you can. That is what marketing is all about. And as the marketplace becomes tougher globally, and competition more intense, the best way to stand out from the pack and make maximum impact on consumers is to turn your marketing communications (publicity, advertising, public relations, advertorials) into storytelling. This is the latest mantra in the business world as professionals, service providers and producers of goods battle for the consumers’ patronage.

Consumers all over the world are increasingly bombarded with promotional messages about products and services. They suffer from information overload, and as customers are becoming increasingly discretionary about what they read or listen to. There is no time and the attention span of the average consumer is becoming shorter.

So how do you get and hold consumer attention? Marketing communicators have found the key in storytelling. If you tell a story, you will get attention of your audience and hold it. Storytelling is gaining more prominence in the business of marketing goods and services. The new trend is this: Consumers no longer believe the outlandish claims in advert promotional messages. But if you tell them a story in your brand promotions, they will listen.  And when a consumer is convinced about your message, she becomes your customer.

Philip Kotler, professor of marketing,  Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA, puts this in clear terms. He says storytelling is taking branding to the next level. So how is the discipline of marketing benefiting from storytelling?

Let us examine two marketing strategies which find everyday application: Should a manager adopt the strategy of, “What products can be sold?” or “What products should be sold.”  These are strategies any marketer can use to get results and achieve targets. But there is a difference between them. The former is limited in scope and market potentials, and is short term. The latter is unlimited in potentials, is visionary, and it guarantees sustainability. For storytelling we can ask a similar question: Should storytellers adopt the strategy of, what story can be told or what story should be told? to give the audience best results.

The strategy a marketing manager should adopt depends largely on the market environment, his vision for the business, the nature of the products being offered, the sophistication and expectation of consumers, and the product life cycle.

My position is that any company that wants to remain competitive, make its brands market leaders and ensure the sustainability of its business should adopt the strategy of “what should be sold” for a number of reasons. Top on the list is that the former is myopic, but the latter is visionary.

To buttress my position, let me first explain what each strategy means. The former means “selling what you can make,” while the latter means “making what you should sell.” The former simply means that the entire manager’s marketing efforts begins and ends with the company. There is no recourse to find out the needs, wants, and changing desires and tastes of consumers. All the managers is interested in is selling the products.

If a marketer concentrates on what he can sell, he may not maximize the potentials in the marketplace. His strategy is at best myopic. Why crawl in a market where you can run and throw your net wider.

The manager may well be doing good business. But that would not last for long. That strategy cannot take his company a long way. The day market conditions or technology changes, his business will go under. It will, because, his focus was more on product quality and availability rather than on the consumer, whose taste is changing in a rapidly changing marketplace. Using the strategy of what can be sold has limitations. It can only make you a champion in an underdeveloped or fairly primitive marketplace, and not in a fast developing economy. This can happen in the storytelling business.

Marketing guru, Prof. Theodore Levitt made this very clear in a seminal article titled, Marketing Myopia, which was published in Harvard Business Review in 1962. That article has remained relevant till today. I suggest that every storytelling professional who wants to remain competitive should read it and learn from it

Prof Levitt’s submission was that industries that did not define their businesses properly or who concentrated on just making products or offering services they can sell ran the risk of not surviving competition and change. Such industries went under with time, overtaken by developing technology and changing consumer tastes and demands. They died because they were product oriented, and not consumer oriented. The latter is visionary and guarantees sustainability. Can you relate this to the business of storytelling? Can a storyteller be myopic in his/her business? What are the consequences? As it is manufacturing and services, so it is in storytelling. Let us learn from Levitt.

Levitt gave the example of the railroads as one industry in the USA that was myopic in marketing and went under. The same myopia has killed many industries in Nigeria. See some examples.

Take the music recording industry as a case study. It started in Nigeria in the 40s and 50s when indigenous record merchants were importing music waxed on gramophone records. Music, you well know is storytelling. I remember vividly as a boy in the 60s, when my parents played such records on the gramophone player branded, “His Master’s Voice.” That device was a mechanical object you have to wind to be able to play the record. After each play, you wind again to play another record.

In the late 60s and early 70s, music recording companies such as EMI, Decca West Africa, and others entered Nigeria to set up music recording studios locally. They were soon joined by entrepreneurial indigenous record merchants such as Tabansi Records who set up their own studios. Up till the late 80s, business boomed for music recording companies, so it seemed.

But that was not to last as the bubble was soon to burst. Just like Levitt wrote, the big mistake of the recording companies was marketing myopia. Their marketing strategy was, “what can we sell?” For storytellers, are you bound with what can you tell? Do you consider the needs of your audience? We shall continue this discourse in the nest edition of the gsn.


Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com

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