Some historians point to the Middle Ages as when the advent of the term “marketing” took place. At that time, the meaning was very literal: bringing one’s wares to the common marketplace, for the purposes of selling or trading them. That core definition remains largely unchanged. However, as selling processes grew more complex and “markets” more global, the act of “marketing” has become less about a farmer’s cart laden with goods headed down a dusty lane and more about a complicated marriage of data analysis and intensive research.
For all of our understanding of demographics, market segments, and the myriad of other marketing methodologies, models, and tools at our disposal, as humans we still respond – immediately – to the merest glimpse of a story.
Stories are the way by which people understand the world. They stir our emotions and inspire us to act. Marketing has always made forays into storytelling, but as market research grew in importance, stories were ceded to fields like film, television, and publishing, and marketing took up a secondary position in advertising. Advertising tells stories too, but often, ones that try to compel their audiences to buy something.
Storytelling – true storytelling, where the end goal is simply telling a tale to another person – is the future of marketing. The rise of content marketing is part of the answer. Companies like Moon Pie delight (and occasionally confuse) their Twitter audience with a host of irreverent Tweets. John Deere cultivates not one, but seven separate communities with magazines produced just for them. Content initiatives like these position their companies as entertainers, confidantes, and, most importantly, made up of fellow people.
The John Deere family of magazines.
However, storytelling has to go beyond a business-to-consumer relationship. Stories need to be embedded into how marketers talk to themselves, too. It’s not enough to measure user engagement or market to millennials. Real marketing insights can come from the stories we coax from the numbers.
Try it the next time you’re presented with a marketing statistic. Interrogate the numbers by asking:
- • Is this result good or bad?
- • If this hadn’t happened, would anyone care?
- • What happened next? Did the result lead to another result? Did that help the company?
The answers to these basic questions can help you shape the story around your marketing data. And that story can help you communicate results to your colleagues, your executive, your stakeholders, and to fellow people, of course.