Post No Bills: Aren’t We Selling Soap?



I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Mostly books about marketing and presentation of information, about content marketing and social media. And some have really struck a chord (see the bottom of this post for a list and links to my new favorites), especially those that deal with story telling as a marketing principle – well, not just a principle, but a marketing bedrock.

There are a lot of reasons why these resonate with me, not least of which is that I am both a) completely convinced that story telling is the foundation of all human interaction and b) an instinctive story teller.

And, to be sure, these and a lot of other books, podcasts and conferences do a wonderful job of covering the need for story telling and some of the basic (and some advanced) principles of story telling. They discuss mode and media, the discuss intent and authenticity, how story telling and content marketing create emotional resonance with potential buyers (I really HATE the word ‘consumers’).

But, it seems to me that, while many books and personalities put a premium on the message of the importance of story telling, few follow through to the ultimate and necessary conclusion – sales. To read and study storytelling as marketing is to become enamored with the art of story telling itself rather than the results it creates – which is a story in and of itself and one that continues to sell books for these authors. I can’t blame them for that, but it seems that as much emphasis needs to be placed on the art of creating a measurement infrastructure that proves the ROI of story telling.

A little aside…

In the late 1990s Wall Street was abuzz with fascination and speculation of Silicon Valley. The now-infamous DotCom bubble is the perfect example of how story telling can blind us to the necessary reality of results. Millions, billions of dollars were sunk into companies that were little more than a URL and a story. The value these companies represented was implied and inferred, but it was not intrinsic.

Nor were the values of WorldCom and Enron, both of which told a story with creative accounting and rising stock prices. But beyond the gossamer veneer of stability lurked a much darker truth that would wreak havoc with our economy and leave scores out of work, without a savings and reeling for years to come. Why? Because as powerful of a force as story telling can be for good, for making connections between companies and customers, between thought leaders and eager audiences, it can also mask instability and a dangerous lack of substance.

I haven’t watched South Park in a decade, but one of my favorite episodes of those I have seen involved the Underwear Gnomes – tiny people living underground and tormenting Tweek, an over-caffenated friend of the main group, by sneaking nightly into his room and stealing his undergarments. At first, the boys didn’t believe Tweek, but eventually the relented and set out get to the bottom of the caper. When, at last they discovered the subterranean Gnome lair, the questioned them and the Gnomes explained the business model behind their pilfering this way:

Step One – Steal all the world’s underpants.

Step Two –

Step Three – Profit.

My point here is that, as it relates to content marketing and story telling, we need to be careful to not miss that second step. You may have Oprah shooting videos for your Etsy page, but if you don’t have the goods that people want, it won’t matter. But, even more importantly, if people don’t want what you have, they won’t buy it and if they don’t buy it, you won’t be able to make any money. If you can’t make money, what good did it do you to have Oprah creating those videos?

One of my favorite phrases of all time is “post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

It’s a logical fallacy that translates to: “after this, therefor because of this.”

It’s a fallacy because it ties a result to a stimulus simply because the stimulus came first. It is a correlative relationship, not a causal one. You may be able to tell a brilliant story and execute a flawless content marketing strategy and sales may go up, but don’t make the mistake of assuming your story is why they went up. Instead, seek to prove the connection.

Likewise, your story may be brilliant, but sales are bad. It doesn’t mean your story was bad, it means there’s a disconnect between your story and its intended impact on your bottom line. And, be clear, the bottom line is the most important line in your story. We can never lose sight of that. Because it doesn’t matter how creative and resonant our story is, if it doesn’t sell more soap, it is not sustainable or, even, viable.

I whole-heartedly agree with the need for good story telling in marketing. I’ve staked my livelihood on it. However, just as it is vital to tell a good story to make those connections, it is equally vital to ensure that the story you are telling is effective at delivering against your goals. While it may not be quite as artistic, romantic or sexy, your analytics and measurements tell the more important story of your brand, company, business or self. Try not to lose sight of that.

In the beginning of this post, I promised a list of the wonderful books I’ve been reading. I highly recommend each, so long as you take them as advisement and pay attention to impact, not just authenticity.

Also, I’ve decided to start noting what I was listening to when I write these posts. Music always helps me write and, if I’m honest, I think listening to something while I write makes me a better writer. Today’s selection – in addition to some Tazo English Breakfast Tea – was brought to you by “The Essential Django Reinhardt” – perfect for a snowy morning of writing, made all the better by my Beats Solos.


How do you measure your marketing, content or social marketing success? Got any books you think I should read? Let me know in the comments below or send me a message via @cheimbuch.

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