Marketing is Storytelling, not Intellectual Prostitution

I have a love-hate relationship with marketing. As the number of things vying for people's attention increases, it's getting harder to be heard through the commotion of an ever larger crowd. Initially, my reaction to the word “marketing” is disgust. It conjures up images of sleazy salesmen in cheap suits who won't shut up about vacuum cleaners at a jazz club. Marketers really need better marketing, because it is only getting more important. In a world saturated with information, the skills needed to cut through the noise and reach those who will value your work are incredibly powerful.

Focus on the narrative and what it communicates. That’s what people buy.

Look at the prevalence of blogging and how few blogs are widely read. Most people in the world today have the ability to write. The expression of ideas can be accomplished almost anywhere. I wrote this article 30,000 feet in the sky above California. The problem is getting people to care enough to read what you write.

The magnitude of all the information the world produces is unfathomable. Information overload is very real in the sense that there is far more to learn and see and do than what is possible in a lifetime. The standard response is to simply ignore what doesn't immediately pique our interest, and intelligent filtering is often used as another weapon to help increase the signal to noise ratio. The less there is in front of you the less energy is needed to process and ignore irrelevant information.

Let's assume for the moment your work has made its way through the filters and in front of someone's eyes. Now you have a couple seconds at most to convince the viewer that what you have to say is worth their time. Writing is the easy part. Getting it read is increasingly a matter of marketing.

The more I learn about the subject, the more I find that writing and marketing aren't so different. At the heart of marketing is the story you're telling. Different types of customers will respond to different variations of that story, focusing on the specific ways in which a product is valuable to that customer, but the overarching narrative remains the same. The reason a product exists doesn't change from customer to customer. What does change is how that value pertains to each type of customer.

For example, Uber must sell to both passengers and drivers. The story of independence and unshackling oneself from the bloated old taxi monopoly appeals to both parties in different ways. For passengers that means a cheaper, more convenient, more reliable way to get around. For drivers that means working with more flexibility and ease than a traditional cab. Uber grounds their marketing in a single message, tailoring its efforts to different types of customers depending on who a specific campaign is targeting.

Marketing is ultimately about storytelling. A business or product has one core narrative which is told in multiple ways to appeal to different types of customers. Offensive, annoying “marketing” tactics may get a message in front of people, but unless it resonates it's useless. Good luck getting people invested in a story they're already annoyed with. Focus on the narrative and what it communicates. That's what people buy.