Change your customers’ perception

Jul 22, 2008

SUCCESSFUL marketers don’t talk about features or even benefits. They tell a story that we intuitively embrace, buy into, then pass on to other people.

Companies go from start-up to market leadership through the correct use of stories. By articulating everything you do in a compelling manner in the form of a story, you enable everyone in your team to rapidly understand exactly what you’re about and deliver your product, service or expertise in a better and more consistent manner.

Present your story to the right people in the right way and they will intuitively embrace it, buy into it, develop a passion for what you do and pass your story on for you. This will happen in a fraction of the time it would take to get your message across by any other means.

In less than ten years, for example, Innocent has become one of the best-selling juice brands in the UK. As it prepares for its turnover to pass £100 million, it has become one of the most feted brands in the UK.

That success has been achieved, despite the expense of its products, more because of the story they tell on each bottle or carton than for any other reason. People immediately buy into the brand’s values. Once they’ve done this, they happily come back again and again and pay a premium price for the privilege. Here’s a simple example taken from one of their bottles:

‘An Innocent Promise: We promise that anything innocent will always taste good and do you good. We promise that we’ll never use concentrates, preservatives, or any weird stuff in our drinks. And we promise to eat our greens.’

Pret have always been brilliant at this, too. Their sandwich boxes, bottles, napkins, paper bags, coffee and soup cups and anything else you might pick up and take away tell a story. Bit by bit, Pret’s values seep into your consciousness and before you know it you’re buying from Pret in preference to anywhere else. Here are an example of the many “Passion Facts” they use to educate you:
‘Just roasted. Like bread, coffee beans go stale. Big coffee companies keep
schtum about this. The truth is, after a couple of weeks the flavour goes out the window.

‘Anyway, we get ‘Just Roasted’ beans delivered every day to every Pret. Coffee beans not used quickly go to the compost heap. We grind a generous 14 grams of ‘Just Roasted’ into every Pret cup. Our Barista Council is obsessive. Our milk is organic and has been for yonks.’

Stories like this succeed because they make the invisible visible. They capture the imagination of large and important audiences. They make a promise. They explicitly set out what you do, how you do things and why you do them. All of this engenders trust, one of the scarcest and most valuable resources in today’s world.

Great stories allow readers to draw their own conclusions, resulting in a higher level of buy-in than would otherwise be the case. They also work fast. The reader is engaged the moment the story clicks into place. This often eliminates the need for 12-page colour brochures or face-to-face meetings.

Great stories should be aimed at a specific group of people who are in the market right now for what you offer. If you have to water your story down to appeal to everyone, it will likely appeal to no one. Runaway hits like Innocent and Pret take off because the values they communicate match those of a small group who share the same passions – and that group then spreads the story.

The best stories fundamentally change the way the target audience experience your product, service or expertise. They don’t teach people anything new: instead, they reinforce what the target audience already believes and makes that audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.

A classic story is that of the Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which in 1904 was caught up in a market share war with the other major US breweries. All the breweries at that time were claiming superiority with headlines that emblazoned the word ‘PURE’ across their ads. One would extol ‘PURE’ in bold capitals. The next would take a double page spread and put ‘PURE’ across the two pages.

They didn’t explain to the beer drinker what ‘pure’ really meant, they just said ‘pure, pure, pure’. It was a battle going nowhere.

Schlitz, seventh in the market, realised it had to bring in the best advertising advice to gain an edge. So they recruited copywriter Claude Hopkins, famous for his ability to delve into a product and the market to find a compelling story to tell. His first request was to do a master brewing course.

They showed him large rooms with double airlock doors and thick glass walls that kept the air inside pure. Inside he saw giant pulp filter towers filtering the purest of water over and over. He saw how the water came from two specially constructed 5,000-ft deep artesian wells on the shores of the lake.

They took him to the laboratory and explained how they went through 1,200 separate experiments over five years to identify and develop the finest mother yeast cell that could produce the richest taste and flavour. Every bottle of Schlitz beer came from cells grown from the mother yeast cell, they said.

They showed him how they distilled the water before they used it to brew the beer, where it was heated to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, then cooled and condensed. They did that three times to make sure it was purified.

He saw bottles and vats being cleaned and sterilised by super-heated ‘live’ steam, where they steamed each bottle at temperatures of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit to kill all bacteria so the rich taste of the beer could not be contaminated.

Every batch was aged for six months until thoroughly fermented, they explained, then tasted to make certain it was pure and rich and at its very best before they’d bottle it and send it on.

Hopkins became very excited. He went back to the Schlitz management to tell them he’d discovered the theme that would set them apart.

The Schlitz management looked at him. “Why is that anything special?” they said, “All beer is made this way.”

“Yes,” Hopkins replied. “You know it, and now I know it, but no one in your industry explains that. The first person who tells that story and explains how and why you do something, will gain distinction and predominance in the market place.”

Hopkins wrote a wonderfully engaging full page ad, which perfectly articulated what ‘purity’ was. Schlitz became the first company to tell the story of how their beer was made. It made the word ‘pure’ take on a different and a more tangible meaning in the eyes, the minds and the palates of beer drinkers.

Hopkins’ ad caused a sensation. People who’d never consumed beer in their lives or let a drop of alcohol pass their lips were compelled to try Schlitz just to experience its purity. So many people changed to Schlitz as a result that it soared to equal market leader in a matter of months. It retained that position for nearly 50 years.

That’s how powerful your story can be.

At DSP we have years of experience that will help you to develop and articulate a compelling story to act as the foundation for all your marketing messages. To discuss how we can help you , telephone on 01908 357657 or visit

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