The Strategist

It's the Story you Tell, not the Product you Sell

Parents are all too familiar with this story; give a toddler a five-pound note and she looks back at you with confusion wondering what to do with the piece of paper you handed her. Give her a toy, a gadget or an attractive ornament, and you win her delight and intrigue.

Fast forward five years, and the same trick results in greater interest in the cash alternative. That's because by this point she's formed a story in her mind of what the cash alternative means (to her).

But it's not just children affected by this; it's all of us. Human beings are wired for story telling.

A fact DeBeers understood very well. A company that turned a 'shiny rock' with little intrinsic value into something that women all over the west coveted almost ferociously.

The success of the Diamond engagement ring was little to do with the discovery of a rare jewel and more to do with great marketing - more specifically - great story telling.

See the section on Opennheimmer's campaign in this Business Insiders article.

DeBeers successfully used the power of story telling to plant the idea in people's minds that Diamonds were exactly what a man needed to prove his love and commitment to his Wife-to-be. The power of one simple story created a billion dollar empire.

It's not just about eyeballs or amazing product features

When the Apple iPhone was announced, scores of self-declared geeks all over the world predicted it's immediate doom.

Many will note that Apple didn't go very heavy on offline media, print (and especially not) or digital advertising, yet the iPhone was the fastest selling smartphone for a number of years, and has only been beaten recently in relative terms. Apple told a good story - if you own an iPhone, you are 'hip'.

Everyone wanted to be hip.

A not too dissimilar unfolding occurred with the iPad.

What's interesting with the iPad is that the technology for such a device existed for a long time. Microsoft had explored similar business opportunities with a tablet device several years earlier but failed.

Apple entered the same market and not only won, but kick-started a new market of tablet devices.

The real difference was that Apple had a different story to tell. Microsoft's original messaging to their target audience was that a tablet was essentially a 'lite-version' of a laptop people could use to create content while 'on the go'.

Apple changed the game by changing the message (purpose of a tablet) from creating content to consuming content.

It was a subtle but very important difference in the story being told.

Stories for the future

A common scenario in my life is when a hip new technology or product emerges, I predict it's success to the dismay of my peers - especially when the technology for the new offering has existed for quite some time.

The self-styled geeks have the hardest time accepting why now all of a sudden a particular technology should take off, or worse still, why it receives so much attention.

At this point, I often struggle to get them to understand "the story has changed".

The difference between myself and them is that they focus on the technology while I focus on the story.

The iPad was one example, but Tesla's new electric car, and this product that connects your smartphone to your car are some to name but a few. The smartphone product is a typical example.

Again, the technology for connecting a smartphone to your car to monitor fuel economy has existed for quite some time, but only now has a company formed a story that can actually sell the story to the masses. That's the important distinction.

Sell the story, not the product.

Get Email Updates

Subscribe now to receive weekly updates with valuable business marketing strategies and start-up growth tips.

Khuram Malik

Hi, my name is Khuram Malik. I am the Founder and Chief Strategist at . I help Businesses and Start-Ups figure out how to get from 'here' to 'there' regards their business goals. If you'd like strategy help with your business, why not book a discovery session with us at and let us help you figure out where your growth opportunities are?

Get Updates in Your Inbox from Me