Storytelling is the new Marketing

Sold with passion.

During take-off the plane banked to the left and a blinding ray of sunshine struck me in the eyes.  I turned away and noticed that the businessman in the aisle seat across from me was nose deep in a ragged, dog-eared copy of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

I’m a book fiend.  So I often notice what people are reading (sometimes going to embarrassing lengths to lean over and catch the title on the book spine).  For the rest of the plane trip, the businessman barely came up for air.  He was engrossed.

After landing, we stirred from our seats to collect our belongings.  I asked the businessman about his book.

“Oh,” he said, nodding with pure enjoyment.  “Travels with Charley is one of my favorites.  I’ve read it so many times I’ve lost track.  But I pick it up every couple of years to read again.  This morning, I grabbed it off the bookshelf to have something for the flight.  Every time I read it I remember again how good it is.  Nuggets on every page.”

He told me that he was a literature major in college and passionate about early 20th century American literature: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Faulkner, etc.  He said that Travels with Charley was a book that had captured his imagination.

That was enough for me.  By the time I left the airport, I had already ordered the book on my iPhone’s app.

The businessman would probably disagree with me, but he was selling me Travels with Charley.  He wanted me to read it, to buy it because he wanted to share with me his experiences with the book.  It wasn’t an overt sales pitch, but it was a sales pitch. 

He’d probably argue that he was simply sharing his passion and providing me with a recommendation.  He loved Travels with Charley and was basically sharing that love with others.  He was giving me a gift.

Both of those viewpoints are accurate.  He was indeed sharing his passion for reading and his love of Steinbeck and by doing that he sold me.

And that’s the power of a good narrative, a good story.

A complete stranger convinced me to buy a product I didn’t know I even wanted because he shared his experiences with it to me – and did so with vigor and with a strong personal narrative.  People have been doing this since the beginning of commerce.  But now these stories can be amplified on the web.  My friend on the plane spoke to me in person, but he could also have done it with a blog post or a Facebook status update or a video or a tweet.

We are at the nascent beginnings of the age of Shared Shopping.  When everything we buy, everything we experience, can be shared with friends, family and colleagues.  And this word-of-mouth sharing is how many us will make decisions on what to eat, what to wear, where to go, and, yes, what to read.

That’s why storytelling is the new marketing.


John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”

4 Responses to “Storytelling is the new Marketing”

  1. Thanks George for sharing. Not just shared shopping, but the democratization of broadcast through social media have equipped us with the stage we need to make a difference. Now we just need to get good at telling stories.

  2. There in lies the rub… Storytelling is an art and it isn’t as easy to spin a compelling yarn as many marketing and communications professionals think it is. Thanks for your comment.

  3. George – as a professional fund raiser I couldn’t agree more on the importance of good storytelling. It is an art and a craft that good fund raisers are equipped with when meeting and cultivating donors. It always helps to have that knack in your tool-kit to help break the ice and bring potential donors to your organization to that next level – getting involved and making a gift! Great stuff George – thanks for posting this.

  4. Hi RJNREF:
    Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them.

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