Learning from Lance: The importance of peddling stories in your marketing

Manly Library Lance Armstrong

A cheeky sign in Manly Library – hell hath no fury like a public scorned (Image Dane Murray via Facebook)

Although recent events make it tempting to write off the sport of cycling as a showcase of the world’s best sporting drugs, I’d like to argue that the belated Lance Armstrong confession last week has yielded an invaluable peloton of insights for marketers.

And what links the confession to marketing is that it serves up an interesting reminder of how potent Seth Godin’s book remains, All marketers are liars.

Of course, I am not advocating misleading your market or staff and nor do I believe all marketers are liars.

What I am advocating is the true sense of Godin’s book (and its later, revised title), All marketers are storytellers.

The essence of the Godin book is that marketing is about telling consumers the stories they want and need to hear about your products/services, so that everybody gets what they want.

His classic example is the marketing story around how profoundly Riedel wine glasses make wine taste better or truer or richer, etc. This is despite double-blind scientific experiments showing wine drinkers cannot tell the difference between wine served in $1 glasses or $20 glasses.

The moral of the story is that even well-to-do wine lovers who know this fact, still prefer to shell out good money for more expensive glasses because the ‘story’ adds to the experience of drinking wine.

In the same way, many of us choose brand name products instead of generic products because of the stories we tell ourselves about those products and about ourselves (‘we deserve the best’).

But when the stories turn out to be lies or harmful, that’s when a line is crossed – I refer to an ethical line, not the Tour De France finish line!

Lance knows how to tell a good story

The story of Lance Armstrong is certainly one wrapped in storytelling.

So much so that while many people are happy to see Lance get his just desserts and watch his empire crumble, there is a heaviness of heart when the future of Livestrong is considered.

Livestrong is the organisation Lance Armstrong founded to inspire and support people with cancer.

Most of us remember the stories of Armstrong fighting cancer and conquering the cycling world again.

The story was extremely potent because it gave all of us hope that when we or those around us get cancer, it does not need to mean our lives will be cut short.

Livestrong says it is not about one person, but there is no doubt the ‘story’ of Lance will linger and haunt it for some time to come.

The interesting question from a marketing perspective will be whether Livestrong can shake off the bad Armstrong, forge a new story that resonates with the public and tap into those fragments of good Armstrong that might endure.

Can you channel your ‘good’ Lance?

As marketers of our businesses, our challenge is to find those stories that lurk beneath most businesses that inspire, interest, entertain or compel people to action.

One part of this challenge is to audit any of our messages, packaging, website content, or sales spiels that are laden with features or facts.

Facts leave many people cold unless they are solidly connected to benefits, the ‘what’s in it for me’ for your consumers.

The second part involves reaching deep inside your market to understand what ‘drives’ decisions by consumers. Is it aligned with the messages you are sharing?

And another vital part is to not be afraid to break the mould of how ‘your type’ of business should be. If there is an authentic, powerful calling that spurs you into action or rallies the troops internally, then you are sitting on a potential source of ‘story’ for connecting with others.

Or if you have ever wondered whether there might be a better way to sell or package or quote in your industry, here, too, might be your chance to break from the peloton and wear the yellow guernsey for a while!


Lance and the key to Adelaide

If you can discern your point of difference, your ‘story’ that draws us in and has us talking about you, then you might find yourself being lauded by leaders in the community.

This closing quote from former South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, was typical of the interest Lance’s ‘story’ evoked.

“Lance Armstrong is a cancer survivor who has achieved what no other person in the world has done – winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times after beating life-threatening cancer.

“We can all gain strength from Lance Armstrong’s story of courage, determination, hope and success … every South Australian knows someone who has had cancer.”

Not only was Lance given the key to the City of Adelaide but every tier of celebrity in the town did their best to be associated with him.

I hope you can tap into an authentic story in your marketing that will draw people (consumers, suppliers, influencers) into your world in 2013.



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