Marketing Stories – Reality or Fairy Tales?

I just finished reading Can Your Company Deliver What Marketing Promises?  It’s a good article about how Marketing must be in step with all the groups within a business, and vice versa. It acknowledges the friction that occurs when Marketing tells a great story that the rest of the company can’t deliver.

Why tell stories in the first place? Marketing tells stories to entice and inspire customers to buy their company’s product or solution. In the story, the business delivers a great product and a superior experience. The customer’s expectation then is that the business will deliver what Marketing promises.

Superbly.   Flawlessly.   Personally.   Authentically.   Over and over.

Photo courtesy of GettysGirl4260 (CC)

Photo courtesy of GettysGirl4260 (CC)

As customers, stories momentarily transport us to a different place where we can picture ourselves. We feel the emotions that come with being happy in that place and we psychologically buy that feeling. When that feeling is strong enough, we then turn around and buy that product or solution.

It’s the outcome of purchasing from a company that determines whether we feel like we bought a true story or a fairytale.


Take the Whammy Burger scene from the film Falling Down. While it’s fictional, the point is legitimate. If you’re not familiar with the film, Michael Douglas is in the middle of a full-blown mental collapse when he walks into Whammy Burger. All he wants is breakfast but they stopped serving it moments earlier.

Douglas pulls out a gun and accidentally puts several bullet holes in the ceiling. He then changes his mind about breakfast and instead orders a Double Whammy Burger with Cheese.

When handed the burger, Douglas takes one disgusted look at his “sorry, miserable, squashed” burger and asks everyone in the restaurant, “What’s wrong with this picture?” His burger looks nothing like the plump, juicy burger on the menu. It’s a moment to which we can all relate.

The burger on the menu was a fairy tale. While Marketing was busy telling the story of great customer service and delicious burgers, the rest of the business was delivering something inferior. How can companies make sure that the story Marketing tells becomes reality for the customer?

The best and only way is to get Marketing and the rest of the business to sit at the same table and openly discuss what’s important to the customer and how to make it a reality.

It requires tough conversations, negotiation, compromise in some areas and not in others, but when done diligently and always with the customer in mind, the marketing story and the customer experience match. When it’s done really well, legends are born.

Many years ago I remember being in the car with my Dad on his way to a company dinner. He was dropping me off on the way when he suddenly went white and reached for his mobile phone. It was the 80s so calling it mobile was relative by today’s standards. It was as big as a brick and weighed twice as much.

He was calling the bank and it was 5:28pm. They closed at 5:30pm and this was before after hours call center support. In a mad panic he explained that he was taking important clients to dinner and needed to pay the bill.

He’d just realized that he’d inadvertently paid a large invoice earlier with the same card. If he tried to use the card, he’d be declined in front of his clients and that was unthinkable. I could hear the murmur of the voice at the other end talking.

Finally my Dad exhaled and said, “Susan, you’ve saved me from a very embarrassing situation and I won’t forget this.” As the color flooded back into his face, he hung up and told me about Susan who stayed late to increase his limit and save him from a terrible fate.

He always spoke highly about the bank after that and more especially about Susan (he never forgot her name). When their commercials came on or someone else mentioned them he said that Susan was living proof that the bank cared about their customers, which is exactly how they marketed themselves.

There’s no doubt that the bank empowered its employees to make the marketing story a reality for customers. Doing that means recruiting the right people, investing in training, having the systems to support the story, and measuring employees on how well they deliver the reality every day.

And while this example is a consumer example, it applies equally to businesses working with other businesses.

Today, there have never been more opportunities to deliver genuine experiences to customers on the device of their choice, in any location, at all times, among a jury of their peers. Don’t make your customers shake their heads in disbelief and ask “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Instead, listen to them say “They delivered what they promised.”

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