Creating stories that resonate
Every person in the market has a worldview when it comes to what you’re selling. It might be, "I don’t care about that," or it might be, "all big companies are evil" or it might be, "I love new stuff."
When your story aligns with my worldview, we have something to discuss. When it doesn’t, you’re likely to be invisible.
A worldview is a lot like the strings on a piano or the cables in a bridge. When it hits something that is of the same frequency, it resonates. The cause and the effect embrace each other and the story sticks, and spreads.
It’s essentially impossible to tell a story to an entire population and have it resonate with all of them. The global warming story, for example, has influenced some people a great deal and been dismissed out of hand by others.
While most marketers spend their time telling stories about themselves, politicians spend a lot of time telling (negative) stories about the competition. It’s illuminating, because it makes the resonance idea really clear. [The rest of this post is about politics. It’s okay with me if you skip it, feel free to do so if you expect to be offended.]
Here are two stories:
Barack Obama is hopelessly liberal. He will raise our taxes, and he’s not a real American. You can’t trust him.
John McCain is a fake. He will say and do anything to be elected, and he is just four more years of our last mistake.
Choose your story (or the competition’s story) wisely, because you have to live with it for a long time, and if it’s not authentic, if it doesn’t hold up, you’re left with nothing. In the case of an election, the effect of your competitor’s story on your base is critical. (And vice versa). John Kerry called George Bush dumb, but it didn’t matter, because Bush’s base didn’t care that Kerry thought he was dumb. The people who did care had already decided not to vote for Bush, so the story had no power. Will McCain’s base care that he’s a fake? Will Obama’s base care that he’s untested and different?
I think that Obama’s base isn’t as shaken by that story as McCain’s base is by the ‘fake’ one. The worldview that elected Ronald Reagan is one that admired his authenticity and his ability to stick to his principles. George Bush took advantage of that same worldview in the stories he told about being a strong leader. "Fake" undoes a lot of that.
The reliance on negative stories in politics makes me sick. I think we should be above that. The fact that negative stories have influenced every election of my lifetime, though, means that I’m wrong, we’re not above it. If politicians are going to tell negative stories, they might as well pick useful ones.
Start with the truth. Identify the worldview of the people you need to reach. Describe the truth through their worldview. That’s your story. When you overreach, you always fail. Not today, but sooner or later, the truth wins out. Negative or positive, the challenge isn’t just to tell the truth. It’s to tell truth that resonates.