That Benny Franklin Fellow Knew a Thing or Two

As regular readers know, I look no further than the Moncton Times & Transcript for all the knowledge and wisdom that is required to succeed in today’s world. One of their regular features is, “Quote of the Day.”  This space usually offers some sage advice from dead people, although the occasional live person is tossed in to mix it up. The quote from a couple of days ago caught my eye. It was:

“If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.” – Benjamin Franklin

Of course, (good) marketers have known this forever.  Recent examples of ideas that were marketed poorly – and thus reviled, even though they seemed to make rational sense; were the NB Power sale to Hydro Québec (since abandoned) and the City of Dieppe French signage bylaw (since adopted).  They were discussed in this post.

To reword Ben’s musing so that it applies more to marketing, I would say, “If you wish to persuade, you must appeal to peoples’ emotions rather than their rationality.”  And most effective and time-tested way to grab an emotional response (and thus persuade someone), is to tell a story.

Adolf Hitler didn’t tell the people of Germany his plans in a rational fashion:  “OK, here’s the deal – we’re going to exterminate or exile some of the hardest working and smartest people in our country, then invade a WHOLE BUNCH of other countries and do the same thing.  Eventually we will be stretched so thin that the whole world (except for a couple of small allies) will be against us, fighting on all sides.  Then we’ll rule for 1000 years!”  Instead he told a story about the destiny of a master race that touched people’s emotions and made them do things they otherwise probably wouldn’t.

Rolex doesn’t claim that their timepieces are any more accurate than other watches.  They talk about craftsmanship and material and tradition – you’re wearing a piece of art (or more accurately, jewelry) on your arm, not something to tell you when it’s time to turn on American Idol.  That story is worth a $4,980 mark-up for some people.

At the other end of the spectrum, Walmart doesn’t claim to have the best selection or the nicest stores or the most knowledgeable salespeople.  They are all about price.  The story that resonates with Walmart customers is that they are being freakin’ geniuses by saving all that money.

So if the way you describe your product or service sounds something like, “it’s the best because of X technical reason or Y competitive advantage,” you may want to rethink it.  You may want to craft a story that arouses an emotional reaction in the potential customer’s mind about how much better off they’ll be when they acquire it.

Go to Harvard, and you’ll end up with a higher-paying career.

Drink a Coca-Cola, and you’ll be refreshed.

Use Axe deodorant, and you’ll be chick magnet.

Vote Obama, and the US will be a better place to live.

And just to state the obvious, the story should be true (unlike in the world of Mad Men, where advertisers make up all sorts of ridiculous claims).  In the examples above, the Harvard one is statistically true, the Coke one is arguably true, the Axe one probably isn’t (I haven’t tried), and the Obama one remains to be seen.

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