Tell Me a (Marketing) Story

by | Brand Strategy, Marketing Strategy

Marketing Stories

I am astounded at how asinine marketing stories can be, particularly in the consumer world.

The latest marketing story to catch my ire is the Lincoln commercial with Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey. The commercials have McConaughey riding around in a Lincoln product expounding “big” thoughts on life, including environmentalism, existentialism, and the mind-reading of a “big bull.”

I like McConaughey. I enjoyed him in Dallas Buyer Club, The Lincoln Lawyer, and even The Wedding Planner when he annoyingly threw away all but the brown M&Ms. This is not an anti-McConaughey diatribe or a rant against celebrity endorsements. What I hate about this commercial and so many like it, is the premise that buying a Lincoln will make my life complete.

Before McConaughey and Lincoln, the “Designed by Apple in California” held the top spot on my product-as-savior list. It was the penultimate marketing story and Apple as a religion. I dislike any commercial that tries to tell me that a product or experience is going to complete me as a human being. It is absurd that making a purchase—be it a car, a phone or a beer–is going to make me more successful, hip or attractive.

Having said that, you may be wired completely different. You may find the ads and the message appealing. Perhaps you share the values that McConaughey expounds. You may love the styling of the Lincoln MKC or recall vacations in the family’s Lincoln. An Apple product “designed in California” may have changed your life. You’re OK. I am OK. My point is that we all define value and values differently.

Why do I share this?

Last week, I was in a peer group of technology CEOs. One of the owners was sharing his concerns that he may be overcharging some of his clients for access to his REIT document management platform. When asked why he felt that he was overcharging, he replied that while many clients were satisfied with the system they were not regularly accessing all of its functionality or taking a discount for an annual subscription.

As we talked about the issue, it became clear that he didn’t have his arms around what value the client actually saw in the system. Some were using it as a cheap, secure, disaster recovery solution. Others were just using the due diligence portion but were dormant acquisitions. Perhaps others didn’t pay because the subscription terms were better for their cash flow versus saving money by paying up front. Or, the client’s low-level contact lacked the power to exploit the capabilities of the system.

We concluded that while the business’ platform delivered value, the company was not completely clear on what value it was offering each buyer and segment of its market. Each one saw different value in the system.


If we are not mindful, we get caught in the trap of thinking that everyone sees the world as we do. If they do not, then they must be irrational.

I am dumbfounded at what consumers will buy and why. The Kardashians, Joel Osteen, and the QVC Shopping Network are just a few more “marketers” on my list. Who watches this stuff? Apparently, a lot of people do—Kardashians (3 million viewers), Osteen (7 million viewers) and QVC (up to 16 million viewers). Like I said, we all define value and values differently.

“Storytelling” is the rage in marketing. Marketing stories work because they are more memorable than simple facts and figures and excite emotion in us. Stories play a more important role in marketing because buyers look for stories that complement the bigger story that they are already telling themselves about who they are. Buyers use the stories to reinforce their self-images—seeing, believing and buying the things that reinforce it.

According to MarketWatch, sales of Ford’s Lincoln vehicles surged 25% to 8,883 vehicles this past October.  The MKC saw a big leap in sales between September and October from 1,763 vehicles to 2,197 vehicles, during the same time frame the McConaughey ads began airing.

If you are going to be a great marketer, you have to know your market AND yourself. More importantly, you have to be able to tell the difference between the two.

Be prudent.


About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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