recently someone asked me what my philosophy of marketing is. being me, i had a quick answer to their question: i believe the goal of marketing is to produce a change in the behavior of your audience (i.e. get them to do something), and to do so you need to “tell the right stories to the right people.”

it is of note that i am at my very core a rhetorician (i am continually shocked about how much and how often i fall back on this background – it is immensely useful). as an undergraduate student at csulb (go beach!) and a member of the debate team i encountered a theory of modern rhetoric that has stuck with me: the narrative paradigm.

in 1984 a professor at usc, walter fisher, published his initial work on the narrative paradigm. the basic idea behind the theory is that all meaningful human communication takes the form of a narrative. we seek out ways to connect shared meaning with others and we do this by telling stories; allowing us to understand each other based on shared past experience. a great example are the parables of Christ found in the Bible. other examples can be a book, a magazine ad, or a television show (among others).

the episode “darmok” (which premiered in 1991) of star trek: the next generation is a great example of a narrative showing the power of narratives to create shared understanding.

fisher goes on to explain that effective communication, is not only a story, but is bound by narrative rationality. that is, it has both narrative coherence and narrative fidelity. if a narrative is coherent it has internal consistency (the story makes sense); if a narrative has fidelity it is seen as trustworthy and true (the story connects with the intended audience).

as you can see (if my story to this point has narrative rationality) my philosophy of marketing is a direct application of this. telling the right stories (narrative coherence) to the right people (narrative fidelity).

application of this philosophy begins with asking some simple questions.

the right stories

  • is the story you are telling about what you are marketing?
  • does the story you are telling make sense?
  • does the story you are telling deal with the behavioral change you want?

the right people

  • do you know who you are talking?
  • are you aware of what your audience already thinks about what you are marketing?
  • are you talking to an audience who is capable of making the behavioral change you want?

i would argue, very passionately if given the chance, that the only purpose of marketing is to get a group of people to change their behavior (i.e. buy something, go somewhere, do something, etc.). if you are engaged in marketing activities and this is not your goal, you are doing the wrong thing. whether it is to get someone to take immediate action, or remember your brand the next time you are at the store, all marketing should be designed to elicit action from the audience.

organizations of all sizes spend billions of dollars every year on marketing activities. be more effective: “tell the right stories to the right people.”

update: seth godin commented briefly (and more effectively) about this subject on May 20, 2013.


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