Published on: September 30, 2014by Michael Sansolo
No matter how studiously you’ve read the Bible, there’s a pretty good chance you know the story of Jonah and the whale. In contrast, few of us know the exact dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant, even though the same bible covers that pretty extensively.
People remember stories; we don’t do as well with details.
That’s why Kevin and I wrote “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies." Our idea was to give business people materials and metaphors that they could use in storytelling, to communicate to their employees, business partners and even customers.
Granted there have been great storytellers from the dawn of retail. Today every Whole Foods features near endless signage about products and producers, essentially telling stories aisle by aisle. Individual products in Trader Joe’s do the same and a small operator like Stew Leonard’s shows any size company can do the same.
A panel discussion I moderated last week at the California Grocers Association (CGA) Strategic Conference offered two interesting examples of storytelling, and one fascinating insight into its efficacy. CGA president Ron Fong’s team pulled together a creative program of Ido Leffler and Maxine Bedat, two businesspeople you’ve probably never encountered, but whose stories should catch your attention.
Leffler’s company provides two product lines that rely heavily on both narrative and consumer connection. “Yes To” health and beauty items lean heavily on the inclusion of produce items and “Yoobi” is a line of school supplies that highlight bright colors and donations to needy schools and students.
Bedat’s company, Zady.com, is all about helping connect trendy shoppers to the origins of their clothing by letting them know about the manufacturing and shipping process. Similar in ethos to the local food movement, Bedat says she offers “slow fashion.”
The question is: Do consumers really care? Do they want to take the time to absorb the stories? Can any story possibly create enough interest to outweigh other factors such as convenience and price? Leffler and Bedat argue they do.
Bedat argues that members of her generation are looking for a new kind of message, one that helps them understand the purchases they are making. Knowing that she competes with great sales at Kohl’s and Zara’s, Bedat’s hope she can educate shoppers on the difference between price and value.
Zady’s value, Bedat says, is “price per wear,” by featuring clothes that cost more, yet last and stay fashionable longer.
Likewise Leffler says connecting products to a cause gives shoppers a reason to change their purchase patterns. A sign of his success is the major back-to-school effort Yoobi ran exclusively with Target this year. It resulted in free supplies to hundreds of thousands of needy students.
It was an intriguing dialogue. But it was what happened next that really opened my eyes.
After the conference I received a note from a female attendee who said the women’s bathroom was abuzz following the session. The women felt Bedat and Leffler made a substantial point on the power of narrative and new directions in marketing and that their companies need to understand the change.
When that woman talked with a male colleague, she got a stunning rebuke. The men’s room, he said, was the opposite, with the guys questioning the value of what they just heard. Apparently the Venus and Mars thing goes into the bathroom too.
Bathroom chatter is hardly a scientific sample of anything and there will always be difference of opinion on any speaker or topic. Yet it strikes me that this divergence is reflective of something important - the gap between generations and genders, and why businesses need to think about telling their story more effectively to a customer base that hungers to hear them.
Tell a good story, and you may find yourself experiencing a happy ending.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here.
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