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Home > Blog > Lose the story, lose the sale
Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, November 23, 2004 8:42 AM
Lose the story, lose the sale
Anita Sharpe on Business

Why is anyone surprised that sales of Krispy Kreme doughnuts went stale after they became available almost anywhere, including the local convenience store?

It was never so much the taste of the doughnuts that people craved, but the experience of treking to an out-of-the-way quaint-looking doughnut shop and waiting in line for something that was hard to get. (And, of course, the doughnuts smelled/tasted best when they were warm out of the oven.)

It reminds me of the Coca-Cola Co. in the 1980s when it introduced New Coke and watched its loyal customers abandon the beverage in droves. It didn't really matter if the new drink tasted better, Coke drinkers were buying the story as much as the soda: Coke wasn't just sugar water; it was almost a magical drink with a formula locked away in a bank vault and a top-secret 7x ingredient that no other company could duplicate.

People don't crave convenience; we crave magic, romance and stories.

Why does it seem like business leaders were much better story tellers in years past? Is it because executives these days don't have much time for reflection or real stories --just time enough to squeeze in a little news or reality TV after a long day of sales forecasts, analyst calls and committee meetings?


genevieve - 11/26/2004 1:54:18 AM
People are growing up media-savvy and don't believe a lot of what they are told. And they don't really want to pay for a story along with a product.
Stephanie - 11/24/2004 12:50:50 PM
I agree with Leann's commment;

'Seeing Starbucks coffee for sale in the local grocers makes the ‘experience’ of paying way too much to have a barrista serve it up with whipped cream and a chocolate swirl on top decidedly less ‘magical.’'

I go to starbucks EVERYDAY and pay for a Venti Soy No Foam Chai that I could easily make at home for a tenth of the price. But I go for the atmosphere and the 'culture' and now I am a 'regular' at a couple of them and it is just 'neat' for me to have that connection, particularly since I am a work at home quilt artist.(run on sentence intentional, pretend I am saying it all in one breath..LOL!)

Great article and gives us something to think about when we have the tendency to try to tbe all things to all people.

Kent - 11/24/2004 10:08:41 AM
At the risk of opening a political can of worms, I'd argue poor storytelling cost Democrats the election. Jimmy Carter had a good story -- the honest outsider who would clean up Washington in the wake of Watergate. Bill Clinton had a good story -- the smart kid from Arkansas who feels the pain of people just scraping to get by. What was John Kerry's story? He was for the Vietnam/Iraq war before he was against it? He's a good debater? He's not George W. Bush? Take your pick -- Kerry tried them all.
Mindwalker - 11/24/2004 9:22:49 AM
Part of the reason businesses don't engage in storytelling anymore is because people don't feel that they contribute to the larger narrative (or at least feel disconnected from it).
Ty Moddelmog - 11/24/2004 1:40:57 AM
I think this is the most interesting blog I've seen on the Worthwhile site. I literally just spent ten minutes staring off into space thinking about it, and I still have nothing relevant to say beyond thanks for the article.
Robert - 11/23/2004 9:36:47 PM
I'd agree that if we were to compare the marketing thinkers at a Coke or a Krispy Kreme with their predecessors of a generation ago, we'd see differences in how they allocate their energies. But perhaps the biggest contrast would be the broader diversity of the people they're trying to influence, particularly for mass marketers today who want to appeal to everyone. It's one thing to have crafted a magical and romantic story that appealed to the nuclear family of the '50s, and arguably more difficult to find one magical and romantic theme that will appeal to today's more fragmented audiences and their changing media habits. So it may be that some marketers are still trying to be story tellers, or at least would like to be, but as they lose confidence that any one story will resonate, they tell so many stories and lose their voice as a result.

Just read about the folks trying to make the Poppin' Fresh icon relevant to many audiences (maybe not a magical story, but I always liked him). Used to be he could just come out and giggle, now the poor Doughboy is assuming multiple personalities for distinct target groups.

Anyone who can figure all this out and still tell a great story, more power to them! Perhaps tomorrow's best storytellers will be those who have more modest expectations in the number of people they want to inspire.
Jory Des Jardins - 11/23/2004 3:30:33 PM
I'm amazed at this too. Storytellers are rewarded in so many ways, and yet, I suppose, when under some form of duress business leaders opt for the cold, impersonal approach. I suppose that they feel it makes them seem more professional. Yet if you have no story you have no champions. Customers/clients won't go that extra mile to see you win.
Dave J. - 11/23/2004 12:46:39 PM
You can't keep taking the water out of the well till it runs dry...but businesses seem focused on doing just that these days.

Recently, this has become one of my more grave, nagging concerns in a lot of what I observe.
Leanne - 11/23/2004 10:42:30 AM
Studies seem to be indicating that people are seeking relationship, experience and community. Those that fulfill one or more of those needs seem to do well (ie. Starbucks).

Seeing Starbucks coffee for sale in the local grocers makes the 'experience' of paying way too much to have a barrista serve it up with whipped cream and a chocolate swirl on top decidedly less 'magical.'


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