‘Therefore’ Doesn’t Sell (Stories Do)

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

The ad lays out a perfectly sensible set of reasons for buying the product. The creative is so strong that it’s clear to the marketing team that customers who see the ad will want to buy the product.

The salesperson makes a perfectly logical argument, leading to a perfectly logical conclusion. At that point, he expects his customer to respond with a perfectly logical “yes.”

Brand HarmonyPresenting arguments and evidence to customers is not an effective way to persuade. Let’s focus on something that we’ll call “the fallacy of therefore.”

In a recent interview in Fast Company, How Screenwriting Guru Robert McKee Teaches Brands To Tell Better Stories, conducted by Drake Baer, screenwriting luminary and teacher Robert Mckee caught my attention with this passage:

The typical business mode of thought is inductive logic. You gather evidence, in a Powerpoint presentation often, or in whatever you’re writing or explaining–but you gather. Point, point, point, point, point, point, point [to] one kind of data, another kind of data, and appeal to an authority data of some kind, and the conclusion–“therefore.” And this was taught to us since junior high school: To learn data, memorize data, put it into an essay that builds to a final paragraph that says “and therefore.”

The problem: Most customers are not moved by your “therefore.” As far as your customer is concerned, all of your pointing is pointless.

If arguments leading to “therefore” don’t work, what does? What makes customers say yes? When the customer comes to believe a compelling story about how you fit into their life or business.

Here’s what McKee has to say about story in this interview:

One difficulty that people have is understanding how brief a story can be. Because when you say “story,” they think novels, films . . . they think about those big narrative forms and they call it the story . . . To me, the heart of it is a story.

In other words, it is not effective to tell your customer a long, developed narrative story that leads to “therefore.” Instead, get your customer to understand “the heart” of that narrative, something I refer to as your “brand DNA.”

McKee gives a great example of this “brief” story, the brand DNA of Michelin:

Then there’s Michelin. The Michelin approach is to do a campaign: It had a tire and an infant baby sitting on the tire in diapers smiling. Do you remember that image? That’s a story. When you see that image–I mean what is a baby in diapers doing sitting on a car tire? The moment you see that, a story passes to mind. I’m driving along the street with my family in the back, somebody cuts me off, I swerve out of the way, but thanks to the gripping talents of a Michelin tire, I successfully avoid a collision and save my family. All of that is conveyed inside that image of a baby sitting on a tire, and it is a single-event story.

When you present your customer with a clear, concise brand DNA instead of a long, involved narrative, the customer can easily grab hold of your brand DNA and weave it into his own personal narrative, in which he, not you, is the protagonist and you are the hero who helps him.

This makes it easier for him to come to his own conclusion about why he wants to buy from you. You don’t need to say “therefore” because you’ve given him the chance to say it to himself.

The bottom line: Don’t base your marketing and sales on arguments that lead to “therefore.” Give your customers access to a clear, concise brand DNA that they can easily weave into their own personal narratives, leading to a shared story in which the customer is protagonist and you are hero. Let the customer be the one to say “therefore.” They will convince themselves more easily than you can.

Posted in Brand Harmony, Newsletters
2 comments on “‘Therefore’ Doesn’t Sell (Stories Do)
  1. Adam Blonsky says:

    Great points. In personal financial services, companies and sales people usually focus on the “how” (the logical) rather than the “why.” We’re
    focusing on “Why?” That Michelin ad not only touches on the emotional of why you want this product but also subtly on why we do what we do. Very powerful.

  2. Steve Yastrow says:

    Thanks Adam. Great insights.

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