Wednesday, April 20, 2005 1:11 AM
Telling marketing stories
Joi Ito wrote about a book called All Marketers Are Liars which talks about the relevance of the stories behind products to their perceived value. It sounds like a good read, since I also realized the story behind a product is at least as important as the product itself… but I still haven’t figured out how to build a huge audience based on the story.
The products that I am most fascinated with, and most likely to import, have really compelling origin stories… when I first saw the dragon beard candy—served to an emperor two thousand years ago, handmade, ephemeral, usually unable to survive more than an hour or so in humid conditions—at a Japanese trade show I got really excited about it because it was unlike anything else on the US market, and fascinating to watch.
Of course, there’s not much of a “lie” in our story, but there’s some mythmaking. We don’t know which emperor the candy was first served to, but we’re retelling the traditional legend that every dragon beard candy maker in the world knows because they were taught the story by their master. We do try to message that this is more delicate than the street version, which might be a minor deception, because it’s necessary that we have this less sticky, more “refined” texture to avoid melting. It’s maybe less “fun” than the street version because it’s not as chewy and messy and there’s no 60 year old guy making it right in front of you, but the maker tries to compensate for it with beautiful presentation, an obsession for detail, and substantially better hygienic practices.
I guess one problem is getting the candy’s story retold effectively. I’ve so far been most successful with a high-touch method of doing the storytelling: live demos, in-store sampling, and so on. At wholesale margins, it’s really hard to build enough of a market to make a living doing that. Even with the word of mouth effect, I think my product is so obscure that the word of mouth doesn’t translate into rapid growth of customers; it’s special occasion; in the U.S. it doesn’t have the inherent advantage of being sold to tourists who want something interesting to bring back to their home countries, and it’s more extravagant than the US is used to for Asian foods.
But maybe my problem is more one of scale… I may not be “big” enough to do what has to be done on my own.