November 30, 2016

The Danger In Storytelling

I have noticed something recently when I read articles in trade publications.

Much of the data we are getting about online advertising is negative. To wit:

- The amount of fraud
- The extent of ad blocking
- The siphoning of revenue by ad tech middlemen
- The minuscule rates of interactivity
- The absence of consumer engagement
- The lack of transparency in media agency buying

Much of positive news we get, however, is anecdotal. The trades tell us about this successful social media program and that successful Facebook campaign.

And the anecdotes seem to have far more impact.

One of the principles that every good copywriter learned in her first six weeks on the job was "tell a story." The reason is simple -- people remember stories (sadly, storytelling has now become an inescapable and insufferable cliché that every dimwit marketing poseur is required by law to mention twice in every sentence. But we'll leave that for another day.)

But storytelling has its dangers.

The danger is that anecdotes make far better stories than data.

For example, the anecdote of the Ice Bucket Challenge makes a much more memorable story than the report by the American Marketing Association that 88% of marketers find no return on social media marketing.

And so the Ice Bucket Challenge lives on as an exemplar of the power of social media while the AMA report is nowhere to be found.

Someone once said "don't bring an anecdote to a data fight." But smart salespeople know better. They know that a good story trumps a bunch of numbers every time. And they use anecdotes wisely and widely to camouflage data (see this post from last month.)

Stories are a good technique for communicating. But they're a bad basis for making business decisions.

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