We Believe What We Want to Believe

Here’s the first half of the simple summary: We believe what we want to believe, and once we believe something, it becomes a self-fulfilling truth.

If you think more expensive wine is better, then it is. If you think that your new boss is going to be more effective, then she will be. If you love the way a car handles then you are going to enjoy driving it.

That sounds so obvious, but if it is, why is it so ignored? Ignored by marketers, ignored by ordinarily rational consumers, and ignored by our leaders.

Once we move beyond the simple satisfaction of needs, we move into the complex satisfaction of wants. And wants are hard to measure and difficult to understand. Which makes marketing the fascinating exercise it is.

 

Here’s the second part of the summary: When you are busy telling stories to people who want to hear them, you’ll be tempted to tell stories that just don’t hold up. Lies. Deceptions.

This sort of story used to work pretty well. Joe McCarthy became famous while lying about the “Communist threat.” Bottled water companies made billions while lying about the purity of their product compared with tap water in the developed world.

The thing is, lying doesn’t pay off anymore. That’s because when you fabricate a story that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, you get caught. Fast.

So, it’s tempting to put up a demagogue for vice president, but it doesn’t take long for the reality to catch up to the story. It’s tempting to spin a tall tale about a piece of technology or a customer service policy, but once you see it in the wild, we talk about it and you wither away.

That’s why I think this book is one of the most important I have written. It talks about two sides of a universal truth, one that has built every successful brand, organization, and candidate, and one we rarely have the words to describe.

 

Here are the questions I hope you will ask (your boss, your colleagues, your clients) after you’ve read this book:

  1. What’s your story?
  2. Will the people who need to hear this story believe it?
  3. Is it true?

Every day we see mammoth technology brands fail because they neglected to ask and answer these questions. We see worthy candidates get little attention and flawed ones bite the dust. There are small businesses that are so focused on what they do that they forget to take the time to describe the story of why they do it. And on and on.

If what you are doing matters, really matters, then I hope you’ll take the time to tell a story. A story that resonates and a story that can become true.

 

The irony is that I did a lousy job of telling a story about this book. The original jacket seemed to be about lying and seemed to imply that my readers (marketers) were bad people. For people who bothered to read the book they could see this wasn’t true, but by the time they opened the book, it was too late. A story was already told. I had failed.

You don’t get a second chance in publishing very often and I am thrilled that my publisher let me try a new jacket, and triply thrilled that it worked. After all, you’re reading this.

So go tell a story. If it doesn’t resonate, tell a different one.

When you find a story that works, live that story, make it true, authentic, and subject to scrutiny. All marketers are storytellers. Only the losers are liars.

Seth Godin
from All Marketers Are Liars (Tell Stories)
The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World

All Marketers Are Liars