Think you go out shopping for products and services? In fact what you really shop for are stories. As for those in marketing and selling, you better make sure you know what story you’re selling.


What do a Porsche Cayenne and a VW Touareg have in common? Well let’s see, they have the same chassis, similar shape, engine, many of the same components, they’re built from the same blue print in the same factory. Oh apparently there is a difference, the VW handles steep slopes better. I’m sorry I forgot there is one more difference: the Porsche is more than double the price. Why would anyone spend more than double the price on the same car? Why because we don’t buy a car we buy a story. When you drive a Porsche the story is: “I am seriously rich and sexy.” Even if you’re eighty year’s old, impotent and the bank owns the car. What’s the VW’s story: I am solid and reliable? I like value for money? No wonder that story costs half the price. We don’t buy what we need, we buy what we want and what we want is a particular kind of story.


Champagne and Cap Classique are both sparkling wines made in the same way. The one in France, the one in South Africa. My favorite bottle of cap Classique is called Pongratz, it costs R80 a bottle. My favorite bottle of champagne is Moet & Chandon. It costs R400. In a blind taste test I did with friends most people couldn’t tell the difference. In fact not realizing she was drinking the Cap Classique one woman remarked. “You can tell this is Champagne it’s so much better.” The crazy thing is I can barely taste the difference, yet I still buy both. Why? Because I’m an idiot. When I see a bottle of champagne a story runs through my head, a story that goes back to my childhood when I discovered that this was the most expensive, luxurious drink in the world, made far, far away in the beautiful French countryside, so special that you didn’t call it wine, you called it: “champagne”. That’s a pretty good story, good stories are good marketing. See, because we don’t buy products, we buy stories.


After I failed my own blind-taste test I thought that those cunning Champaign storytellers had just fooled my perception of value. Recently I discovered that stories are more than perception, they’re reality. Antonio Rangel a researcher at the California Institute of Technology found that when volunteers were told that the wine they were drinking cost $5 a bottle the medial orbitofrontal cortice—the part of the brain that registers pleasant experiences—didn’t register much activity. Later they were given the exact same wine but told that it was a different wine from a $90 bottle. This time the pleasure centre of their brain lit up like a Christmas tree. The Champaign story doesn’t just con us into drinking more Champaign, it makes the wine taste better. Want to save yourself three hundred bucks? Serve cap Classique from a Champagne bottle. You won’t be conning your guests, you’ll be increasing their pleasure!


Porsche and Champagne are just one kind of story, increasingly our customers are looking for stories with a conscience. Harvard researchers placed two sets of identical towels in a home furnishing store. The one set carried a logo: “Fair and Square.” Attached was this message:


“These towels have been made under fair labour conditions, in a safe and healthy working environment which is free of discrimination, and where management has committed to respecting the rights and dignity of workers.”


The other set had no such label. Not only did sales increase when they carried the “Fair and Square” message they kept increasing as the price was raised. Same towel, different story.


Your offices, promotions, packaging and products all tell a story. You tell a story, how you dress, how you speak and of course what you say, you want to make sure you control that story because that determines whether they buy. Above all make sure you live the story – that’s what keeps them buying.


Justin Cohen is a professional speaker and the author of four books and seven audio books. This article is based on: “The Astonishing Power of Story”. For more information go to