The cash value of a compelling story

By evoke
September 6, 2011

We were at an event a few years ago hosted by Gotstyle, an excellent men’s clothing store in Toronto. The manager called us over to check out something really cool that was inside a pizza box (that was the packaging!) that was sitting on the counter. He opened the box to reveal…a pair of jeans. “$700 dollars” he proudly proclaimed.

Our reaction was probably what you expect: we thought he was out of his mind! But then he told us a remarkable story, one that we won’t do justice here, of the creation of these jeans. Apparently there is a subculture of people who collect limited edition jeans. So manufacturers cater to this market by making esoteric models.

He explained to us that the cotton came from a special kind of sheep from a special area in Japan that grazed on a special kind of grass and were sheared in a special way, and so on and so on (he told us the details of each of the “specials”). By the time he finished his story, we thought $700 was cheap for those jeans (we also didn’t think he was crazy anymore).

If we examine what happened, before the story there was a large value gap between what we thought the jeans were worth (maybe $200-ish) and their actual price tag. After the story, if we put ourselves into the shoes of one of these collectors, the price seemed reasonable. So while we didn’t buy the jeans (we don’t belong to the collector subculture), we bought the story hook, line and sinker.

The story created a context for the jeans that was much bigger than the fabric or the design (the context goes way beyond features and benefits). All of the compelling elements of the story get attached to the jeans, giving them greater value. It’s almost as if those story elements are decorative features on the jeans that make them look better. When people wear the jeans, or even just own them, they’re going to tell that story to everyone who will listen because it taps into an emotional need for ego fulfillment and belonging. The payoff they get by feeling special and by being seen to be special provides an emotional ROI that is far greater than the measly $700 the jeans cost.

If you are frustrated that people are not seeing the value in your product or service, maybe it is because you don’t yet have a story that creates a larger context and closes the value gap.

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