The Danger of a Single Story for Marketers in the Age of Storytelling

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.


We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

Facebook stories drive SEO and build our network, so we can troll for new business. Instagram tells our stories visually and helps our brands come alive. Linkedin allows us to tell our business stories to peers and prospects in a “news” orientation.

Our websites, white papers, and content marketing are written just like classic novelettes. A teaser to create intrigue, a climax that builds with all of the reasons a customer needs us and needs us now, and a conclusion for how customers can get what they need from us. For a price.

Brands that win the most likes, posts, shares, retweets and resulting web traffic, live traffic and ultimately sales  are those same brands that know how to tell the best stories. Stories about our founders, our values, our products, our mission, and how customers can be part of our tribe. Patagonia is a master storyteller. Its catalogues read like diaries in the life of a customer who is living the life we’d like to live: canoes over white water to school, rock climbs at 80 years old, treks in Asia with sherpas, and more. In fact, its stories have been so well-received Patagonia’s published several books with content from its catalogues which you can buy on Amazon. True story!

Most reading this post likely have mastered the art and science of crafting solid brand stories and sharing them across all of the diverse communications channels we use today. So let’s shift perspective for a moment and look at storytelling another way.

What Are the Stories of Your Customers?

We invest enormous energy into CRM programs and systems that tell us about customer transactions, anniversary dates, revenue spend, demographics, and so on. This information helps us form “mass personalization,” as we lump them into categories of like customers and try to make them feel singularly special. They’ve caught on. Personalization at this level does little for sales and loyalty these days. Largely because we are telling a Single Story and trying to make it fit many diverse people.

My amazing daughters introduced me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author famous for her TED Talk on “The Dangers of a Single Story.”

She points out just how much people within all societies look at others, issues, the world from the lense of a single story, instead of multiple stories that, when combined, present a more accurate story of a person, a population, an issue, culture, a brand, and a customer. She discusses what it was like to go from Nigeria to school in the U.S. and how she was put into a story that others believed, as it was the only one they knew

You are from Africa. You must be poor, hungry, uneducated, and so much more.

Marketers are so often guilty of listening to and acting upon a single story when it comes to our customers. Women in a given demographic all shop alike, want the same products, have the same values. Men from coastal cities like purses, men from middle America do not. We craft our customer profiles around these stories and build messaging, content workflows, and experiences, accordingly. And it works, to a limited degree.

But what if we went a little deeper in researching our customers, so we could really tell amazing stories about them or to them that really struck at their heart and soul?

What if we asked them for their stories? Not testimonials about how wonderful we are; but instead, stories about them? How they feel about the world in which we live? Their communities? What inspires and moves them in life? How they like to spend their free time? Their favorite jobs, hobbies, and so on?

If we could create customer profiles that go deeper than transactions captured in our CRM systems, we would see our customers from many different perspectives. We would know what moves them to do what they do, choose what they do, and how we might be able to be part of a more meaningful story than just what they value enough to buy. In other words, a story about their life.


Slow down for a moment and listen to your customers speak about anything BUT your product. Discover those fascinating stories that make customers more than statistics. Move away from the “Danger of a Single Story” about customer groups you manage and sell to. As you do, you could just compete with Patagonia someday for the top-selling book on loyal customers!

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at

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