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I am frugal in most circumstances and definitely not a label whore.

Last Thursday, however, I got bit by an alligator. Next thing I knew, a short sleeve polo shirt priced at over $125 was mine. The tags are now off, so the garment is here to stay.

That a polo shirt, made in Tunisia likely by someone who works for a low wage, can cost upwards of $125 dollars is fairly shocking. It cannot have cost much more than $2-5 dollars to produce, maybe less.

The shirt is fly. It fits well. The saleswoman who sold it to me was good looking, pleasant and treated me respectfully. Do these things make a polo mass produced by cheap, unskilled labour worth $100? Even $60?

Of course not. The story gives it value. The story I bought – the story I told myself – is about me rocking nice clothes, being fashionable and fresh, being able to spend money on the things I choose because I work hard. Mostly the story was about me deserving this indulgence.

The marketers at Lacoste helped me convince myself of the above. From the design of the shirt to the price point they guided me subtly and let me tailor the important details of the story myself. They did their job well.

My dalliance with the gator is emblematic of upmarket consumption. At the upper end of a market, the need for storytellers as marketers is greatly amplified. The reason? High end purchases are often made based on the consumer telling themselves a lie. Sometimes quality is markedly better at the top end (e.g. – Lamborghinis have nice engines). However, this is often not the case (e.g. – the Lacoste polo is not that much better than the Penguin shirt that sells for half the price, if at all).

Here’s the thing: storytelling is not a part of business education. In my MBA there was almost none. Same scenario for the folks taking PR certificates – they get virtually no training on how to craft a story. Most of their schooling is on dissemination, which is important but only part of the puzzle.

What do we need to do to bring this skill back into business school curriculum? Do business graduates make the best marketers or do other educational disciplines produce better people who are more creative?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • I agree that the stories are the main product being sold in many upper end consumer goods (Read 1998’s “The Dream Society” by Rolf Jensen, he talked about all of this back then), but the story as a marketing tool is pervasive everywhere.

    Marketing is communication, people generally communicate memorably by telling stories, so memorable communication is through storytelling. Everyone from the corner store to Walmart to Brooks Brothers to your favorite online boutique sized video production company must use storytelling effectively. They all have to communicate. They tell us who they are, what value they present, and leave enough room for us to add ourselves into the narrative as well. But it is all done through story.

  • Thanks Josh (esp for the Jensen rec – I’ll check it out)

    What does not make sense to me is that business/pr/marketing education is not designed to hone this ALL important skill. I think, as a result, bad marketers are churned out. Anecdotally, some of the most talented people I’ve met in marketing have no educational background in the discipline.

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