During my recent sojourn in Santa Fe, I had breakfast at a superb little patio within the Inn of the Five Graces. On the menu were several mouthwateringly-described items, including the "Southern-Styled Pancakes." Being a lover of all cuisine with Southwestern flair, and having wolfed down my share of pancakes in my day, I asked our sunny waitress what unique attributes "Southern-styled" brings to the common pancake.
Without losing a beat, or her smile, the waitress explained:
"Oh they're just regular pancakes.
They're good, but I can't say they're special.
I guess everything around here has to be
Southern-this or Southwest-that."
I was taken aback and bummed, but almost immediately blog-inspired, 'cuz that's when I got to thinking: In modern marketing, what's more important, the truth, or "the story"?
The waitress went against the grain, and probably against her employer's protocol, with her deflating menu-item explanation. As marketers, we work hard and long to find our "hook," the point-of-difference in our products to help move them out the door. No matter how hard we work, no matter what education and tools we put in place, it's all for naught when the last-mile deliverer contradicts, counteracts and essentially castrates said point-of-difference right before the customer's hungry eyes. Without "the story," we might as well be 1970s Russia--everything in grey, delivered in grim silence by the undead.
So what do we charge her with--insubordination? Grounds for dismissal? Or great customer management?
Had sunny waitress held tight to the restaurant's description (oh, I don't know, by saying "Made with Southwest-bleached flour and cooked in a skillet still reeking from last night's jalapeno pepper shards"), maybe I would've ordered and been subliminally led to taste such a difference in these everyday flapjacks. More likely though, I would've been the one to say "Oh, they're just regular pancakes" instead of her.
And then it's a lose-lose.
To this marketer, namely me, there's a fine line between "the truth" and "the whole truth." Sometimes, the whole truth IS the story, but most often than not, the story dances on the fine line between the two.
So I guess, in answering my own question, the truth is more important than the story...if the story has no connection to the truth. If, as Seth Godin put in in yet another one of his bestsellers, "All Marketers Are Liars," we have to avoid being called on one at all costs. If your product or service doesn't have a story, don't make one up. Instead, make a difference in your product or service so that it can have one.
By the way, the result of the saga: after her pooh-poohing of the pancakes, the waitress pulled my attention to something she said was truly remarkable and Southwestern--the chili-topped breakfast burrito, which she described as "heavy on the eye and nose, but light on the tummy."
She was right.
End of story!