3 Tips from a study of how a story can change everything


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A story of how experience can change and even create a new reality

Image Credit: David Castillo Dominici
Image Credit: David Castillo Dominici


Traditional product centric marketing has historically been focused on consumer segmentation, and then getting the right messages to the right consumers at the right time. In current omnichannel environment, we are increasingly hearing about the importance of engagement and customer experience. Omnichannel specialists are now advocating that marketers and retailers must start focusing on “their story”. What exactly is the “story”? Why is story so important? Most importantly, what do businesses need to understand about storytelling to be effective? A recent case study with 6 photographers provides some interesting insights about the power of story and how perception can change and even create a new reality.

Why this is important: Stories are more than messaging. Stories don’t just help sell products, they differentiate the products and retailers. In fact, stories can change the experience itself, and engage consumers in new ways beyond the event or product.

A photograph is a portrait of reality … or is it?

Photographs are often described as a reflection of reality, or a slice of time. A camera is simply a tool that accurately captures what it sees. Consequently, photographs are used for documentation and even evidence in courts of law.

The old adage goes … “A picture is worth a thousand words”. And, really great photographs do tell a story. But is the story real? Whose story? There is more behind a photograph than meets the eye. The power of the “story” begins before the shutter even snaps.

What 6 photographers can teach us about the power of a “story”

Inc. Magazine recently reported an amazing experiment run at The Lab by Canon cameras in Australia. They setup a studio exactly the same, and gave each of the 6 photographers exactly the same camera to shoot. The subject was the same man who looked and behaved in exactly the same way with each photographer. This male model was in essence a metaphor for the same commodity product that rolls off the manufacturing line to be sold in retail stores.

The ONLY difference in this experiment was that each photographer was told a very different story about the man BEFORE they met and photographed him. One photographer was told that the subject was a fisherman, while the other photographers were each told a different story about who he was: a psychic, a self-made millionaire, a former convict, a recovering alcoholic, and someone who had saved someone’s life.

How did these stories affect the final portraits? Have a look for yourself! I strongly urge you to click on the photo below to view the video showing the VERY DIFFERENT photos that were created by “the stories” that influenced the photographer’s portrayal of “reality”.

How “story” applies to marketing and retailing

The simple fact is that products are things. Most products today are commodities that are iterations of things that can before them. Manufacturers who build the products obsess on the features and how to improve them. Retailers list all the features on fact tags and in bullet points on websites.

In today’s highly competitive world, businesses have to create and build quality products (and services). But, whether a particular product succeeds will depend more upon the “story” about that marketing is able to tell. In the past, marketers and retailers were focused on telling the “benefits” of products, why theirs is better than competitors. What the experiment with the 6 photographers shows us is the power of the story goes way beyond the features and benefits of the product.

The power of customer experience in creating the story and perceptions

The story starts before a product is even launched. Today’s consumers are deluged with facts. They can comparison shop features and benefits on any product on their smartphone. If it is an “important” purchase, they probably know more about the product than most Associates in the retail stores.

What consumers are now looking for something that tells the “story” about the experience of owning the product or using the service. They want to be able to “see, touch, taste and feel” what using the product will be like. If they can’t physically see the product themselves, they want to be able to hear the stories of other consumers who are using the product.

Bottom line: When marketers and retailers can tell the story from a consumer experience perspective, the product stops being a thing and becomes part of a consideration as part of a consumer’s lifestyle.

Wake up call – Consumers are now a huge part of the “story”

One could make the argument that marketers have always known this and have used TV ads and videos to tell the “story” of their products. One could also make the argument that good retailers have known about this and have incorporated product demonstrations in their stores.

What’s missing in this marketer driven equation is that consumers are now a huge part of the “story” … BEFORE, during and after a product has been launched.

What has dramatically changed in the last decade is the power of customer experience, and the many ways to transmit and share it … especially through social media. Before taking a trip, booking a hotel, or going to a restaurant consumers can go read the stories about other consumers’ personal experiences. One of the most powerful differentiators Amazon has going are the Consumer Comments – which are essentially consumer stories about their personal experience about the product and how it fit, or didn’t fit their lifestyle.

Just as the stories impact the photographer’s perceptions and outcomes … the consumer experience is becoming interwoven as part of the “story” impacting today’s products.

What’s your story – 3 Lessons for Marketers and Retailers

The power of The Lab case study is that it visually demonstrates the power and impact of how a story can change perceptions and even outcomes. This simple photographer demonstration provides 3 important take-aways for today’s marketers and retailers.

The power of the story begins BEFORE

The photographer case study is a dramatic illustration of how a story influences and impacts outcomes BEFORE an event even happens. In today’s super charged world of social media and sharing experiences, marketers need to start telling the story before a product is even launched. Retail stores must now assume that consumers have heard the story, actually stories, before they ever set foot in a store.

The story becomes more powerful when it is focused on experience

Consumers have moved beyond general benefit statements. They want to understand how things will work in their home and their lifestyle. Marketers need to be able to show “real” consumers using their products. Retailers need to create the opportunity for consumers to experience products as they would actually use them.

Consumers are now part of the story – They help create it and spread it
Consumers are active participants in creating the story, whether you want them to be or not. They readily speak out on social media and customer reviews. Marketers and retailers would be wise to engage consumers proactively in both the experience, and how to tell their own personal story to other consumers.

So, what’s your story? Beauty not only lies in the eyes of the beholder, but in the stories they tell. Do a search and see what your customers are saying on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. What they are saying is a major part of your story.

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Inc. Magazine: 6 Photographers Prove That Customer Experience Is All About Marketing, Joel Comm; March 2, 2016
YouTube: THE LAB: DECOY – A portrait session with a twist, Canon Australia
Word Image: David Castillo Dominici; Freedigitalphotos.net

Chris Petersen, Ph.D.
Chris H. Petersen, PhD, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions is a strategic consultant who specializes in retail, leadership, marketing, and measurement. He has built a legacy through working with Fortune 500 companies to achieve measurable results in improving their performance and partnerships. Chris is the founder of IMS Retail University, a series of strategic workshops focusing on the critical elements of competing profitably in the increasingly complex retail marketplace.


  1. Excellent article, Chris. Great read, picked up some useful pointers. Customer participation will certainly help make your stories more powerful and more impactful. Thanks, Niraj (Founder at hiverhq.com)


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