Storytelling in 2013


I wake up every morning upset about one core thing, and that is this:

It’s 2013 and 99 percent of people are marketing their products like it’s 2004.

That’s it. That is honestly the only reason I have been successful in my life. The reason I was able to be so successful at building The Wine Library was not my good looks; it wasn’t my charisma. It was based on the fact that I understood where the consumer was in 1996, and more importantly, where they were going to be in 1998. At that time, when I launched it was the 2nd wine e-commerse site on the entire internet. I payed $15,000 to build the site (this was in ‘96, mind you!) and in that first year we sold $812 in wine. That’s not a type-o. I don’t know how many of you reading this have a soviet father, but that didn’t go over very well.

36 months later, we sold $4.5 million worth of wine. That went over a little bit better.

So what I’m passionate about is how we get stuck in the ways we market: Billboards, direct mail, print, radio, TV, all of which have collapsed in terms of getting the attention of a consumer. If you can name the last time you didn’t timeshift and fastforward through a commercial, or the last time you looked up at a billboard, I seriously want you to email me at and tell me about it, because I bet you can’t.

Same goes for email marketing. The foundation on which I built If you’re reading this and you work in email, I want you to email me and tell me the last time you had a click rate over 15%. It’s not where the consumers are, and I’m kinda sorry to say, but people like me are the ones who made it that way. Sure, there was a say when you were super excited to buy $40 of sushi for $20 on Groupon, but these days, you’re marking all that shit as spam before it even hits your inbox because you’ve been getting blasted at scale for the last three years now. So why, if you’re filtering out email marketing notifications, would you spend a ton of money on it for your own company?

So what’s the fix? What do you do now that the “price value” or “ROI” to the advertiser in 2013 for TV sucks, and billboards suck, and email suck in comparison to 2004,1994 or 1984? The answer I’m going to give you isn’t a single platform. I’m not going to tell you to get your brand on Vine and then everything will be amazing and you can buy a sports franchise. Here is what it comes down to:

Every single marketer out there is a storyteller.

It is our job to tell our story – what our value proposition is – to somebody along the path of purchase. Period. It connects every one of us. And to be a good storyteller, you actually need to have the attention of the customer to get that at-bat to tell your story.

The attention of our customers, my friends, is shifting, and it’s shifting fast. The eyes and ears of the people we’re going to reach are in very different places now than they were five or even two years ago, and that is something we need to reconcile. Now it gets worse, because along with the shift, we also turned up the noise. If you can’t be providing real value to your consumer; if you’re always pushing instead of listening and caring, there is absolutely no way you’ll cut through that noise. Zero. Our society is experiencing ADD at scale, which means time and attention are literally resources right now, and they are by far the most valuable resources in the game.

See now most people treat social media as a ‘distribution channel.’ They think ‘oh, I’ll make a Facebook post or a Tweet that links back to a form on my website.’ They’re looking at social as just another way to blast you with the same shit. It’s no different than any other kind of media with a URL slapped on top of it. The trick here – the way to truly succeed and provide value – is to lean to natively storytell on each platform and respect the psychology of what makes a Facebook user different from a Pinterest user and more different still than an Instagram user. The difference is substantial and recognizing it will force you to bring value to those channels as individual audiences instead of thinking about them collectively as ‘impressions.’

More importantly, you need to realize that social networks are the first platforms ever that are actually a two-way conversation. It’s more than ‘it’s not just push’, it’s a conversation. Take a look at Twitter. More importantly, take a look at your brand’s Twitter account. I see so many accounts that are 95% push. 95% of their Tweets are just broadcasts and only 5% are actually responding to other Twitter users and carrying on a conversation. Twitter is the cocktail party of our society. Now what makes you a good cocktail party guest? Is it talking about yourself for 95% of the time? I don’t know what kind of cocktail parties you go to, but I really, really, really hope your answer is ‘no.’ Look at my account @GaryVee. Literally 90% (make sure you hit the all button above my tweets otherwise it will show you just my broadcasts) of my tweets are engaging with other users. I’m always searching wine or business terms, listening to users, and then jumping into the conversation. That’s how you bring value.

It goes on and on, and I could spend an entire book giving you tactical advice for how to create the best micro-content (oh wait… I did), but let me leave you with this:

Can you figure out how to present your brand’s value proposition in an image that disappears in 8 seconds? I’m not saying Snapchat is right for your brand but can you figure out how to use it? Can you understand why people find value in it? Because I promise you that the people who aren’t smart, and who don’t know how to learn to tell their stories on today’s platforms (and tomorrow’s, and tomorrow’s) are the ones who will go out of business. And much smarter, richer, more well-supported people than you have been put out of business in the last 10 years for that very reason. Because they refuse to play like the year that it is.

Don’t be that person. Don’t let that happen.


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