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Evidence & Facts! Nah, Tell Me A Story

Don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more stupid I feel.

Take stocks and shares. I watch the news and read the clever papers, but I still don’t get how they work on so many levels. I read about business performance and market cap, and wonder why some company stock prices run away with themselves.

I guess there are two parts to my confusion. Firstly, we have data and a lot of it. We have expert predictions that drive where people put their money based on this data. Then, if something goes awry, those same experts change their forecasts. Not being funny, but I reckon I could do that with fluffy dice.

Secondly, we have ‘sentiment’. I looked it up…

Market sentiment refers to the overall attitude of investors toward a particular security or financial market. It is the feeling or tone of a market, or its crowd psychology, as revealed through the activity and price movement of the securities traded in that market.

So basically, if you are feeling a bit Mystic Meg, you can legitimise your gut feeling. If you’ve ever read Moneyball (or watched the movie), you’ll see that battle of data v gut feeling in the emotive world of Baseball – it’s an interesting battle.

trading floor

Logically Illogical

Of course, we all tend to skew facts to back up our gut feelings and there is nothing more satisfying than telling people about an amazing decision you made – after the event – casually ignoring the many times that you got it wrong.

I recently listened to the world-renowned investor, Charlie Munger, talk about how fund management companies run a number of funds, and then just promote the best one, tucking the other 20 or so ‘failures’ on the shelf out of sight.

Evidence-Based Decision Making

As you know, I love a podcast, and I recently discovered Think With Pinker – Professor Steven Pinker’s guide to thinking better (it’s where I heard the Charlie Munger piece above). If it does nothing else, it makes me realise that I am not alone on stupidity island. Even the clever dudes get it wrong, they are just clever enough to recognise it as a flaw.

On a recent episode – Nudges and Noises – one part of the conversation (16 mins 10 secs) really struck me.

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and bestselling author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, responded to a question about evidence-based thinking, and why even the experts need to be reminded to look at evidence in the evaluation process.

The human mind tends to work on stories, and on individual cases, and on anecdotes, and this is true at all levels of intelligence. We think in terms of individual cases and stories.

Evidence is much less natural and you have to be trained to accept evidence as being more compelling than individual stories.

Telling Stories

I tell stories about stories a lot. I also like the word “narrative’ because I’m in marketing and enjoy the odd wanky phrase. (Put that in your thought fridge and snack on it later.)

Stories enable us to plug into this element of our human nature to create an emotive feeling that people don’t seem to be able to bypass with pure logic.

So, why would we not aim for a compelling response through stories, anecdotes and metaphors?

If I think about my own job, and the many conversations I have; the ‘logic’ some people give me about their social media plans, and other people’s ‘successes’ they are basing them on, are all presupposed anecdotes.

My logical response (at them not wanting to waste their money) is often regarded as plain-old negativity. The irony is, I sometimes begin to actually think that this is the case, as opposed to the fact I have the experience and understanding of the data side of things. I start to believe their story about me, over my own logic. Go figure.

Eight Out Of Ten Cats

It’s like adverts. I love a good one. I love seeing a good advert get across a powerful story in 30 seconds or less. Many these days don’t, of course. Partly because we don’t pay as much attention and partly because we are inundated. Or, maybe, the creativity just isn’t good enough to stand out?

Tell me a short sharp story, brush over the facts, and I’m in – especially if it has a catchy jingle or strapline.

A good advert is made to make your mouth water.

Your Stories

In the world of B2B, where people still buy people, we all have a story to tell above and beyond proving something. Part of that is brand, but part is our individual stories – especially in the world of professional services.

I once met a lawyer who, after revealing that I managed a few business leases, tried to tell me how good a property lawyer he was. Now, I don’t necessarily know one crossed T from a dotted I, but I can judge whether I like someone or not. I didn’t – a pure gut feeling about his awkward approach.

If you want a fairy tale ending, you need the once-upon-a-time to kick off the conversation. You need to frame your pitch, you need to engage. And, this leads me to ‘brand’ and campaigns.

Campaigns

If we take it that people do indeed relate to stories, let’s tell more. Many businesses have got so fixated on products and services, they’ve lost the art of putting stories on top. Perhaps Google is to blame, offering the chance to just run intent-led adverts.

Why not try it? Run a dedicated campaign for a period of time, say six months, with stories and messages that build your brand – a layer of varnish if you will on top of your service offering. Wouldn’t it be great to develop your brand story above and beyond your competitors?

Summary

We’re all telling a story, even if we think we aren’t. And, while ‘people buy people’, they’re also judging them along the way. This is why story (provenance) is so important. By defining and telling yours, you are more able to find the right kind of people.

It needn’t be complicated. In fact, I was speaking to a new client yesterday who works with a company that sells swimming pools. During Lockdown they started getting a huge increase of enquiries, some of which were not relevant due to the price-point. So, they tweaked (aligned) their story online… “Swimming pools from £60,000”.

Sounds simple and obvious in hindsight, doesn’t it? But then again, I guess so do many financial predictions.