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Chicken Wings and Storytelling

Chicken WingsYears ago, I was watching football with my roommate. He had bought some chicken wings from a months-old local place, and after he finished, I asked what he thought. He said he liked them, but he was upset because the wings were quite small and he felt it was a bad deal.

A few weeks before that, another friend was telling me about this same wing store that just opened. (What can I say, my circle of people likes wings – as seen in this dramatic recreation of my life). He talked with the owner and learned that chickens don’t grow as large during the winter, so if the store has smaller wings, they’ll usually just throw in an extra one or two when a customer orders a dozen to make up for the difference.

I relayed this secondhand story to my roommate, who then opened up the box, counted the wing remains and discovered that yes, there were 14 wings in his order of 12. Needless to say, this greatly changed his opinion of the restaurant.

Now the question is, if my friend had not talked to the owner who then told me about the wing-size equation and then if I hadn’t been with my roommate weeks later to educate him, would my roommate have ever gone back? No. Would he have told his friends about the place that rips you off with tiny chicken wings? Yes. This would have been negative sentiment around an incorrect understanding.

Now what was the point of all of that, besides the fact that now you are craving chicken wings? It’s that relying on our story to tell itself isn’t necessarily good business. Sure, the right info got to the right person in this instance and saved a customer, but you don’t want to rely on that being the case every time.

But everyone knows that, right? It seems like everyone’s advice is to “tell your story,” and while you’re at it, climb every mountain, love like you’ll never get hurt and dance like no one is watching.

Or as this great tweet from Erik Deckers states so well:

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This is what separates the good marketing from the bad; it’s not always the story, it’s the storyteller. In the FastCompany article The Science of Storytelling, Jonathan Gottschall discusses the “attention” economy in which storytellers exist. It’s not the story that wins; it’s the better story, the one that makes you stop thinking about other things and focus. Here’s his take:

In normal life, we spin about one-hundred daydreams per waking hour. But when absorbed in a good story – when we watch a show like ‘Breaking Bad’ or read a novel like ‘The Hunger Games’ – we experience approximately zero daydreams per hour. Our hyper minds go still and they pay close attention, often for hours on end.

Now I’m not saying the wing-shop owner’s extra wings is up there with “Breaking Bad” in the storytelling pantheon, but it was a differentiator for this business that saved a customer and all of the people who he would have otherwise told.

Yes, everyone has a story, but not everyone can tell a story that will be remembered. That’s the difference, and the next step that marketers must take in order to effectively drive results and not just sell to clients.