You don’t own your story

You spent a week and a half deciding whether your software “unites people” or “smooths out workflows”. 

You ummed and ahhed over whether the otter or marmoset mascot would best tell your story of platform integrations. 

But let me tell you something:

You have no control. 

You do not own the story. You don’t get to decide how people talk about the thing you are marketing. You do not get to decide how people think about the thing you are marketing.

And clinging to the illusion that you do is going to get in the way of your marketing. 

Didn’t you see the press release?

I used to get this all the time back in my old life as a consumer tech journalist. I’d get a press release about a piece of kit that sounded like this:

“RoboNugget have just released the EagleEye7000, a home guardian solution that keeps your loved ones and most valuable possessions safe by combining motion-detecting pods and Wi-Fi enabled cameras.”

I’d write a piece that would include a line like:

“New security system from RoboNugget uses cameras and motion sensors.”

And then I’d swiftly get an adrenaline-drenched email from a PR pleading with me not to call it a security system. “That’s not how we’re referring to it”.

Let me say this real clear for the people at the back.

No. One. Cares. How. You. Are. Referring. To. It.

People care what it actually is.

And if what you’re saying it is doesn’t match up with what it is, your marketing starts smelling a lot like the brown stuff you find in fields inhabited by male cows.

Which, as any decent marketer knows, is the death of trust. 

The death of a sale.

The black cab test

Before we go any further, I just want to clarify: your choice of words matters. Your brand matters. Your decisions matter.

It does matter how you talk about what you’re offering. It does matter if it’s an otter or a marmoset. But (and this is where it gets tricky) it has to balance being the story you want to tell, and a story that rings true to the audience.

A good way to find this balance is to do what I like to call the black cab test.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of riding in one of London’s iconic black cabs, the drivers (known as ‘cabbies’) are all cut from a very particular brand of no-nonsense cloth.

I was once describing the puppet that I controlled in a play called War Horse to a cabbie and he replied: “Oh, so it’s a wicker basket that looks like a horse?”

No. Nonsense.

The black cab test is very simple, and it goes like this: Imagine describing your product or solution or offering to a cabbie. 

They respond: “Alright mate, but what does it actually do?”

You tell them.

They respond: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what is it?”

You tell them.

Exasperated, they ask again: “What’s that in English?”

You tell them.

And that final answer. That’s your story. 

In the words of someone who isn’t bad at business (Jeff Bezos): “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”


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