Stories Come First. Numbers Follow.

  photo credit:    "Story Road"  by  umjanedoan , CC by  2.0

photo credit: "Story Road" by umjanedoan, CC by 2.0

(originally published LinkedIn 6 May 2014)

I was on Bloomberg West last week talking about Twitter’s Q1 earnings (no, I am not a stock analyst, and I do not play one on TV). As one would expect from a business channel, the first question lobbed to me was about “the numbers.”

“What do the numbers say?”

I have no idea what the numbers say, but I do know they rise or fall on the shoulders of stories. Good stories make for good numbers. Bad stories make for…you get it. The Bloomberg appearance made me think of a common mistake made by marketing folks understandably hungry for eyeballs and attention in an insanely overcrowded space. The mistake is starting with the numbers.

“Which platform delivers the biggest numbers?”

“Which partner will give us the biggest numbers?”

The chase begins with the search for the greatest story. The first question should be “What story do want to tell?” The second question is “Will this story bring any value to people’s lives? Will it make them laugh, think, learn?”

I remember an interview with Bob Dylan where he said that the world has more than enough songs. No one ever needs to write another song again. His point was that a songwriter should be extremely honest with himself about the value of a new song he’s asking someone to listen to.

The world is not waiting for your tweets, and no one needs another post in their LinkedIn feed (this one included). If we are going to spend the money, time, effort, and angst to push a piece of content into the world, we should own it. We should be willing to justify and defend its existence.

And if you build it, will they come? Will the numbers follow? Honestly, not always. Numbers can be elusive and fickle. They can also be bought. But sincere, solid storytelling raises the odds. This is a game of saying what you mean—not saying what you think will bring you the numbers.

Here are some, er…numbers to back me up, courtesy of the Intelligence Group’s Jamie Gutfreund — one of the smartest observers of millennial behavior out there.

Millennials represent the wave that is upon us — obliterating old-school C-suite notions of how brands should speak with consumers. Anyone hoping to ride out the old model another quarter or two needs to think otherwise. The shift has occurred, habits have changed, and expectations are fundamentally different. (Generation Z, trailing behind millennials, will only further cement the new digital deal.)

This group, age 18–34, currently has $200B in spending power. This will grow to $400B by 2020. And they dig social media. A lot. Of them, 61% consume content primarily on social media; 63% want to be the first to share news and information.

They are sharing the same stuff we all share. Stuff that makes us laugh, gives us a discount, makes us look smart, represents our values. They’ll take a coupon if it looks cool. They will refuse an outright hard sell. Pump too much content into their Twitter feeds, and they’ll unfollow you. I would do the same.

For me, the lead question is always, “what does the story tell us?” The answer is that good stories come first, and numbers follow. If not, you still have a story that will make your brand proud and sets you up for the next story.

Paul Adams, former Global Head of Brand Design at Facebook, has said, “Relationships are built through many lightweight interactions over time.” My rewrite:

Relationships are built through sharing many good stories over time.

Shawn AmosComment