Why "stories" in relationships

We describe the idea of a relationship being based on building a "shared future" as a story because it is based on intangible beliefs and ideas about how something will perform or how it will make us feel into the future. This may be an association a story or episode about past performance, or for new customers a story of how the world will improve in the future. Many strong relationships will have a story attached to them. I buy from Acme Corp because they really helped when I needed a product supplied quickly.

Marketers and sales people are continually building these stories to try and win over customers. This brand will make you feel sexy. That product will save your company £5 million per year. Our company will help you retain more customers. This manifesto will change the country.

To buy into the story, you have to trust the teller and feel an association with what is going on in the story. Each customer may need a separate story (particularly in business-to-business markets where circumstances can be so unique). But if the story comes "true", there is deeper trust and the customer may have been carried away from the reach of competitors. This sense of relationship can be tapped into with a "don't you remember when..." story to keep someone on your side.

Nonetheless customers' changing experiences over time will build a history of stories and will change the story you need to tell into the future. Buying one computer, the story may be about ease-of-use and performance. Buying many computers and the story needs to encompass reliability and management and control.

So to retain customers it is necessary to keep listening and to keep renewing and retelling the story for them. Only by getting closely involved with your customers' futures can you understand and build the stories that will keep the relationship alive. There are many examples of retail goods such as Coke, Budweiser, Corn Flakes where the fundamental product has not changed for over 100 years, yet the marketing and the story is as fresh now as it ever was.