Every successful business builds a product twice. The first build happens in the office, in the studio, or on the factory floor. At the end of that process, the company will have something that people can touch and use and enjoy: a piece of software, a smart lighting system, a new car model.

Before the product is released though, the second build begins.

Marketing staff take the product and give it a story. They put it in a context: a family, a school, or an office filled with enthusiastic overachievers. They show what the product will do and how it improves the lives of the people who use it. They demonstrate how the product will be a part of their customers' days, and in the process, they breathe life into the product. It's stops being a thing, and becomes an essential part of a lifestyle.

The result is the difference between a glass of carbonated sugar-water and Coca-Cola. It's why iPads are cool but Android tablets, which do exactly the same thing, are not. The stories that marketers create don't just sell products. They change the way people experience those products.

Last year, The Lab, a series of photography experiments run by Canon Australia, brought a portrait subject to six different photographers. Each of the photographers was told a different story about him. One was told the subject was a fisherman. Another learned he was a psychic. Others were told he was a self-made millionaire, a former convict, a recovering alcoholic, and a person who had saved someone's life, respectively.

You can see what happened next in this video:


The man in the studio was exactly the same. He looked the same and behaved in exactly the same way with each photographer. He was like the product that rolls out of a company at the end of the production process.

But each of those portrait photographers shot a very different photo of him because they had heard a different story about him. They related to him in a different way. They saw him in a different way. Their experience of him wasn't defined by the time they actually spent with him. It was created by the story they had been told about him before they had even met him.

That's what a successful business does. It has to create a good product, but whether that product succeeds will depend on the story the marketing team weaves about it.

The first stage of production makes the product. It's the second stage, when the story is added, that creates the experience and builds the success.