Seth Godin says we buy stories, not stuff.

While I don’t think this is ALWAYS true, I do think there IS a lot of truth to it. And perhaps more importantly, I think identifying the stories WE ARE telling ourselves helps us know what we should and should not buy.

As an example, I don’t think I’m buying into a big story when I buy toothpaste or shampoo. I stick to what’s inexpensive but also what works for me. I’m sure we all have many similar items in our lives. On the other hand, there is a particular lotion I love and that REALLY works (for me, anyway). So, I spend the extra dollars to have it. Maybe I’m telling myself a story, but I don’t think so in this case. I think, for me, it really works (I put it on after every day in the Fijian sun and never was sunburned) and so it’s worth it. (To me, this is similar to buying gloves that keep your hands warm. They’re more expensive because they’re made with a higher quality fabric that actually keeps you warm. Still, that said, if you DON’T need gloves, don’t buy any – cheap or expensive.)So these examples are more about things we “need,” but what about the things we CHOOSE to buy? Are we buying stories and not stuff?

While I think Seth is mostly referring to our desire to buy the stories behind brands (such as Toms – and helping someone – or Nordstrom – and knowing you can ALWAYS return it and receive excellent customer service), I think when it comes to consuming, we often like TELLING the story more than we do the actual product we buy.

Have you ever chased a deal on Black Friday? Did you buy something you didn’t even know you needed just because it was on sale – and an email popped up in your inbox telling you so? I think a certain rush and excitement (the story) can come and is more enjoyable than the product purchased (the stuff).

Have your ever purchased something and found yourself repeating over and over to your friends what a “good deal” it was? (Note: If you don’t NEED or REALLY WANT it to begin with, it’s not a deal. It’s a waste of money. It’s $20 you did not intend to spend but did.) Was the story of describing the deal more important than the item you purchased?

Have you ever been so hyped up for something but found the anticipation and idea of it more exciting than the actual event? I found this becoming true for me. I LOVE going to concerts and have for years, but now I am MUCH MORE selective about which shows I go to. I found that while I loved the IDEA and EXCITEMENT leading up to a show, driving to Baltimore (for example) after work in traffic wasn’t as fun as the story I told myself around the show. Spending more time in the car than I actually did at the concert, getting home late, and having to wake up early the next morning for work were no longer worth it (at least for many shows). I was buying the story but not enjoying the stuff.

Have you ever noticed how something makes you feel, even though a less expensive substitute would satisfy the need just as much. For example, is buying Starbucks coffee every morning about how you feel going to Starbucks in the morning or is it about getting your morning coffee? If it’s about how you feel, ask yourself what story you’re telling yourself. (Should Starbucks make you FEEL a certain way?) If it’s about having a cup of coffee in the morning, ask yourself why you don’t just make it at home or work (saving time and money).

Have you ever bought an outfit for a particular event, telling yourself a story about how that outfit would “change your night?” Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy nice outfits – absolutely buy clothes you like and feel comfortable and confident wearing. But if the difference between two awesome options is the price tag and wanting to buy a brand (that no one will know but you) is it worth it? Are you buying the story, or the outfit itself? Or, do you have something in your closet already but like the story of shopping for something new?

I hope these examples help to illustrate how we buy stories, not stuff. It’s not about NOT buying things; it’s about buying the right things – for you. And if we’re buying the story and not the stuff, maybe we shouldn’t buy it at all.

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