Revisiting the All-important Anecdote ...


The latest issue of BusinessWeek ran a piece called “The Leaner Baby Boomer Economy

In short, the story looks at how major brands like Starwood Hotels and Mercedes are responding to baby boomers cutting back on their discretionary spending.

Like all compelling storytelling, the writer David Welch makes good use of anecdotes.

For example, he highlights clothing designer Vera Wang with the following insight:

“In one instance, Wang made a high-end dress using fabric that costs $5 a yard instead of $12 but used the fabric in several layers to give the garment a richer look.”

Is Wang worried that her customers will learn that she’s using a cheaper fabric?


Because she has confidence in the end product and a value proposition that aligns with today’s consumer climate.

In the world of technology, companies often hesitate to share this type of information, rationalizing that it would hurt their business if known to the competition. But Wang isn’t worried about divulging proprietary company information because she recognizes the real secret lies in the how (execution), not in the what (multi-layer approach with the fabric).

A second anecdote and my personal favorite comes from Mercedes:

“Mercedes has quietly recruited 500 people aged 20 to 32 for a focus group it calls Generation Benz. Mercedes researchers are seeking their views on the economy, car ads, model designs, and more. The automaker sent 20 Generation Benzers into dealerships wearing flip-flops and other casual attire to see how much attention they received. Four of the 20 were ignored. The results, says Steve Cannon, vice-president for marketing, served as a wake-up call to Mercedes dealers.”

At first blush, this information could be interpreted as a negative hit on Mercedes; i.e., if you’re not dressed “right” you get ignored in Mercedes dealerships.

Instead, Mercedes shows transparency in learning from its mistakes which in turn makes for a good story. Plus the car maker recognizes that a) no company is perfect, so sharing a “blemish” isĀ OK, and b) the bigger message, “we listen” comes through.

As shared in an earlier post The Enigma of Business Journalism, The Economist we analyzed the tech-related articles in The Economist, covering the April through November 2008 issues. Seventeen percent of the content fell under the anecdotal umbrella.

Kudos to the Mercedes PR department which I suspect proactively dug out the Generation Benzers anecdotes and made them available to the reporter. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Welch covers the auto industry so he interacts with Mercedes on a regular basis.


  • Dude

    Not sure what dress fabric costs. Is it more or less than the denim I wear (Lee and Levis) to work every day? I know that Levis once cut back on the rivets. They also used to have bands play at Levi Plaza in SF – Saw the Spin Doctors (correlation to PR . . .???) play there once. I think I was unfortunately wearing a suit. And I don’t remember what that fabric cost either, but I probably still have the suit if that’s a telltale.


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