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What works in Marketing? Substance or Style?

Photo Credit © Nevit Dilmen

Many of us have heard different versions of the following story;

One day, a blind man was sitting on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet and a sign that read:


A man was walking by and stopped to observe.

He saw that the blind man had only a few coins in his hat.

He dropped in more coins and, asked for permission to change the sign, and wrote on it.

He returned the sign to the blind man and left.

That afternoon the same man returned to the blind man and noticed that his hat was full of coins.

The blind man recognized his footsteps and asked if it was he who had rewritten his sign and wanted to know what he had written on it.

The man responded:

“Nothing, I just wrote the message a little differently.”

He smiled and went on his way.

The new sign read:



In no other story, the poignancy and power of words come across as powerfully as the blind man’s story.

The first sign is stating a fact; the second is telling a story and evoking emotion.

‘Substance’ is synonymous with ‘Content’ and

‘Style’ is synonymous with ‘Presentation’ in Marketing.

Not talking about Microsft Presentation here!

Let’s take an example of a firm selling iron rods used in construction.

They can say, “We make iron rods.”

Or they can say, “We make your home safer.”

Which one do you think has an instant emotive connection?

Everyone knows of the brand stories of Tata Steel (we also make steel) and Intel (Intel Inside) which take a boring B2B product and give it an instant connection and recall.

Interesting content is not only about taglines. It is also about what your customer says.

For example, a customer is using a detergent powder of a famous brand.

Will the customer in the above case study say that I used this product and it washed 80% cleaner than competing brand? I don’t think so!

Instead, if you make her say that her kids are happy with the beautiful fresh smell and brightness of their school uniforms or their favorite dress, and she is convinced that it makes families happier, would you have more impact or less?

However the ‘power of words’ should not be confused with the ‘words of power,’ for the two may or may not have similar impact and meaning! As you can see from the story below;

Mullah Nasruddin returned to his village from the imperial capital of King Taimur Lung.

The villagers gathered around to hear what had passed.

“At this time,” said Nasruddin, “I only want to say that the King spoke to me.”

All the villagers but the stupidest ran off to spread the fantastic news.

The remaining villager asked, “What did the King say to you?”

“What he said — and quite distinctly, for everyone to hear, was — Get out of my way! –”

The simpleton was overjoyed; he had heard words actually spoken by the King, and seen the very man they were spoken to.

Simple pleasures in life!!

Content comes in many forms. It can be your tagline, social media posts, your vision, mission, collaterals, presentations, case studies, direct marketing, video storyboarding, etc. 

If you can present your story in a humorous, effervescent or emotional style, your potential to connect with the target audience becomes huge.

For me, substance with style works in marketing.

What do you think?

Anju Thkral Makin heads a Gurugram-based niche consultancy firm, Alchemy Corporate Communications, specializing in marketing strategy and brand communication. You can contact her on LinkedIn 

#websitedesign #businesswebsite #websitesforbusiness

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