• Sarah Thomas

Sewage-inspired marketing.

I've never had a job with 'sales' in the title, or considered myself any type of salesperson, but in reality there is some form of sales in most jobs. My last job involved convincing my bosses to spend tens of million of pounds upgrading sewage treatment works. I didn't expect to take inspiration from pleading the case for a new pump, or trash screen, to selling personalised keepsakes. But I did. 

The company I worked for spent a lot of money on complex programs to analyse the cost-benefit of their investments. Every benefit of a new piece of equipment (from fewer customer complaints to safer working environments) had a financial value assigned. Once you knew the cost of the upgrades you wanted to make, and the benefits you expected to see, you could plug the information into the system and it would spit out a value. Higher numbers were better - it meant you were getting more benefit for the money spent. In theory, all the funding requests from across the company could be objectively compared to one another. Deciding which projects to fund should be easy, simply by picking the top scoring options you'd be spending your money in the best possible way. But guess how often I was asked for the cost-benefit information when I was pitching for money? Rarely. I'm tempted to say, never - in 3 years working there. 

So how were decisions made? Well, quite honestly, by the stories they were sold. Despite their best efforts to create a systematic impartial approach to decision-making, many of us connect with stories much more than we do numbers. Show somebody a picture of crumbling equipment, tell them the stories of close shaves or near catastrophes, and you take them on the journey with you. A number on a piece of paper is sterile in comparison.

So to successfully get the money I wanted, I learned to tell stories and add colour to what could be a pretty bland proposal. It shocked me one day to realise that what I had done instinctively when discussing sewage plants, I had failed to do in the marketing of Scribbled Squirrel. If storytelling should come naturally anywhere, it should do here. Scribbled Squirrel is all about stories. Every piece we make has a story behind it. And yet I realised that my photography and social media posts were sterile. There was no context behind the pieces. Nothing that told of the meaning behind them, the people involved or the stories they had to tell.

I can't claim to be any kind of expert in sales or marketing, but I do enjoy telling a story. These days I try to make sure my photography hints at the story behind the piece. I mix product profiles alongside personal stories on my social media. I've seen a lot more engagement but there's still a lot to learn.



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