Scarcity vs. Ubiquity

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The NY Times reports about the sale of the Magna Carta:

What is Magna Carta worth? Exactly $21,321,000. We know because that’s what it fetched in a fair public auction at Sotheby’s in New York just before Christmas. Twenty-one million is, by far, the most ever paid for a page of text, and therein lies a paradox: Information is now cheaper than ever and also more expensive.

Mostly, of course, information is practically free, easier to store and faster to spread than our parents imagined possible. In one way, Magna Carta is already yours for the asking: you can read it any time, at the touch of a button. It has been preserved, photographically and digitally, in countless copies with no evident physical reality, which will nonetheless last as long as our civilization. In another way, Magna Carta is a 15-by-17-inch piece of parchment, fragile and scarce and practically unreadable. Why should that version be so valuable?

(…)

“The value of the particular item sold at Sotheby’s eight centuries later is entirely different. It’s a kind of illusion. We can call it magical value as opposed to meaningful value. It’s like the value acquired by one baseball when Bobby Thomson batted it out of the Polo Grounds. A physical object becomes desirable, precious, almost holy, by common consensus, on account of a history — a story — that is attached to it. (If it turns out you’ve got the wrong baseball, the value vanishes just as magically.)”

And the conclusion:

“Just when digital reproduction makes it possible to create a “Rembrandt” good enough to fool the eye, the “real” Rembrandt becomes more expensive than ever. Why? Because the same free flow that makes information cheap and reproducible helps us treasure the sight of information that is not. A story gains power from its attachment, however tenuous, to a physical object. The object gains power from the story. The abstract version may flash by on a screen, but the worn parchment and the fading ink make us pause. The extreme of scarcity is intensified by the extreme of ubiquity.”

Good marketers were always storytellers. Stories help build emotional connections with people, make the brand appear human, draw us in. These stories have to be supported by experiences. Compare a good brand experience with dating: The guy you meet might have the greatest story ever told but nothing is founded in reality. Result: You’ll run for the hills. When your brand overpromises through storytelling and underdelivers in the experience department, you have nowhere to go. And your customers will go somewhere else.

In the new marketing reality, experience specialists and storytellers have to work together. The goal: To create a scarce story that’s supported by a ubiquitous consumer experience. And that goes much deeper than advertising and marketing. That goes to the heart and soul of an organization. Because people want to connect with brands not on an intellectual level. They want to engage from heart to heart. And, dare I say, from soul to soul.

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