What do HP Sauce and a Notebook have in Common?

When I was a kid, a bottle of HP Sauce was a common sight on our dining room table. My Dad loved it, and his Dad did too. Subsequently, I’ve never bought another brand of brown sauce – ever. It’s a purchase habit that’s been ingrained and passed down across three generations.

Every year, companies collectively spend billions of pounds, desperate for us to pay attention to what they have to sell. In order to impress, they tell us that they’re the biggest, the best, the brightest, the fastest, the cheapest.

And we don’t care.

Why? Because we don’t care about them. We care about ourselves.

There are plenty of other brown sauces I could choose from. But I’m never going to switch. My stedfast loyalty has nothing to do with the fact they’re the market-leader, or the most competitively priced. I remain loyal because of the story.

Loyalty isn’t built from just having a better product. In blind taste tests, other brands of brown sauce may even fair better, but that’s irrelevant. Loyalty comes from also having a better story. The story your customer tells himself every time he uses your product.

When it comes to HP, I don’t care about the tomato base, the malt vinegar, the dates, tamarind and rye flour. Loyalty doesn’t stem from the product, but the meaning and story people attach to the product. Brown sauce is brown sauce. But put it in a HP bottle, and it’s no longer just a condiment. It’s Sunday lunchtime with my family. It’s a tradition. It’s hundreds of fond memories. And I’m certainly not swapping that for 5P off a competing brand. HP Sauce is the gateway to the story. If I lose HP, I lose my story.

Buying the story

Six months ago I paid £45 for a notebook. At the functional level, I could have paid £1 to achieve the same result. But I didn’t buy the functionality, I bought the story. Granted, this notebook is a thing of beauty, but that alone didn’t justify the price-tag, until I read the following:

We’ve been making notebooks for professional forest rangers and butchers since 1930. For guys with the hands of a lumberjack or killer. So our notebooks aren’t meant to be handy, practical or user friendly. They’re made for bruisers. If you’re looking for a tough tool that almost nobody else has or uses, and your patience is as limitless as your love for life off the beaten track, then our indestructible notebooks are for you.

The truth is, I’m going to use the notebook in air-conditioned conference rooms, not whilst chopping trees – but that doesn’t matter. By buying it, I’m in the same gang as the bruisers. I’m one of them. And yes, I do want a tough tool that nobody else uses. By seeing myself in the story, I’ve immediately attached emotional meaning to a commodity product – it’s no longer about a utility for taking notes. It’s about belonging and self-expression. And for that, I paid 4500% more.

Nobody cares about a better widget, but they do care about a better story. Stories centred on getting clothes 1% whiter aren’t better. They don’t command loyalty nor justify a premium price. But belonging to a tribe that is “against dirty” – dirty ingredients, dirty houses and dirty design, has allowed Method to take on giants such as P&G and win.

So, the next time you want people to notice you, try and refrain from telling them how great you are, and consider the story they can tell themselves.