In our last installment, Ice Cream, Hookers & Helicopters–lessons learned at the Rockwood Ice Cream Festival, we gained some insight into the art of staging and showmanship from  high-priced call girls and drone pilots and the importance of building Novelty into the marketing mix from some sharp, young ice cream mongers.

This week I want to continue our discussion with one of my favorite subjects…the art of storytelling

Storytelling is all about finesse and restraint, as you work your way through a series of small, revealing clues, baiting the audience along the way to the moment of the big reveal.

I truly believe that incorporating story into your marketing is critical, so critical in fact, I wrote an entire article on it. If you haven’t already read it, after you’re done here, I’d suggest taking a peek to see what you’ve been missing.

The best example of storytelling, at the Rockwood festival, came from Angie O’Brien, owner of iSwich Gourmet Ice Cream who told me the story of how she turned her passion for good food into a great little business.

Showmanship and storytelling don’t change reality but they do change perception.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford’s business school, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the medial orbitofrontal cortex – the pleasure center of the brain – of wine connoisseurs who tasted wines after hearing stories about them.

The scientific verdict: the story you tell beforehand, effects the drinker’s perception of the wine.

This scientific revelation should come as no surprise to those of you in the food service industry…

Good restaurateurs have long since made use of good storytelling in the form of describing their menu items. “The fresh bay scallops,” they say. “Are delicately sautéed in basil-infused, brown butter and finished with a port wine and raspberry reduction, made from locally picked, fresh raspberries.

Telling a good story, in dramatic detail, about the ingredients and how a dish is prepared, drastically affects the sales of those menu items, as well as how much money you can charge.

As the Stanford wine study shows, a good, detail-rich, descriptive story about your product or service can make its value skyrocket.

Here’s the way Angie O’Brien described her Raspberry Chocolate sandwich to me that day: “Rich chewy brownie cookies sandwiching pure, all-natural vanilla ice cream and a homemade fresh raspberry sauce.” And after a dramatic pause, for added effect she added, “It’s become an instant classic that’s so good and simple, it hard to only eat one.” She was right. I bought two. And I gladly paid four bucks a piece for them. Which segues nicely into my third point…

Price=Quality. Or at least, that’s the common perception.

A day prior to the Rockwood festival, I was in New Jersey attending another event. While there, I met an affable fellow— an immunologist and medical school professor, with a natural gift for conversation and a wonderful sense of humor— who told me he was a “fan” of my work. Since he’s from Scotland, I’ll call him “Scott”.

Scott and I were laughing about a published study that showed a direct correlation between the perceived price of a drug and its corresponding placebo effect . In essence, the more the study subjects were told the “drug” (which was nothing more than an inert placebo) costs, the more they claimed that it helped ease their symptoms.

People expect to pay more for something they perceive as being superior in quality, and vice versa.

It’s interesting to note here, as I mentioned before, the longest cues at the festival were in front of booths with the most unusual menu items. Well, as it happens, those same vendors also posted the highest prices. The more expensive the offering, the longer the line; the $7 a scoop gelato line was almost twice as long as the $4 a scoop line.

Which brings me to my final point…

As the great marketer and showman P.T. Barnum used to say, Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”

People will always be drawn in by the presence of other people. At the festival, the more people there were standing in a particular line, the more people got in line behind them. You’ll find that true everywhere you go.

Given no other information, people will always tend to be attracted to what’s popular. Even those of us, who like to believe we think differently than the masses, will tend to buy books because they are on the bestseller list, wear clothes the “popular people” are wearing, and check out Yelp reviews before heading out to eat.

Effective marketing is all about knowing how the masses tend to behave, and using that knowledge to draw a crowd of buyers.

So if you want to attract a crowd, it’s a good idea to start out with a crowd—even if you have to bring that crowd with you—which brings us full circle, right back to doing things differently than everyone expects it should be done.

Maybe sometime I’ll tell you the story of how we drew record crowds to a once deserted Diner— by renting a few dozen cars and crowding them into the small parking lot right outside the joint.

As for Ice Cream being the new Brain Food… well, one can dream, can’t one?

Till next we meet again… stay weird my friend.