It seems amazing to us now that it was once a widely held (albeit logic defying) belief that the earth was flat. Much like a pizza trying hard, but failing, to contain its allocation of mozzarella and toppings, it was imagined that vast oceans tumbled continuously over the edge, without ever running dry.
Apologies for that analogy, I’m hungry, bet you are now too.
Nowadays we scoff at the very idea, though sadly not the pizza. ‘How foolish! How could anyone look up at the dome that is the sky with its repeating seasonable patterns and reach that ridiculous conclusion’?
Sure, it’s a bit of a puzzler, but perhaps back then people really didn’t have the luxury of time to consider ‘logic’ and so merely accepted stories as fact without any further pondering, especially when told at their grandmother’s knee.
Or maybe it is because they lacked the means or status to question the validity of the information they received and find out for themselves.
Back then they had to put their faith and trust into more educated types, or even the friend of a friend of a servant of someone more educated, and with that ensued a sometimes national game of Chinese whispers.
Back in the days before the printing press, a story of this type would have taken time to propagate, perhaps delivered by a traveling bard or merchant whose word was generally taken with a pinch of salt anyway. But something that was actually written down, like the laws of the land and religious doctrine, was widely considered sacred and true and, once dispatched from the presses, could reach even far flung places relatively quickly. And we thought we had invented viral marketing!
This is why a novel that romanticised the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus is often thought to be the source of the flat earth myth. It had many people, including those educated enough to know better, believing that the world was flat and that sea monsters, the size of small continents were responsible for devouring many a tall ship.
No wonder press gangers had to work hard to catch their prey!
The written word for many was considered fact and the more convincing, passionate or charismatic its delivery, the more strongly held the beliefs that were conjured.
Of course in the modern world things are very different. Or are they?
Knowledge is power and we have access to lots of it, much of which is available straight from the horse’s mouth. If, for example, a consumer is really on a mission to find out about a particular product or service, thanks to Google and the Interweb they have the means to lift up every rock and leave no stone unturned, if they want the information badly enough.
But what if they don’t? What if all they have is a passing sense of curiosity? For businesses that don’t speak Google, or don’t do it fluently, the pages of their book might be full, but there story will never be told (at least not on page one or two) and the consumer, none the wiser, will simply seek to fill their void elsewhere.
Yet even the fountain of knowledge that is Google, needs to ‘know’ something before it can talk about it and so you have to set your soap box up everywhere your customer might be looking, even when they aren’t looking so they, um, know to start looking in the first place!
And so back to grandmother’s knee.
Be it myth or reality, a ‘story’ is still a good way to set those tongues-a-wagging and articles that generate interest, doubt or even disbelief are a great way to start consumers on the road to discovery.
Then it is just a matter of putting the right information under those rocks!
Andy Morley is the MD of The Web Design Group, a small web agency based in the East Midlands of the UK. Follow Andy on Twitter, Connect with him on Google+ or LinkedIn.