Most marketing stories are written as fairy tales, complete with their happily ever after endings. But, that isn’t life, is it?

In reality, life is a series of messy choices. While we’d prefer clean distinctions between right and wrong, frequently we’re asked to choose between bad and worse, also known as the lesser of two evils.

Business, as in life, is a series of nuanced tradeoffs. We’re constantly trading between a project’s schedule and its budget. Or, consider the freemium business model that offers customers a choice between time and money–built on the premise that young customers have more time than money and older customers have more money than time. Those with more time than money are willing to trade advertisement interruptions for free access to content, while those with more money than time are willing to pay for unencumbered access to it. 

People make the right choices for the wrong reasons, the wrong choices for the right reasons, and everywhere in between. They’ll sacrifice today for something greater tomorrow, or choose to risk the longer term consequences of instant gratification. Sometimes their major decisions have minor effects, while seemingly minor decisions prove to have major effects.

Consider some of the most common tradeoffs in life:

  • Saving for tomorrow means not spending today
  • Choosing the devil you know is sometimes safer than the devil you don’t
  • Saving someone from a fire means risking burns
  • Losing the battle might set you up to win the war
  • Pushing through the pain helps you recover from injury
  • Taking one for the team contributes to a win
  • Working two jobs to accelerate saving for a downpayment
  • Laying off a few workers to save the rest

Tradeoffs are the spice of life. Identifying them leads to stories that audiences relate.

So, what are some of yours? Which tradeoffs do your customers make every day?


Photo Credit: Siegel, Arthur S, photographer. Birmingham near Detroit, Michigan. Kitchen utensils hanging below a spice rack with mint, caraway, thyme, and sage jars. United States, 1942. [July] Photograph.