The Art of the Story

by Rolf Gutknecht, Agent of Change (c) 2012

Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. — Indian Proverb

Ever wonder the best way to represent your product or service to prospective clients or customers? Here’s something to think about. Stop talking about the features of what you offer. Don’t even focus on the benefits. Don’t tell me how good you are or why you’re better than the competition.  Instead, tell me about a situation your customers typically find themselves in. Paint me a picture of how that situation is improved by the use of your product or service. Show me what success looks like. Capture my interest with people or places that resonate with me. Don’t focus on you, your company or your products. Instead, tell me a good story!

Since the beginning of language, stories have continued to teach, inspire, entertain, motivate and engage us like no other form of communication.  From bedtime stories when we were young to story time in elementary school to the sharing of family stories around the dinner table, they connect us on a much deeper level than any list of advertising bullet points could ever do. For those not convinced, try telling any favorite story using only bullet points and then decide which format people find more memorable and meaningful.

Recently, my business partner, Dan, and I met with a mid-sized “challenger brand” company to talk about their business goals and how we could help them grow their business in the face of a number of competitors. Tom, the company president, talked about his products and their features.  It was the same stuff we’ve heard time and time again from other companies in his industry. It was only when he got away from the rattling off of bullet points and suddenly spoke emotionally and passionately about how one of his customers was saved from the brink of bankruptcy because of his company’s tailored services did we immediately feel more connected with his business.

So what’s the secret to good storytelling?

Well, there is a right way and wrong way to tell stories. The secret lies in making an emotional connection with buyers because emotions play the dominant role in most decision-making processes. We need to tell our stories with authenticity and real passion in order to cut through the information overload that buyers experience and the BS shields they put up. On that note, talk like a human. Enough with the business babble. Don’t worry about sounding smart. It’s alienating and condescending, and your story will be quickly lost on your audience. Talk like a human being that cares about making meaningful relationships with people.

So how do you relate your story to the reader so that it resonates and motivates them to take action in the form of purchase or even just their wanting to retell your story and spread the word?  Here are few things to think about:

  • How are your products or services used? What stories might your current customers tell? For example, Avis uses real letters from grateful customers to tell stories about the company’s commitment to customer service.
  • Who are your customers? What type of character is your customer? Use real-life case studies to showcase customers as themselves or create similar characters prospects can relate to.
  • What emotions do people feel when they use your products or services? Do your customers feel confident, safe, happy, relieved, excited, satisfied, proud? Capture these emotions in the stories you tell.
  • What’s your product’s role? How does your product help your customers achieve success? Build your stories around the benefits of what you sell. Think about the story Tom told me as noted above.

So that’s my story for today and I’m sticking to it. What’s yours? Go out and create your own stories and “live happily ever after.”

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This entry was posted in Advertising, Branding, Creativity, Marketing, Sales & Marketing, Strategy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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