Internet Marketing From Home

How to Write Good and Sell Stuff 8

Eighth Lesson: Tell a Story For Sales Glory

In my post titled How to Influence and Persuade With Powerful Story Telling, I said this: “From time immemorial people have been captivated by stories. Why? Because stories inspire, challenge, provoke and give comfort. Starting as infants, we become immersed in stories. But as we mature and become adults stories still infuse our thinking. Stories appear in different forms and inhabit different areas of our lives:

  • Work-based stories
  • The story of brands
  • Family stories
  • Nation-building stories
  • Morality Stories

To name a few. Before I get into how you can use stories to grow your business, let’s firstly take a look at early stories, way back when Adam was a boy. Or was it earlier? Well, apparently the first stories were told by Neanderthals.” End of Extract

Notice how this article about stories told a story? A cool way to get your point across – no doubt about it. As humans, we’re hard-wired to love stories. From fairytales as a kid, through to movies and books in our adult lives, stories work. In the business context, storytelling makes ideas stick. Relatable stories transform businesses into brands and customers into loyal, repeat clients. Storytelling is how a brand becomes memorable.

And stories don’t always require a lot of words. By way of example, Apple famously uses succinct storytelling to market their products. Sometimes they use a few carefully chosen words to convey the essence of Apple.

This minimalistic approach to copy infuses the design of their ads, packaging, and products. For Apple, less is more. No matter which way you do it, the objective should be to move your reader along a pathway that is interesting, fascinating, and valuable (for example, help them solve a problem).

What Is Storytelling?

According to Wikipedia storytelling is the ‘conveying of events in words, sound and/or images, often by improvisation or embellishment’.

Through the ages, stories have been used in every culture to entertain, inspire, profit from, teach morality, instill hatred and fear, and maintain cultural norms.

Storytelling can take the form of drawings, paintings, the written word, and the spoken word.  With the advent of electronic media, the breadth and scope of storytelling opportunities have increased exponentially.

Stories take many forms such as:

  • Fairy tales
  • Myths
  • Legends trickster stories,
  • Fables, ghost tales
  • History
  • Triumph over adversity stories (hero stories)
  • Adventure stories
  • Cautionary tale stories
  • Morality stories
  • Higher power stories
  • Teaching ethics
  • Stories to promote civil society and cultural norms
  • Coming of age themes

The story was described by Reynolds Price when he wrote:

“A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day’s events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths.”

Although we can’t be totally certain it is likely that the use of stories is the sole preserve of the human species.

History of Storytelling 

Historically stories have been told orally.  And those stories have been handed down from one generation to another.

We don’t know exactly when the first stories were told.  But it may well be that stories were being told in caveman days.

People were telling stories before they could write.  They would illustrate their stories on rocks and cave walls.  Symbolism was used so that the storyteller could recall each story.  A good example of this is the rock paintings of the Australian aboriginals.

Before language capabilities were fully developed early storytellers also used gestures, music, carvings, tattoos, dance, and noise.

Stories were told for different reasons.  For instance, early families told stories to instill confidence in family members who may have been fearful about external threats.  Great status was bestowed on storytellers who had the ability to inspire and toughen up their ‘audience’.

Some of the storytellers acquired or inherited heightened status and told stories from the pulpit, the bench, and the throne.

story telling 3

Stories That Travel

Even in those early times, stories prevailed as a result of small numbers of influential people visiting other countries.  Fortunately, some of these early travelers also happened to be good storytellers.  And of course when they returned they brought new stories from the countries they visited.

When early adopters started writing, more stories could be told and shared far and wide.  This trend intensified when portable devices such as the early typewriter were introduced.  But even before then, people used fabric, papyrus (early newspaper media, a bark derivative), parchment, and even silk to write their stories.

Brand Storytelling

Brands large and small are increasingly using stories to build their brands and increase customer loyalty and retention.  People relate better to stories than to traditional sales pitches.  Understanding that people love to be entertained (there is an entertainment factor with stories), people are far more likely to be engaged with a well-told story from a brand than from traditional messaging methodologies.

And engagement is key.  A lot of traditional advertising falls on deaf ears if for no other reason than it only engages the language part of the brain.  There is no emotional connection.

Here are a few examples of Effective Brand Storytelling:

Steve Jobs and Apple

Steve Jobs was a master storyteller.  Who can forget Steve strutting across the stage when launching new products?  He was great at creating a narrative that had people riveted.  Even though he was running a tech company he kept his messaging simple – one of the key requirements of great storytelling.

Apple also built an effective narrative with its advertising. Memorable campaigns showing Apple lampooning the ‘fuddyduddy’ Microsoft hit the spot and further built the Apple brand into one that became fun, clever, and hip. 

 Ronald McDonald and McDonald’s

Who DOESN’T remember Ronald McDonald?  Proves the point right?  Stories are awesome from a retention point of view.  People remember stories for a lifetime, long after they’ve forgotten dry facts and figures.  Millions of kids grew up with Ronald McDonald and he represents a foundation stone for the McDonald’s empire.


Robert Downey Jr and HTC

Sometimes a brand will hire celebrities to tell stories.  A great example of this is the celebrated TV ad featuring Robert Downer Jr.

What I like about this ad is that it is high on entertainment value but also very effective at getting the message across to viewers that HTC is a company worthy of their attention.  There are lots of sight gags and with Downey mercilessly sending up the company (and getting away with it) is it any wonder that consumers love this great storytelling ad?

Two Personal Stories About Stories

Larry Thompson and Stories

A long time ago I met a sales trainer by the name of Larry Thompson.  Larry was a master storyteller who used stories to illustrate a point.  So effective was he that you could hear a pin drop when he was sharing stories with his audience.  He obviously had an effect on me because I still remember many of his stories to this day.

Larry was also obsessed with the idea of using stories with prospects to influence them to buy.  So he would regale us on the need to use our own stories, or stories of others who used the product, then sharing those stories with passion and conviction.

Webster (Domain, Sydney) and Stories

When I was a teenager on Sundays I often went to a place called The Domain (in Sydney, Australia).  Back then The Domain was famous for being a haven for soapbox spruikers.  The spruikers came in all shapes and sizes, male and female, black and white – it didn’t matter.  They all had a point of view and were free to express it.  Most of the soapbox pundits were ratbags and nut jobs.  And standing head and shoulders above them all was a guy called Webster.

Webster drew the biggest crowds, got the biggest laughs and invariably had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.  Webster had the ‘it’ factor (despite the fact he was almost toothless).

Although he had crazy views of the world, in the heat of the moment people like me almost suspended our reasoning faculties because of the almost hypnotic effect he had on me and most other people.

One of the reasons for this was that Webster was a master storyteller.  He had an almost limitless number of stories he could pluck from the air to illustrate and validate the various points he was making.

How Storytelling Will Boost Your Sales

Do you want to make more sales?  Become a master storyteller.  It’s not enough to be simply a good talker – the sales masters go beyond that, and become awesome storytellers.

Rivka Willick is someone who knows a thing or two about the power of stories to influence buyers and prospects.  She’s an acclaimed professional storyteller who now helps companies and salespeople create stories to boost their sales. She says that most salespeople don’t understand it, even if they use it.   One of her favorite quotes is this: “a good salesperson knows how to talk; a great salesperson knows how to tell a story.”

If you’re having problems making sales follow Willick’s lead.  If your prospects are giving you objections use a story to overcome it.  As she says “when the mind and the heart refuse to hear, the story is the key”.

Why Stories Sell

Telling stories in a sales context works very well at convincing prospects (or even visitors to your website or blog) to make a purchase.

There are scientific reasons why this is so.  In fact, researchers have found that our brain releases a chemical called Oxytocin and Cortisol which helps to build trust in the minds of the prospect.  Publications like Brainpickings have reported on the results of this research.

The Best Stories Appeal to Both Logic and the Emotions

People buy on emotion and justify with fact.  I guess you knew that already, right?  And of course it IS true, but assuming you have the right product for your customer’s needs and wants, the logical justification side of things will take care of itself.

Which brings me back to the core point.  Unless you move people and get ’em excited you won’t attract as many customers as you would like.  Nor will you have the opportunity to expand their vision so they buy your big-ticket product/service solutions either (assuming you have them to offer).  So you lose in two ways.

On the other hand, if you construct a compelling narrative it will not only move people emotionally it will also back it up with good, solid, logic.

A double win for you and your customer.

The Best Story Tellers Use Metaphors and Analogies

What is a metaphor?

According to Your Dictionary, a metaphor is ‘a word or phrase used to compare two unlike objects, ideas, thoughts or feelings to provide a clearer description.’

A simpler definition is that it’s a way of explaining one thing by relating it to another thing.

A metaphor is a key that unlocks the brain so we can truly embrace what the storyteller is saying.

It enables us to completely relate to the important points that are contained in the story.

Metaphors are meant to create an impact in the minds of readers. The aim of this literary tool is to convey a thought more forcefully than a plain statement ever would.

They are exaggerated expressions no doubt, but they are exaggerated because they are designed to paint a vivid picture and garner a response from the audience.

Examples of good metaphors are:

  • He drowned in a sea of grief.
  • She is fishing in troubled waters.
  • Success is a bastard as it has many fathers, and failure is an orphan, with no takers.
  • The singer had a velvet voice

I am a crazy metaphor user simply because they help to give firepower to my presentation.

Use metaphors in a business/sales context: you can use them on your website and blog, and in sales copy generally.  This is on the proviso that you utilize them sparingly and appropriately.

If you engage with people offline you can also use them.

Here is an example:

randy pausch

The late Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  One talk he gave was about obstacles that stand in the way of making our dreams come true:

“But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

Can you use this example?  I know I can.  Simply modify it to suit your business.  You could use it in a variety of ways.  For example, if you’re in direct sales you could use it as a closing device when faced with a procrastinating prospect.

The best metaphors are those that relate to your own situation (eg if you love tennis use a tennis metaphor to give your point more oomph).

Write Your Own Story

Even if you don’t feel comfortable writing you should do it anyway.  The mere act of writing a story will hone your skills and get you very clear on a few things such as future direction, the value you provide, and your place in the market.

So that’s where you should start.  Write a story about your business and your vision for it.  Once you’ve done that you can weave elements of your story into your marketing which might include your About page, and your blog (assuming you have one).

Of course, make sure your story is relevant to your audience which is always the golden rule of marketing.

When you write your business story the real value you provide will go deep inside your psyche.  It will be core to you and will give you the additional impetus to drive your business forward.

How to Jump-Start Your Sales With Powerful Stories

Rather than just launch into a full-on pitch for your product or service a smarter approach is to lead with a story first.  You can then use your story as a bridge into your product.

Remember most people are not as motivated by hard facts as they are by a compelling narrative.

For instance, I often tell the story of my business downfall in 2006.  I tell people how the walls came crashing down (yikes – a metaphor!) and almost in the blink of an eye, my life changed forever.  I then flesh it out with some graphic ‘subplots’ which illustrated the pain I was going through at the time.

Knowing that everyone loves a happy ending I then told the reader (or listener) how I overcome the crisis and ultimately triumphed.

If you’re a public speaker you can take the same approach – illustrate your important points with interesting and entertaining stories.  But make sure you get the structure right – all good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

KISS Formula (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Think of Steve Jobs unveiling the iPad. It was both technical (equipment) and emotional (hip, cool, and visionary). But most of all, it was simple.

Above all be real, be authentic.  People can spot a fake a mile off.  Dig deep and share the real you with your audience.

Even if you’re selling a technical product you can still use stories to add life to your presentation.

The End Of This Story, Or Is It?

Well, this lesson represents the beginning.  I’ve kick-started the topic to get you thinking, and hopefully to move you to the point where you’re taking some action, no matter how small.

As you develop the narrative for your business and products you may well find that the vision for your business expands mightily.  If yes, let me know – I too love a happy ending (or is it just the beginning?).

No Engagement? No Hope 

If you want to make money on social media platforms like Facebook, you must get engagement happening.

How to do that?

Well, there are many techniques I use, but one of them is this: Be an engaging person.

So if someone reaches out to you (or vice versa), engage with them.

You’re not mute – giving one syllable answers is not the way to do it.

It’s called social media for a reason. Frankly, people who refuse to learn how to engage effectively should quit – they’re wasting their time.

That’s not you, right? Yay! Learn about tribe building, engagement methods, and how to generate warm leads. Do it here: TRIBE BUILDER PLUS.

Your Homework

Write a short story. Even a 200-word story is ok. The topic could be anything that takes your fancy. Maybe a childhood story, a slice of life story (if something funny happened to you recently – why not write about it?), or perhaps a small business story. (Small stories work well.) Then post it in my Facebook group for a free critique (there’s that ‘free’ word again): Tribe Builder Community.

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