Nobody remembers you unless you tell a good story.
To do a good job in marketing or sales, you need to be good at telling stories. Some people may know this instinctively because it’s how they first learn their own product–through hearing other marketers and salespeople tell and re-tell good stories about their products or customers. But somewhere along the way this lesson gets lost. This can happen when people know too much and so they get in their own way with bad habits like feature-selling, which is listing off the reasons why your product is better but not explaining why it matters. But good storytelling engages your customers and can make your messages far more memorable and thus far more effective.
Storytelling Makes A Difference
How does storytelling make a difference? Let’s explore two versions of the same message:
Addison walked by a dealership and bought a car. It had four hundred horsepower, wide seats, a full floating rear axle, and there were 3 total cup holders.
Addison was bored of work, but she was stuck paying off student loans with no escape in sight. What could bring a little joy to her life? A more enjoyable ride to work. She traded her old sedan in for a faster coupe and never regretted it.
How much did you remember of each? And in which one did you understand why Addison bought a new car? When you stuff your marketing content or sales pitch full of features, you sound like Story 1 and your message is easily forgettable. And trust me, every company has their version of offering “more cup holders.” So how do you set yourself apart? Tell a story like the second one, which is much better and more memorable because it provided the critical elements of a story that allow the audience to relate.
What are those critical elements? They’re characters, plot, conflict, and resolution. That’s it. All good stories have these pieces and once you know how to assemble them, your pitch will improve dramatically. Let’s take a look at how this Workday commercial provides each of these elements, and then discuss how you can incorporate them into your story:
4 Elements of Effective Storytelling
1. Characters: The point of your story is to get the listener to place him or herself in shoes of the character(s)—to relate to them. As your character experiences something, so does your audience. If your character learns a lesson, your audience learns a lesson. So the first step is to give them characters they can relate to, complete with some flaws and desires.
You’ll find that most business jargon is written in the third-person and thus is impossible to recall because it’s missing a character, do give your audience someone to relate to. In the Workday commercial above, the characters are the disgruntled employees of a company. Chances are, you get them and can make sense of who they are.
2. Plot: The plot provides the buildup to the conflict; it tells the listener how we got here. The employees in the commercial are faced with company downsizing, streamlining, and cuts. Leading the viewer to want to know: What comes next?
3. Conflict: Something has to go wrong. Otherwise, what are we taking away from this? Every story has its conflict, from Luke Skywalker battling the Evil Empire to Hansel and Gretel confronting the witch. In marketing or sales, the conflict is called the “pain” or the customer challenge. It’s loosing revenue, wasting time, tarnishing image, etc.
As the commercial continues, it shows how frustrated the employees are getting from all the cuts happening and pans over to the finance and HR systems that are calling the shots.
4. Resolution: This is the takeaway that you want your customer to have. Now that they’re hooked and identifying with the main character, they’re thinking, “how is this person going to get out of this one?” You need to show them how the person solved it, and you better bet they solved it using a product (your product). That’s why stories are so important in marketing and sales. The customers associate the character’s problem, one that they are facing, with the solution that you are offering. It is one that is brilliant, simple, and entirely underused by communicators.
Now let’s bring it all together. Suddenly, a solution drops down from above. With Workday, at just a press of a button, you can have one system that helps your entire organization grow and identify untapped talent and open new markets. It doesn’t just trim the excess, like other systems, but helps you grow your organization.
Tell a Good Story About Your Brand
The best stories will apply a solution to someone’s problem. Your customer could buy a number of other products instead of yours, so identify what will make them go to you. Make a connection between what they want and what you offer. To apply storytelling techniques, start looking at the stories that you already tell your customers. Are you missing any of these pieces? And how is your delivery? A good delivery can accentuate the effects so remember to be conscious of your tone and use appropriate visuals. You can try assembling good stories around your current customer successes and see what impact they have. Look at the testimonials, customer reviews or short-form case studies that your marketing team has already made for inspiration.
A well delivered story can mean the difference between a customer getting excited about your product or them telling you, “don’t call us, we’ll call you” or simply unsubscribing. If you get the second set of responses, don’t be discouraged. Ask yourself whether you’re telling people great stories or going on about how many cup holders you offer.
How are your storytelling skills and what has your team found that works for sharing them? Share in the comments below.