Don't sell your story. Tell your story.
No one likes a pushy salesperson.
When they call, you hang up. When they knock on the door, you close the blinds and turn off the lights. Salespeople, for all their virtues (yes, there are some), get as much respect for their profession as corporate attorneys and politicians.
That’s why the art of storytelling is an invaluable tool for any business or individual savvy enough to use it.
Consumers today are inundated with so much marketing and advertising content that many are desynthesized — and repulsed — by overt selling (I count myself among this brethren). The secret to getting their attention is to tell a story that evokes feeling, demonstrates value and urges the audience to action.
Here are three big reasons telling your story is more beneficial than selling it.
1) Stories create connection
I was about seven when I mustered the courage to tell my first story.
It was a tale of daring and adventure about a warrior prince (he may have been inspired by a certain warrior princess dominating the ratings at the time) who traveled around the world with his female companion (it was platonic) righting wrongs and fighting evil. He wielded a sword, occasionally wore a crown (because why not?) and sounded a high-pitched war cry.
I bet you my mother still remembers those stories (and I’d win that bet because I called her to verify #journalism).
Therein is the power of storytelling. Stories captivate our attention, attach to our memory and stoke our imaginations. A good story might even teach you a lesson or two.
Your brand story can have the same effect.
Storytelling connects you with your audience. When you put away the sales jargon and start communicating like an actual human, you’re no longer a nameless logo pushing a product. Now, you’re an individual with something valuable to offer. You’re an expert who can resolve your consumers’ problems. You’re a friend with ideals, beliefs and principles that align with your customers’.
2) Stories make you feel
Ever wonder why Superman, a swole alien sporting tight blue pants and red undies, is still popular after all these years? (Geek alert: The character turns 80 this year.)
It’s the story.
Stories incite emotional response. Millions of people love Superman for the ideals he represents. We’ve learned about those ideals in the countless comics, cartoons, TV shows and movies that have been part of pop culture for decades. And no matter how he looks — young or old, Christopher Reeve or Henry Cavill — those ideals remain the same. The crux of Superman's story doesn't change and yet it still inspires loyalty in tons of fans.
Don’t take this comic geek’s word for it. It’s science.
In a 2014 article published in the Harvard Business Review, neuroeconomist Paul Zak writes that when humans hear stories, our brains release oxytocin, a chemical that promotes connection and empathy, giving our brains signals that the person we’re listening to can be trusted. That’s why storytelling engages us. Stories disarms us. They make us feel good. And they help us relate to other people.
3) Stories = sales
If there’s a single ad that will stop me from inhaling an entire Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, it’s one produced by ChildFund International (formerly Christian Children’s Fund).
Those commercials, with solemn music and images of shoeless children scrounging for food, punch me in the gut each time and make me want to empty my bank account to sponsor every starving child on earth. It's an effective strategy: the organization raised more than $235 million in 2016 to help children and families around the world.
People are willing to support and pay for something they believe in. A strong story and engaging narrative move beyond the dollars and cents and help people understand the heart of your business or organization. More importantly, the story elicits empathy that, like Superman, will foster allegiance.
Brands such as TOM Shoes and SoapBox Soaps have made their stories their strongest sales tools. Even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gets it — hence, the heart-wrenching Sarah McLachlan commercials.
Tell your story in a compelling way, and what you’re selling becomes an added benefit.
Because I'm just nice like that: Here’s a not-at-all-exhaustive list of brands excelling at storytelling (in my opinion): Bevel, Microsoft, Publix, Nike, Dawn (yes, the dish detergent company) and The LEGO Movie (because, um, Legos).