Some of the best storytellers in history told so much more that just ‘stories.’ Some told parables with deeper meanings, some spun tales that seemed like stories on the surface but were really maps, others inspired nations saying they had a dream. The best stories are the ones where the storyteller gets out of the way as fast as possible, and lets the listener take over.
A story has a simple function – to educate. And education has a basic function – to empower someone to act. Humans are story-driven animals; we make decisions based on stories that we can relate to, and that motivate us. The role of media at its core is a story engine. It pumps out movies, TV shows, commercials, speeches, and documentaries that weave a pattern of stories that help to form our cultures and societies. Whether we are aware of it or not, these stories influence our decision-making on a daily basis.
We buy a phone based on the fact that its manufacturer tells us “There’s an App for That.” We buy shoes to go running because their maker says “Just Do It.” We choose our leaders based on stories of “flip flopping.” Even though these are one-liners, they are stories nonetheless. They are the first sentence in a story that is finished in the mind of the consumer. In fact, these type of stories, one-liners with an open-ending, are some of the most influential pieces of marketing that can be crafted.
Your purchasing habits, goals for your future, religious beliefs, the friends you keep, and even your dreams are driven by stories.
If you want to sell someone something, don’t sell them on features, sell them on a story. Sure, at first, the story might not be theirs. For all intents and purposes, in the beginning stage of the sales process, they are stuck with the story you are telling them, but if you tell them the story in the right way you can get them to pick up where your story left off. As a kid, I used to sell computers, and being a gear head I found that I could talk someone’s ear off upon the features and technological breakthroughs of the machine they were looking at. What I found to be most successful was to avoid telling them what the features meant to me, and instead showing them what the features could mean to them. For example, if I knew that the person was a novice with a computer, and I could tell they were overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of a computer (back in the mid-nineties mind you) I would start with something like this “Say you’re at home and you can’t get your printer to work…” Suddenly, I have started to spin a story that they can relate with. Then I would build up the suspense by supporting the fact that they don’t have the foggiest clue as to how to fix it. Then I’d lay out their options for them: call a technician for a house call, lug it into a repair depot, or….I would pause and start moving the mouse on the desktop. I’d continue “or, simply click this button on your screen for help.” The computer’s modem would buzz and boink and then a support person would answer “How may I help you?” Suddenly, this complex thing-a-ma-jigger seemed easily tamed by my prospective buyer. They feel compelled to take the mouse and start clicking around.
The story worked! Well…the beginning of the story worked. All I had to do was start the story about some time in their future (probably not-too-distant) where they’d need help, and they took it from there. The sale came not because I sold them on the speed of the processors or the storage space, but because I overcame their fears. Once fears were overcome, they felt empowered to take it from there. I know for a fact that I made repeat sales from people who went home and recounted the same story to their friends “So, say that I have a problem with my computer…” They were giving me referrals just by retelling my story that I started for them.
Stories are ingrained in our lives whether you are making the move to buy a computer, convincing someone to rethink their laws because you have convinced them that you are “the 1%”, or making your life easier because someone told you “there is an app for that.”
That’s the end of this story.
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