We live in a world of stories! From the stories that lulled us to sleep as a child to the heroic tale of the underdog that we read in our newspaper, we are reassured and inspired in equal measure.
Not only do stories help us make sense of the world, they can elevate our thoughts and make us believe (even if it is only for a moment) that anything is possible, so it is no surprise that we all love stories!
And that’s exactly what makes them such a powerful marketing tool.
When I ask what makes a good story? The typical response is that the content has to be interesting, exciting or amusing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A compelling story has little to do with the content and everything to do with the structure.
All stories, whatever the content, follow the same simple structure:
You start by setting the scene (A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …)
- You then have a problem (… the Rebel Alliance needs to destroy the Death Star…)
- Then there is rising tension as the problem can’t be solved (…Princess Leia is captured by Imperial Forces and hides the plans in R2-D2 …)
- Then you have the climax or tipping point (…The Millennium Falcon with Han Solo and Luke Skywalker is captured…)
- Then there is the resolution (…Han Solo and Luke Skywalker rescue Leia and recover the plans …)
- And finally, you have a new status quo (… Luke Skywalker uses The Force to destroy the Death Star…)
In business, the key is to use the above structure to present your business story in a compelling fashion that touches your audience and encourages your clients to take action. But before you start, a word of warning: your story must be authentic and based on truth and reality. Above all it must not just be a sales pitch.
When composing your story, begin by considering the ‘why’ of your business. In fact, while you are at it, go the whole hog and consider Rudyard Kipling’s piece of wisdom “I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew): Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.”
Nearly every business solves a problem and the above questions will help you realise clearly what problem or problems you are solving.
Now, think of a client who you are most proud of helping – it is their story you need to tell.
Always construct the end of the story FIRST – it’s easier to start a journey if you know the destination. Paint a picture of how the client felt after you had helped them (the ‘…and they all lived happily ever after’ line).
Now go back to the beginning of the story and set the scene
- Explain how you helped them realise that they had a problem
- Describe how this problem was affecting them
- Outline what the long-term consequences of inaction would have been
- Explain the resolution – how you can help them with the solution
- Explain how wonderful the client felt at the end of the journey and how much better the new Status Quo was.
There are some important points to remember to make your story really effective:
Make the client (or someone like them) the hero of the story
- If the story is about another client, make sure the person you are telling will think “they are just like me”
- Never make yourself the hero – it is their story, you are just the guide
- You must include a pivot point, a moment of tension, without this you will not have a story
Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned tool – and it is. That’s exactly what makes it so powerful. A story can go where logic, numbers and analysis cannot: our hearts.
Data can persuade people but it cannot call them to action. Nothing can fire the imagination or awaken the soul like a story. No one knew this better than trial lawyer, Moe Levine.
Acting for a client who had lost both arms in an accident, Mr. Levine dispensed with a long closing argument or logic and numbers. Instead he told the shortest of stories that led to one of the largest awards in the history of the State of New York. This is what he said:
“As you know, about an hour ago we broke for lunch. I saw the bailiff come and take you all, as a group, to have lunch in the jury room. Then I saw the defence attorney, Mr. Horowitz. He and his client decided to go to lunch together. The judge and court clerk went to lunch.
“So, I turned to my client, Harold, and said “Why don’t you and I go to lunch together?” We went across the street to that little restaurant and had lunch.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I just had lunch with my client………. He has no arms……. He has to eat like a dog.
“Thank you very much.”