“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
That brief sentence displays the power of storytelling. Legend says (probably falsely) that Ernest Hemingway wrote that six-word story. True or not, those six words contain power. Humans are so wired for story that we fill in the blanks without prompting. With only those words, we can guess the story.
If you want proof of the power of storytelling, watch children play. Their entire lives revolve around story. They create adventure after adventure with their minds as their prime tool. Sometimes they play the hero, sometimes they play the villain. The story itself is often wildly imaginative and complex.
Humans Are Wired for Story
Even as adults, we are so wired for stories that we play them inside our heads all day long. In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gotschall says the average daydream is 14 seconds long and we average 2,000 daydreams per day. These are the stories we tell ourselves, the snippets of conversations that we imagine, the replay of interactions we had or wish we’d had, the future interactions we hope will take place.
If the power of storytelling is so great inside our own minds, what can stop it? You guessed it—story. The movie projector in your head stops only when you dive deep into another story outside yourself.
Think about the last great TV show that you watched. You were engrossed in the action, dying to know what happens next. The action inside your own head stops as you are drawn in by this new story. You feel the same emotions, have the same reactions as the person you are watching or listening to.
Story Is An Invitation
Your pitch, your ad, your marketing is the speed bump. You are fouling up someone else’s daydream with your interruption. A story is an invitation. An ad is an intrusion. If you are marketing services or products, always remember this. Your ad, pitch, or cold call is an intrusion on someone’s day. Even if you have the most wonderful thing to sell, you must, in every instance, overcome the idea that you are an intruder.
You overcome that idea with the power of storytelling. Offer a story that is relevant, interesting, and captivating, and tell it to the right audience. People ignore what does not matter to them. If you are talking to the wrong audience, then you might as well be talking to yourself. It’s okay to have an agenda. Consumers are sophisticated and cynical. They expect you to have an agenda if you are trying to sell them something. All they ask is that your agenda be relevant to them. Tell your story to the people who genuinely want to know the outcome.
Logic Is the Gunpowder; Story Is the Match
So how do you insert story in a way that matters? Focus on why and not how or what. Answering why taps into the emotions. The how and what rely on logic. Those are the facts and figures about what you have to sell. Logic may be the gunpowder of your pitch, but emotion is the match. The logic lies inert until the emotion sets it on fire.
People don’t connect with statistics. They don’t connect with logic. They don’t connect with reason. They connect with story.
“After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics.” —Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick
The biggest question you can answer for the consumer is “What’s in it for me?” Make them the center of your story and they will listen.
I’m thinking about storytelling a lot late because I’m writing a new book—Tell Me A Story: Harness the Power of Story to Market Your Product, Your Service, Yourself. I’m writing it to offer my clients tips on how to insert story successfully in all of their marketing materials. I’ll let you know when it’s available.
What about you? How do you insert it in your marketing? What are your most powerful stories?
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