Keith Quesenberry and Michael Coolsen, researchers at Johns Hopkins University, have recently proven the power of storytelling. In a study published in the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, the duo analyzed 108 commercials from the 2014 Super Bowl to determine their specific selling strategies. They found that those ads with the most developed plots tended to be more successful than those that only featured adorable animals or attractive stars. In other words, no matter what the content of the ad is, the structure of the content alone determined if the ad was successful. Those 30-second ads that told a more complete story incorporating elements of a dramatic structure were the most popular. Sure, you might be wondering how to adapt your sales pitch to tell a story without it taking all afternoon. But if Super Bowl ads can do it in 30 seconds, you shouldn’t need to write a novel either.
Here are 6 tips that should help you tell a great story.
How to Tell An Epic Story: One of the most prolific storytellers of our time is President Barack Obama—and the voters bought what he was selling. In this blog post, we’ve combined tips from Jon Favreau, one of Obama’s leading speechwriters during is historic rise to fame in 2007 and 2008, with our knowledge from the business world to get you telling stories like a pro. Here’s what we recommend:
1. Choose the right story.
First ask yourself the question: What is the story I’m trying to sell? If you can’t keep it simple, then you should choose a different story to tell. You can focus on the exact words you use later. Like Obama, if you start with clear rhetoric and add arguments and anecdotes later, you will draw your listeners in, get their attention from the beginning and speak their language.
2. Keep it short and simple.
The longer your spiel gets, the more confusing and forgettable it will be. Your goal is to be memorable, and therefore, you should keep it as short and simple as possible.
3. Build objection handling into your story.
When trying to sell the idea of health care reform to the American people in 2009, the most important part of Obama’s speech was when he listed the arguments that his opponents would think of and contradicted them. Good sales stories do this, too. Handle the main objections before others even have a chance to think of them. The good news for you is that you don’t have to sell Obama’s health care plan. Your product should be a bit more marketable, especially if you keep the 4 most common sales objections in mind as you create your story. These objections typically constitute the ‘rising action’ or ‘crisis’ element in your plot.
4. Be a credible expert.
You do not need to be the world’s leading expert on the topic, but you do need to appear to be an expert. Your audience relies on you to give them accurate information, so whatever you say in your story make sure that you fact check — especially statistics, historical anecdotes and scientific stats. If you’re drawing an example from an area that is not your main expertise, use research from widely accepted and peer-reviewed sources, and, if at all possible, consult with experts directly. This way you will appear to be an expert that they can trust. Weave these facts into your story.
5. Connect Using Empathy.
Would your target customers care? Is this interesting to them? Think about how your story might connect with the type of person you are targeting. In Favreau words, “You have to know what the world looks like when you are in their shoes. One of the reasons why Obama’s speeches are so successful is because they are written in the language that his audience understands, addressing the issues they are facing.”
6. Persuasion Requires Inspiration.
Stories can touch people’s hearts and when you do so your listeners are most likely to act. While data and facts might convince people, logic alone often can’t motivate people to take action. That is why you need to tell a story that both inspires people and weaves the other elements mentioned above into it. If you can do that effectively, you will be able to use storytelling to land deals that you never could before. How can you inspire best? Have characters your audience can empathize with, make them feel your main character’s pain and joy and don’t forget to make sure your story has a dramatic structure. Need an example? Take a look at the most memorable 30-second ad from the 2014 Super Bowl. Notice the elements of the dramatic structure while you do so. It should come as no surprise that storytelling—an art that has been used and perfected over thousands of years by notable humans such as Aristotle—works to connect with people. So why not unlock the potential of storytelling to connect your products with more potential customers?