Storytelling as a way to get your brand noticed is making a splashy comeback in marketing circles for a reason. A well-told story is, and has always been, the single most effective way to get and keep our attention.
Here are 6 tips for connecting with your customer through story.
Tip #1: Break Down Resistance By Making It Personal
We tell stories to entertain but we listen to stories to learn how we might behave under similar circumstances. When we hear a compelling story, we immediately attempt to relate it to one of our existing experiences–it’s how we’re wired and how we learn.
While we’re busy searching our memory for a similar experience, we activate a part of our brain that helps us relate. When the story told centers on heroics, we recall our own heroics; when the story focuses on overcoming hardship or loss (which, let’s face it, we all experience eventually), we remember a time when we acted bravely and compassionately in the face of adversity.
How can your story break down resistance?
When you tell me a story about your business, give me more than just the wins. Tell me about the losses, too. By giving me the truth about the struggle, you’ll tap my emotions and therefore my empathy. Your story has the power to help me bring that level of strength and soul to my own life and business. And that connection has the power to break through my resistance and make me act.
Tip #2: Use The Three Cs of Storytelling: Conflict, Conflict, Conflict
No one loves a good story like the high-powered stock jockeys who call the shots on Wall Street. If a corporation has rebounded from a significant setback (think Apple in the days of Steve Jobs being ousted or the American automobile industry in 2013. Mythic!) all the better to tell the tale to investors looking to fall in love with a comeback, against-all-odds type of story.
Conflict speaks to authenticity, and so telling us what went wrong before things went right will allow us to develop a level of trust we might not have if everything always seems too damn perfect. Show us through your story that you made it past some pretty significant hurdles and your brand and business are all the better for it. No one’s life is perfect and no business always runs smoothly. But that’s ok. We develop character through surviving conflict. Show us your business has character and that it was earned and we’ll return the favor with respect.
Tip #3: And the Three Ds…Detail, Detail, Detail
The devil is in the details when it comes to telling a powerful story.
How important is detail? Science tells us that even the world’s most boring PowerPoint presentation will activate a certain part of our brain that controls language processing called Broca’s area. But when we’re engaged in a truly juicy or wildly fascinating story, rife with detail, many other areas in our brain—not only our imagination centers but those areas governing smell and even taste—are activated too.
According to Princeton Professor of Psychology, Uri Hasson, “Details in a story activate certain very specific areas of the brain so that a listener turns the story into their very own idea and experience.”
Detail is the “show don’t tell” of storytelling, creating mental pictures that go deep and stay put. One way to use detail is through the “Language Of The Senses.” When telling a story, share with us what you see, smell, feel, taste, and hear. That means content that, for example, allows a visitor to your site to imagine they can feel the smooth, buttery leather of the boot they’re considering or taste the freshness of the food described so that their mouth waters and their stomach growls. That level of detail in copy creates images that linger in the subconscious, making it impossible for your customers to resist putting whatever you’re selling in the cart.
Tip #4: Don’t Forget To Talk Up the Team
When you tell the story of your business, don’t forget to talk about your employees and what they mean to your overall success. So often employees attend school, get married and raise their families while they work, and those experiences add color and richness to every aspect of their work.
Spotlighting an employee’s personal story and their contributions to your success signals to your customers your brand values; you respect the team and value their contribution. Introducing your employees to the world will lend a healthy dose of authenticity to your story, too and authenticity triggers an emotional connection. Brain research tells us that when taking action, people quickly reach conclusions based on emotional reactions, then find facts later to support what they’ve decided.
According to Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars, “Whenever you find human-scale characters playing a larger role than facts or proclamations with a clear lesson you can apply to your own life, you know you’re in the presence of the unique persuasion tool known as a story.”
Tip #5: Make A Promise and Keep It
There likely isn’t any single thing more important in a relationship than making and keeping a promise. At the core, making a promise is about setting expectations; keeping it is the follow through. At the heart of every great story is a promise from the writer that says, “I’m leading you down a particular path, but trust me you won’t regret the journey.”
Have you ever seen a movie that had an unforgettable opening scene and didn’t follow through with an equally riveting storyline? You feel cheated that what you were promised up front–a wild ride–didn’t deliver. That’s the sort of thing that gets people talking, and not in a good way.
So you better deliver!
Delivering isn’t all that easy. To tell a compelling story, all the points I’ve covered here need to be considered—conflict, detail, authenticity—but the mechanics of storytelling, like language, pacing and structure, openings and closings and transitions matter, too.
But don’t worry. If you practice enough, you’ll get it right and your customers will thank you by passing your story on.
Which brings me to the final and perhaps, most important, tip…
Tip # 6: Always, Always, Always Entertain
In a media environment where you don’t stand a chance to win anybody’s attention without some serious magic, an entertaining story could save you and your brand from oblivion. According to Lisa Cron in, Wired for Story: The Writers Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers From The Very First Sentence, “the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”
There’s an old trope that writing a great story is like offering a reader a delicious piece of PIE. The PIE stands for Persuade. Inform. Entertain. Basically, when it comes to telling a great story about say, you’re new shoe line, remember at that moment, you’re not in the shoe business, you’re in the storytelling business.
New York Times columnist, Rob Walker, believes that a good story is an end in itself. Whether or not it helps define a brand, sell a product, or make a point, a story must stand on its own. If it only exists to thinly disguise a marketing message, you’re not fooling anyone. Tell the true and authentic stories of the people who touch ever aspect of your business and you will have entertained, revealed and connected with the people who matter most.