Have you leveraged storytelling to increase your conversions? What is your experience, and how do you respond to other people’s stories?
It’s no secret that advertisers use sex to sell their products.
This catchy marketing strategy has been popular since the eighteen century and is showing no signs of slowing down. BUT there is another ‘S’ that sells even more than sex.
Sex and advertising go together like akara and bread.
And these days, sex is everywhere.
It’s no secret that advertisers use sex to sell their products.
This catchy marketing strategy has been popular since the eighteen centuryand is showing no signs of slowing down.
Recently, more and more brands have adopted this strategy and now numerous products ranging from clothing, web hosting companies to fast-food employ some form of sexual content to promote their products and services.
BUT there is another ‘S’ that sells even more than sex
Stories Sell More
A story is an entertaining way to deliver an important message. It’s an effective way to help you connect with someone.
My mentor told me
“It’s hard not to like someone once you know their story.”
People buy from people or companies they like. People connect with stories that move them and most every business can and should tell a story that helps prospects and customers connect at a deeper level.
The right story, told at the right time, with the right point has the ability to shift the conversation from logic to imagery and emotion, thereby reducing defensiveness from your prospects.
Your competition has data, features and benefits and a pretty good product maybe at a cheaper price. Why should your client choose you or choose to stay with you?
The answer lies in the intangibles… trust, integrity, credibility and a relationship that no other vendor can touch.
The only thing your competition doesn’t have, is YOU.
And what stands you out from the crowd is your story.
You should share content. You should run special promotions. But those, more often than not, appeal to the logic centers of the brain. It’s stories that bypass the logic center and go directly into people’s emotions. Remember selling is an emotional process.
In today’s marketing world, we are not dealing with reason. Rather, we are dealing with emotions. Facts are rational, stories are emotional. Marketing is not the business of sharing facts, but the business of telling a story.
Your origin story is what got you into this business. What problem or gap did you see in the industry? What motivated you to take action and start this business? It’s both inspirational and demonstrates why you’re different from the competition.
Science Behind Story Telling
How they stimulate the emotional side of our brain…
When we listen to a standard presentation or boring lecture, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated. This area deals with language and logic. In contrast, when we are told a story with rich meaning and visual cues, things change dramatically. Both the right and left sides are activated.
The right side (creative side) is engaged and stimulated.
Stories grip us and help us experience emotions.
Storytelling evokes a strong neurological response.
Neuroeconomist Paul Zak‘s research indicates that our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during the tense moments in a story, which allows us to focus, while the cute factor of the animals releases oxytocin, the feel-good chemical that promotes connection and empathy.
Other neurological research tells us that a happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward center, to release dopamine which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic.
In one experiment after participants watched an emotionally charged movie about a father and son, Zak asked study participants to donate money to a stranger. With both oxytocin and cortisol in play, those who had the higher amounts of oxytocin were much more likely to give money to someone they’d never met.
Happiness is one emotion that makes us want to take action.
When your content drives people to a state of happiness or joy, they will automatically respond to your offers, feel obliged to share your content, and will stop at nothing to tell others about you.
This is because happiness is hard-wired into the human brain. When experienced, it’s found in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain. It literally functions from there. But it may remain dormant until something – such as a story – triggers it.
They are more likely to take action after a story – join your newsletter, share or comment on your blog, buy your product, etc
The Four types of Stories
The Passion Story
The is often the owner’s story, a tale of why they started the business, how the business serves their own personal mission or purpose in life. Why they get up and go to work, why they love what they do or what happened in life that set them on their current path. You should have seen a lot of this type of stories.
The Purpose Story
This is mostly the story about why you do what you do in business and not at all about what you do. For many people this can be a story about mission or higher calling, but it can also be about who you serve and why.
The Positioning Story
This is the story that illustrates how you want the market to perceive your brand. Of course, perception is partly a goal and partly a measurement because some things are out of your hands. A true positioning story, however, is one that authentically captures your purpose in action – it’s how purpose is packaged in a way that allows the intended market to connect.
The Personality Story
This is the story that gets at how people experience your purpose or brand. This is the story that illustrates the traits that are on display in every action, product, service, decision, hire, process or promotion.
7 Ideal Story plots
1. Overcoming the Monster
Here, the main character sets out to defeat a powerful baddie or evil force that is threatening his or her home.
Often it will seem that the odds are stacked against the hero, but their courage and resourcefulness will help them overcome the threat.
See: David and Goliath, Star Wars, Avatar.
- Talking about succeeding despite the odds being stacked against you
- Discussing the life lessons that an encounter like this teaches you
- Demonstrating how you, your team or company became stronger through adversity
2. Rags to Riches
A hero from humble beginnings gains the thing that he or she wants – money, power, a partner – before losing it and having to fight to get it back again.
The main character usually bites off more than they can chew and can’t cope with their success – before growing personally and regaining what they desire.
See: Cinderella, Great Expectations, The Wolf of Wall Street.
- Talking about the importance of owning up to your mistakes
- Discussing the benefits of taking risks and accepting vulnerabilities
- Demonstrating how your protagonist earned their present-day success
3. Voyage and Return
The main character travels to an unfamiliar place, meeting new characters and overcoming a series of trials, all the while trying to get home. Their new friendships and new found wisdom allow them to find their way back again.
This plot is common in children’s literature because it often involves the main character discovering a magical land to explore.
See: Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, O Brother Where Art Thou.
- Talking about the benefits of opening up to new experiences
- Showing what your protagonist learned on their travels
- Demonstrating the power of friendship
4. The Quest
The hero sets out in search of a specific prize, overcoming a series of challenges and temptations. They may have flaws which have held them back in the past which they will need to overcome to succeed.
He or she is usually accompanied by a group of comrades with complementary skills that support him or her along the way.
See: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief.
- Talking about the importance of sticking to your convictions
- Showing how your protagonist grows emotionally to be able to succeed
- Demonstrating the power of teamwork
A comedy is a light-hearted story which centers on some confusion (often involving misunderstandings or mistaken identities) leading to conflict before a happy conclusion and celebrations.
Sometimes the comedy will focus on a hero and a heroine who are destined to be together – but outside forces keep driving them apart. In the end the confusion is cleared up and everyone resumes their true identity.
See: Pride and Prejudice, Freaky Friday, The Proposal.
- Talking about the early difficulties of a partnership – romantic, social or business
- Discussing what your protagonist learned from negotiating a difficult situation
- Demonstrating how both parties now accommodate and support each other
The main character is a bad or unpleasant person, often the villain, and the story charts his or her downfall, which is presented as a happy ending.
Sometimes the villain will begin to repent for his or her evil ways towards the end of the story, but often it is too late and they die or are ruined anyway. The downfall of the villain allows the remaining ‘good’ characters of the story to flourish.
See: Dorian Gray, Scarface, Sweeney Todd.
- Using the principle character to represent and explain a wider problem in society
- Contrasting your own values and principles with theirs
- Demonstrating how not to do things and what we can learn from their mistakes
The main character is a bad or unpleasant person who is shown the error of their ways and redeems themself over the course of the story.
Usually it takes a redemption figure to help the villain make this transition. Redemption figures usually come in the form of a child or the main character’s love interest, and their job is to reveal how warped the villain’s worldview is and to show them love.
See: Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, Despicable Me.
- Talking about an enlightening experience
- Showing the importance of having support from loved ones
- Demonstrating that everyone has the capacity to change for the better
7 Story Telling Techniques
The monomyth (also called the hero’s journey), is a story structure that is found in many folk tales, myths and religious writings from around the world.
In a monomyth, the hero is called to leave their home and sets out on a difficult journey. They move from somewhere they know into a threatening unknown place.
After overcoming a great trial, they return home with a reward or newfound wisdom – something which will help their community. Lots of modern stories still follow this structure, from the Lion King to Star Wars.
Using the monomyth to shape your sales presentation can help you to explain what has brought you to the wisdom you want to share. It can bring your message alive for your audience.
- Taking the audience on a journey
- Showing the benefit of taking risks
- Demonstrating how you learned some newfound wisdom
My personal entrepreneurial story is the inspiring story of finding my life’s passion, and the difficult path I took to achieve financial independence. I close by offering to help my audience through their journey so they avoid the mistakes I made and experience the success I had.
2. The mountain
The mountain structure is a way of mapping the tension and drama in a story. It’s similar to the monomyth because it helps us to plot when certain events occur in a story.
It’s different because it doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. The first part of the story is given to setting the scene, and is followed by just a series of small challenges and rising action before a climactic conclusion.
It’s a bit like a TV series – each episode has its ups and downs, all building up to a big finale at the end of the season.
- Showing how you overcame a series of challenges
- Slowly building tension
- Delivering a satisfying conclusion
Aimee Mullins uses a mountain-structure speech to tell a personal story – from being born without fibula bones in her lower legs to becoming a famous athlete, actress and model.
3. Nested loops
Nested loops is a storytelling technique where you layer three or more narratives within each other.
You place your most important story – the core of your message – in the centre, and use the stories around it to elaborate or explain that central principle. The first story you begin is the last story you finish, the second story you start is second to last, etc.
Nested loops works a bit like a friend telling you about a wise person in their life, someone who taught them an important lesson. The first loops are your friend’s story, the second loops are the wise person’s story. At the centre is the important lesson.
- Explaining the process of how you were inspired/ came to a conclusion
- Using analogies to explain a central concept
- Showing how a piece of wisdom was passed along to you
E.g Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses the framework of her experiences in university and the way that Africa is perceived in the Western world to drive home her argument about stories during her TED talk.
Sparklines are a way of mapping presentation structures.
The very best speeches succeed because they contrast our ordinary world with an ideal, improved world. They compare what is with what could be.
By doing this the story teller (marketer) draws attention to the problems we have in our society, our personal lives, our businesses. The marketer creates and fuels a desire for change in the audience.
It’s a highly emotional technique that is sure to motivate your audience to support you.
- Inspiring the audience to action
- Creating hope and excitement
- Creating a following
Martin Luther King’s speech is famous the world over because it contrasts the racist, intolerant society of the day with an ideal future society where all races are treated equally.
5. In medias res
In medias res storytelling is when you begin your narrative in the heat of the action, before starting over at the beginning to explain how you got there.
By dropping your audience right into the most exciting part of your story they’ll be gripped from the beginning and will stay engaged to find out what happens.
But be careful – you don’t want to give away too much of the action straight away. Try hinting at something bizarre or unexpected – something that needs more explanation. Give your audience just enough information to keep them hooked, as you go back and set the scene of your story.
- Grabbing attention from the start
- Keep an audience craving resolution
- Focusing attention on a pivotal moment in your story
- See also: An overview of in medias res storytelling at story-papers.com
E.g Zak Ebrahim begins his story with the revelation that his father helped plan the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. His audience is gripped from the beginning, as he begins to recount the events of his childhood and the path he took after his father’s conviction.
With this story, in less than 5 mins on his website, you are already connecting with him.
6. Converging ideas
Converging ideas is a structure that shows the audience how different strands of thinking came together to form one product or idea.
It can be used to show the birth of a movement or membership site. Or explain how a single idea was the culmination of several great minds working towards one goal.
Converging ideas is similar to the nested loops structure, but rather than framing one story with complementary stories, it can show how several equally important stories came to a single strong conclusion.
This technique could be used to tell the stories of some of the world’s greatest partnerships – for example, web developers Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Larry and Sergey met at Stanford’s PhD program in 1995, but they didn’t like each other at first. They both had great ideas, but found working together hard. Eventually they found themselves working on a research project together. A research project that became Google.
- Showing how great minds came together
- Demonstrating how a development occurred at a certain point in history
- Showing how symbiotic relationships have formed
7. False start
A ‘false start’ story is when you begin to tell a seemingly predictable story, before unexpectedly disrupting it and beginning it over again. You lure your audience into a false sense of security, and then shock them by turning the tables.
This format is great for talking about a time that you failed in something and were forced to ‘go back to the start’ and reassess. It’s ideal for talking about the things that you learnt from that experience. Or the innovative way that you solved your problem.
But best of all, it’s a quick attention hack which will disrupt your audience’s expectations and surprise them into paying closer attention to your message.
- Disrupting audience expectations
- Showing the benefits of a flexible approach
- Keeping the audience engaged
Retroactive continuity is when a storyteller goes back and alters the ‘facts’ in their story. If you are a character in the story you’re telling, you can use a false start to go back and retell your own story in a surprising way.
Story Tellers Bloc
Having difficulties coming up with a story? Try these:
1) Lead with dialogue
A lot of the lessons we learn come from conversations we have with each other and people outside of our business. Using those conversations as the starting scene for our contents helps readers feel like they’re in the room, learning along with us.
2) Make something up
No, don’t lie to your audience.
But a fictional story can be every bit as compelling as a true one, if it makes your message more interesting.
3) Focus on emotions
As the research shows, readers connect most deeply to stories that relate to senses: sight, touch, taste, feel and smell.
Using those to guide the way you tell a story can create a powerful emotional connection between you and your audience.
4) Anchor to a story people already know
Incorporating a story in your content doesn’t necessarily mean you have to create one yourself.
There are lots of stories that your readers already know and remember, and you can tap into those memories to illustrate your point.
You can pull stories from just about anywhere: movies, TV shows, books, current events, fables or history, just to name a few.
5) Use pictures
Images can tell stories and capture a reader’s attention just as well as words. Stay away from business stock photos, though, and stick to something your readers can relate to.
Note that your images don’t necessarily have to have anything to do with the subject of your story, as long as they convey the emotion you’re trying to get across.
5) Use Testimonials
You can create emotional stories using your customers success stories and testimonials. This is very powerful. Since I started using success stories to sell my WEBx series, the conversion has more than doubled. You can read the page here
Try it for yourself
Try any (or all!) of the techniques above in your next blog post to harness the power of story.
Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned tool, today — and it is.
That’s exactly what makes it so powerful. Life happens in the narratives we tell one another.
A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts.Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act. To do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.