Hard selling is exhausting — not only for you, but also for your business. Yes, it’s possible to make a sale by force-feeding people ideas about your product.
Get this amazing, top-of-the-line doodad today, and life will be so easy! Choose this incredible product over our competitors because all your friends have it!
The problem? It’s hard to gain lasting traction with customers using salesy marketing tactics. These days, people have so many places to shop and ways to bypass your small business altogether. If you put all your resources into chasing sales, you will burn out and miss people with high potential to become loyal customers.
Why you need storytelling for business success
Good storytelling creates a sustainable relationship between buyers and sellers. Instead of telling people exactly what to think about your product, you invite them to feel something. Aggressive ads are directive, while stories are evocative.
So, why does the delivery method matter if the details are still the same? The human brain has to process heaps of information, and it’s picky about what to keep or discard. Stories provide a way to organize information, so it’s easier to remember.
Stories are also powerful because we remember actions and emotions better than facts. Most people can picture a movie sequence just from hearing a famous quote. The emotions you felt in the moment draw you back to the scene anytime you hear the familiar dialogue.
Crafting effective stories to grow your business
As you plan a marketing strategy, focus on ways to use stories to connect with customers. Think about who your customers are and how your products fit into their lives.
What do they value in a business, and what factors drive customers away from a brand? If you’re not convinced that you’re a storyteller, try these techniques to get started.
1. Set up a compelling conflict
Conflict is what transforms loose information into a narrative. A story takes shape once you have a problem to drive action and bring about results.
In business storytelling, the conflict should be a common problem you can solve for customers. Yet, the sheer amount of competition today can make it difficult to set yourself apart. Even with a narrow selling point, you can use storytelling for business differentiation. To build a story, answer these questions:
- What type of customer am I trying to reach?
- What are some ongoing sources of frustration for the customer?
- What solutions are currently missing from the market?
- How can I fill a gap in the customer experience?
- What problems did I face in my quest to create great products?
You don’t have to be the biggest business or the market leader to tell great stories. Imagine running a tutoring business with loads of cheap freelance tutors in the area. If you have a strong track record, why not showcase a struggling student who went on to a great college or career?
If you offer customer support outside of sessions, share a story about an anxious student who had questions before a big exam. What if you’re the only tutor offering multilingual services? Now, you have the perfect ingredients for an American Dream tale about a foreign-speaking student succeeding in school.
2. Appeal to the senses
Many sensory experiences are universal, so just about everyone can relate to them. Draw people into your world by showing them how your product feels, tastes, looks, sounds, or smells. Ever notice how lotion commercials show close-ups of dry skin? How about food blogs devoted to comparing the flavor of ingredient substitutions or cooking methods?
To appeal to the senses, think about the ideal experience for customers. What problems or desires drive them to seek out this experience? What takes away from the experience?
West Elm did a great job of selling the appearance of products with its “house-proud” commercials. The message? People can buy subpar furniture everywhere. But owning stylish and sophisticated West Elm furniture is a status-boosting rite of passage that makes your guests impressed and envious.
3. Explain a product or process
Instructional stories accomplish two things. They prove you know what you’re talking about and teach customers something valuable. But remember, you don’t want to bore people with facts or talk down to them. Good instructional stories spark curiosity by showing a better way to do something.
Canadian startup Unbounce lined up a customer base before the company even had a product. How? Unbounce creates landing pages and uses analytics tools to see which pages perform the best.
The founders started a blog and shared marketing and web design tips to get more sales conversions online. They built trust and showed their expertise, making it easy to lock in customers once they were ready to sell.
4. Chronicle your history or culture
Businesses don’t spring up from nowhere. You have trials and tribulations. You have occasional strokes of genius. You have a team with just the right chemistry. Basically, you have an entire history and ethos that defines your business.
Use your company culture to connect emotionally and make customers want to do business with you. Here are some common sources for stories:
- Origins: Why does your business exist? Were you inspired by a relative? A bad product experience? An accidental idea? A setback?
- Traditions: What activities do employees do together? What routine or annual events do you participate in?
- Staff: Who are the people behind your business? What are their passions and quirks? How do employees contribute to your success?
- Meaningful encounters: Did an experience with a customer influence your business model? Did a mentor or business partner send you on a serendipitous path?
- Brand promise: How do you go above and beyond to deliver? How do you tailor services to make customers happy? What ethical or sustainable business practices set you apart?
5. Highlight an aspiration or opportunity
At the end of the day, we all want to feel good about ourselves. That’s why aspirational, moral, and social stories are the perfect way to grab attention. People are drawn to products that bring them closer to their ideal selves. Create an opportunity for customers to excel in their own eyes.
- Aspirational: Satisfy a goal or ambition (ex. eating healthier, sticking to resolutions or planning the perfect party)
- Moral: Stand up for good values or make the community better (ex. caring for animals or donating to charity)
- Social: Fit in with others or be influential among friends (ex. inspiring envy, being first to hear about new products)
Storytelling allows you to create a frame of reference to guide your audience. You aren’t telling people what to think. You’re focusing on the details most important to your message, so customers hold onto that information.
You can apply these storytelling methods to a wide range of marketing channels, including images. Just make sure your stories have an arc.
Think about the starting point, the conflict, and the conclusion. What information do you want customers to have after they process the entire story? What emotions do you want people to feel when engaging with your stories.
Never stop learning about your audience. Customer needs and interests change, but you can keep crafting great stories if you know what matters to them. Not to mention, the lessons you pick up along the way could inspire your next round of memorable stories.
Still not convinced? Learn how storytelling helps convey your business differentiator.