When I took my first statistics course in graduate school, I felt lost. “Statistics is a whole different way of thinking,” a more advanced classmate said helpfully.
The most helpful advice came from a professor who told our (mostly terrified) class, “Study statistics with a pen and notebook nearby. Draw pictures. If you’ve got a problem about taking two marbles out of a jar, draw the two marbles.”
Somehow drawing didn’t seem to fit the serious, left-brained world of statistics…but it worked. To this day when I read an article with statistics, I’ll often draw a diagram.
I thought of this example when someone recently told me, “I have to admit, I don’t understand the fuss about storytelling. It seems more like entertainment.”
Storytelling often gets presented as right-brained creative activity. No wonder business owners often resist adding stories to their marketing mix.
The problem is, a lot of storytelling books focus on story structure. They draw analogies with storytelling from movies, especially those from Pixar. Or they evoke memories of campfires, fairy tales and even bedtime stories.
And of course it doesn’t make sense. Bedtime stories are supposed to put you to sleep. Marketing stories are supposed to inspire you to take action.
Anyway, business stories aren’t about being creative. They’re about straightforward narratives, presented in a professional way, chosen to support a marketing goal. They’re not particularly right-brained.
You know you’ve told your best business story when your audience gives you the reaction you’ve been seeking. They sign up for your lead magnet. They forward your message. They listen to you more carefully and respect you as an authority and (if you prefer the term) thought leader.
Business storytelling begins with strategy.
What’s the goal you hope to reach with this story? There’s no right answer. An established business owner with a list that’s more like a fan club will tell different stories than a business owner who’s newer to marketing or who chooses a different way to relate to her audience.
Sometimes a story actually gets in the way of what you want to accomplish. But sometimes only a story — the right story — will achieve your goals. And business owners who resist story telling will miss out on opportunities to establish value and authority in the marketplace.
Example 1: A Success Story Shows Why We Should Believe This Author
For instance, I’ve been reading Shawn Driscoll’s kindle book on Love-Based Business Models. I’ve read a lot of books on that topic and frankly wondered how these models might help a real live business owner.
Then Shawn told a story about an executive coach she calls “Sharon,” someone who’d been advised to start a blog and write a book. Sharon found these activities tedious and frustrating, as well as unprofitable. She wanted to be “out and about,” connecting with thought leaders. After taking Shawn’s assessment, Sharon realized she scored low on qualities related to creating information products and off the chart on qualities relating to building relationships and inspiring others. She found ways to get in front of potential clients in live settings. Her business took off.
That story clarified exactly how Shawn’s system of business models would benefit my clients (and me, too). This type of story would be a success story, highlighting the way she helps her clients achieve the results they wanted. It would be hard to communicate the value of Shawn’s system without a story.
Example 2: Defusing Reactions To A Sensitive Topic
To take another example, Marcia wanted to set the stage for a presentation on conflict resolution. She wanted to show that reasonable, strong people often became extremely angry when confronted with unfairness in everyday life. The incidents of unfairness might seem trivial but were very important to the individuals involved. And Marcia knew her audience would be quick to dismiss anyone who came across as a “poor-me” victim.
She chose a story about a basketball team playing as the visiting team. The home team kept committing fouls — some potentially flagrant — and the referees kept ignoring them. Finally one of the players on the visiting team yelled at the referee, “I don’t care if that guy is who he is. He fouled! Call it!”
The player knew he’d probably get called on a technical himself, but he was so angry at the injustice, at that point, he didn’t care.
The story worked for Marcia’s audience because nearly all were sports fans. They immediately “got” that this story wasn’t unusual. It’s a concept story, and in my book on storytelling, I explain that concept stories can easily misfire. That actually happened to me when I was presenting to a group of tech folks in Philadelphia. I used my football analogy to explain web development (“copywriter as quarterback, designer as offensive line”) and was met by rows of people staring at me blankly. You can see a short video of that presentation here.
Both examples show stories that drew on a unique combination of left-brain strategy and right-brain playful creativity. Yes, they had some entertainment value — but that was beside the point. They helped these business owners reach meaningful goals and make serious points.
BTW, I’m happy to work with you on developing, telling and sharing your own stories. Begin here if you’d like to set up a consultation. You can apply the cost of this consultation to most larger projects. If you’e never worked with me before, you’re invited to start with a laser session — 45 super-productive minutes for just $97. Click here to set it up.
And don’t miss this one … For the summer, I’ve created a new offer to help get your writing done. Many clients tell me their vacations are spoiled by thoughts of all the copywriting projects that need to get done…yet they don’t want to commit to weeks or months or working with a copywriter. Check out the Day of Copywriting Summer Special … and spend a day at the beach while I write your copy. It’s generating interest, so check it out now if it might be something you can use or recommend to your clients (ask me about my referral program if you’ve got someone in mind).]
Coming up soon: Are you looking for ways to establish yourself as the go-to brand in your industry? Establishing expertise and gaining credibility — without boasting — can be challenging. I’ve got some live FREE training on how to use storytelling to become The Expert, in a completely professional way. Click here to learn more.