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6 Ways To Sell with Storytelling

In the early 1960’s, a track and field coach out of Oregon had a ritual he lived by. At the start of every season, he could be found in the locker room, wrapping a measuring tape around the feet of every runner, jotting down measurements on a pad of paper. He believed that if he could remove one ounce from a shoe, based on the gate of a decent runner, he could shave a total of 55 pounds off an athlete’s stride over the course of a mile.

That coach’s name was Bill Bowerman. He would go on to train 51 All-Americans and 31 U.S. Olympians. He also started a company called Nike. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Bill Bowerman, Oregon track and field coach

Ever since Bowerman was cooking rubber soles on his wife’s waffle maker, the concept of Nike was fueled by one thing-belief. Why Bill Bowerman did what he did meant more to him than how or what he did it with. If he could have made his runners faster by altering their track uniform or creating a sunscreen that made them more aerodynamic, he would have done that instead. That’s because what Bill Bowerman cared most about was why he made shoes for his athletes. He believed in being the best, and that the difference in first or second place was always an ounce away.

To this day, Nike refers to senior executives as “corporate storytellers.” What Nike understands better than almost anyone is that their stories should never be about business plans, statistics or financial factors. They are about beliefs, values and the human experience. More importantly, Nike understands that stories sell.

Stories that sell.

When I first heard Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why,” it forever changed not just the way I communicated as a marketer, but the way I communicated within the world, too.

I had always believed in the power of stories. How they connect people across the world more than any other medium, and that we as a people had known their value since our ancestors began smearing berries across cave walls on an island in Indonesia.

So why don’t more companies apply stories to the way they market? As we take a look at the power of storytelling and the reactions it garners, you’ll be scratching your head as to why stories aren’t strewn through every campaign you’ve created.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

There is a reason that only a few names are universally recognizable out of the millions of businesses in the world. For example, Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, or Toms are all companies that are instantly identifiable in a way that provokes a specific feeling. That feeling is a result of marketing through storytelling, and starting with the why.

It’s often said in marketing that people don’t buy because they need something, they buy to be a part of something. There is a right and a wrong way to tap into this theory, and frankly…

Most companies are doing it wrong.

When it comes to selling, most companies start with what they sell, then move on to explain how they sell it, and lastly will tell you why they sell it (if they even know why). This is why most companies inspire nothing more than a low value purchase. However, if you were to look at a company that turns the process inside out and starts with the why, you’ll find companies whose brands have become movements, and whose products equate to a way of life.

But what about these stories provokes adoption, and more importantly, provokes adopters to become lifetime brand advocates?

Crafting the perfect story.

Stories work because people are interested in themselves more than anything else. It’s why your name is your favorite word. When companies market through stories, they put the spotlight on the user or customer, instead of themselves. Let’s take a look at how to craft a great marketing story.

1. Remember your customer.

-There’s nothing worse than being stuck at a party with the guy who wants to tell you about every coloring contest his kid has ever won. Don’t be that guy. Remember that while you’re telling a story, you’re still talking about the customer. This is true in every instance, even when writing your “About Us” page. If you’re not relating every statement back to your customer, you’re losing their interest.

2. Your pencil should outlast your eraser.

-“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” This quote has been attributed to a lot of men in history, all of them brilliant. Make sure your story has a concise focus with a clear beginning, middle and end. Great storytelling is really about great editing, and knowing when to kill your darlings.

3. Make it relatable.

-Your story is useless if not relatable. Jeffery Zacks discovered this through a series of MRI brain scans on people reading a story or watching a movie. As the main characters encountered a situation, it activated parts of the subjects’ brain that would have responded had they themselves been in the same predicament in real life. The takeaway? Your stories need to include the emotions you want your readers to feel.

4. Leave the sales pitch at the door.

-Better yet, don’t even take it out of the car. Leave it in the backseat with the doors locked. Stories are about building trust, and nothing turns prospects and even current customers away faster than a sales pitch. Leave the gimmicks out and let the story sell for you.

5. Believe it to achieve it.

-If you don’t believe your own story, no one else will. To write a great story, you have to start with the why, which means you have to know what the why is. Apple does this better than anyone. As Simon Sinek explains in “Start with Why,” if Apple wanted to be a mediocre computer company, they would have sold like this:

“We make great computers.” (what)

“They’re beautifully designed, easy to use, and user friendly. (how)

“Wanna buy one?”

Not really. Nothing about that pitch is inspiring, and it doesn’t connect with any sort of belief system. Now, let’s look at how Apple actually sells their products. It looks like this:

“With everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo; we believe in thinking differently.” (Why)

“The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.” (How)

“We just happen to make great computers, wanna buy one?” (What)

Knowing what you believe allows you to always start with why. Because, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

6. Take it One Step Further with Storydoing

To tell a truly great story, you have to be more than a storytelling company, you have to be a storydoing company. With this approach, customer stories don’t just appear out of thin air. Rather, they are the result of a company that is fulfilling its brand promises.

Bonus: Not only will this inspire customers, but internal employees as well.

If You’re Reading This

You have a story. If you think that storytelling may work, but doesn’t apply to your business, you are gravely mistaken. Just as there is a reason why you started your company, there is a story waiting to be told. From B2B to B2C, people are biologically driven to participate in stories they believe in. The question to ask yourself is, what will your story be?

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