Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.
Now I realize that this was a start-up and after all, they are looking for some professional help with marketing, but they are not alone. I’m often surprised at the great stories I hear from companies like this that aren’t being told in their marketing or sales materials. Even in this age of the 60-second sound-bite and the polished and practiced “elevator pitch” we marketers still seem to struggle with telling a clear, concise and compelling story about ourselves, our products and our companies.
Sometimes it’s as if we are afraid that storytelling will come across as unprofessional, too self-serving or that stories are only appropriate to tell in a face-to-face meeting. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you believe that then you are missing the sheer power of storytelling in marketing. Not only are stories a powerful way of illustrating the value of your product, in many cases they are the way that your prospects and customers will explain what you do and how you do it to others.
This point is brought out quite well in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, a book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath published in 2007. The book builds on the idea of "stickiness" popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, and sets out to define what makes an idea or concept memorable or interesting.
In the book they talk about what they call the Six Principles of Sticky Ideas with the book's outline following the acronym "SUCCES" [with the last “s” omitted]. Each letter refers to a characteristic that can help make an idea "sticky":
- Simple — find the core of any idea
- Unexpected — grab people's attention by surprising them
- Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
- Credible — give an idea believability
- Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
- Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative
Of these Six Principles, “Stories”, the last, is by far the most important when it comes to marketing. Built upon the five others - Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility and Emotions – it is the Story, the narrative of the product, brand or company that has the power to create action and motivate.
But, what makes for a good marketing story?
Well, to start with, good stories should paint a picture, a vivid picture. They need to enable our customers to visualize things that are incredibly difficult to grasp or concepts otherwise overtly complex. And if done right, stories can make people want to learn more.
A well-crafted story creates a type of journey. At the end of that journey, we’re going to be impressed and we’re going to be interested. In fact, we’re probably going to want to take the next incremental step in the sales process and learn more.
These are special kinds of stories – they’re strategic. They build on themselves and give a “human face” to an otherwise non-human entity – your product, service or company. They humanize and create a simple bond when done right.
It is these stories that can drive our critical interactions with our customers and stakeholders. Placing this in the context of the standard buying process formula, these stories are what propel Awareness, Consideration, Trial and Buying, the virtuous cycle that produces growth and profitability.
This is what makes storytelling in marketing so important. Far from being window dressing, these stories are key business drivers. The more coherent and compelling your story is, the more it will power the success of your enterprise.
So, what’s your story?