By David Gee
Stories and sales go together. Stories connect us. They can be your differentiator in a crowded, chaotic, commoditized marketplace. That’s because your story is unique. No one else has your founding myth, your organization’s DNA. Stories will help your current or potential clients and customers listen longer and buy quicker.
But you – or your products or services – can’t be the hero of your own story. Your “stories” can’t be thinly veiled sales pitches, as many are. That’s because research shows people are substantially more motivated by an organization’s transcendent purpose (how it improves lives) than by its transactional purpose (how it sells or what it sells).
Character-driven stories produce changes in the brain.
Paul Zak is an American neuroeconomist who uses neuroscience to build high performance organizations and to understand consumer decisions.
He discovered through his lab’s research that a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative.
“If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.”
How does that apply to your corporate storytelling and brand journalism?
“My experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later,” says Zak. “In terms of making impact, this blows the standard PowerPoint presentation to bits.”
Take a critical look at your content.
What does the home page on your website look like, or your blog pieces, and social media posts? Now how about your sales and marketing collateral and the words that come out of the mouths of your sales team?
Do your stories feature a dramatic arc in which a character struggles and eventually finds heretofore unknown abilities and uses these to triumph over adversity?
Or is your content mostly about features and specs and your company and your products?
If you belong to the second camp you’re in the majority. As a result, most companies are not making the most of the opportunity to show up differently and create a competitive advantage through better storytelling.
Apply storytelling principles and structure to engage your audience:
- Stories feature transformation
- Stories have a clear beginning/middle/end
- Storytelling provides a framework for a case study
- Remember you are not the hero in the story but the mentor
- Make your story customer-centric
- Show how the lives of your customers improve by using your products
We are hard-wired for stories.
When we read or hear a bunch of facts, only certain parts in the brain get activated. Overall, facts hit our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.
When we are being told a story, though, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too. Stories put our whole brain to work.
More specifically, research has shown stories can activate up to seven regions in our brain, while data only activates two regions.
In his best-selling book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink says stories represent a pathway to understanding that don’t run through the left (analytical) side of the brain.
“We have a hunger for what stories provide – context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why that matters. The Conceptual Age can remind us of what has always been true but rarely acted upon – that we must listen to each other’s stories and that we are each the authors of our own lives.”
So, stop trying to drive someone to a decision by feeding the analytical – and skeptical – side of their brain with information. Instead, create an emotional connection with the right side of your prospect’s brain, the part that ultimately makes the buying decision anyway, with a well-crafted, audience-appropriate story of struggle and triumph that is unique to you. That’s a true differentiator.