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How To Tell A Story That Sells

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"Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell." Seth Godin

What types of brand stories are you telling? Are they emotional? Memorable? Are they human? Do your stories make your people feel things—and do things that empower them and bring them closer to you?

Even writers, who write the stories of other brands, need to tell their own stories. Neurobiologists have found that humans have a biological need for storytelling. We become transfixed and invested in stories that capture our imaginations. It's through them that we relate to one another and find meaning in life.

Adam Gopnik from The New Yorker writes, "Everything—faith, science, love—needs a story for people to find it plausible. No story, no sale." Powerful brand stories don't just increase transactions, they also drive fierce customer loyalty and advocacy. People become emotionally invested in a business, a writer, a friend, a brother they believe in and want to support. 

"Storytelling as it applies to business isn't about spinning a yarn or fairy tale. It's who you are and what you do for others--how you add value to people's lives, ease their troubles, meet their needs. A compelling brand story gives your audience a way to connect with you, one person to another, and to view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people offering real value" (Anne Handley).

As a freelance writer or marketer, writing your own story is one way to tell people who you are. The other way is getting your customers to do the telling for you. This means that your story isn’t just owned by you. It is experienced and shared by those you serve. Here are a few simple ways to help your people share your brand story.

Sell honesty, commitment, and friendship.

Before I became a marketer and a writer, I was a personal trainer. To the general public, I sold weight-loss programs and strength conditioning training packages. But to those who knew my brand story, a collection of stories told by my clients. People didn’t spend their money on me because of my products and service. They came, because I sold acceptance, loyalty, honesty, commitment, and friendship. Losing weight and getting stronger were the by-products of helping people see their true worth and potential.

Some of the stories my clients shared included:  

"I didn't think I could ever run a 5k. Now I'm run 10 half marathons and training for my first marathon!"

"When I started working with Melissa, I was immediately struck by her commitment to me."

"Melissa is honest, has a great knowledge base in nutrition and training, and has a passion and desire to see me succeed.  She is a great cheerleader and task master all at the same time. She has helped me to push through the hard times and achieve some difficult goals."

"The thought of getting back into the exercise arena after so many years (and pounds) was very intimidating to me, however Melissa removed that intimidation factor at our first meeting. She has a genuine passion for helping her clients get fit, and she truly enjoys seeing them reach and exceed their goals."

I also sold belonging. I wanted my female clients to feel supported by me and the other women in our group programs.

"I think one of the most successful aspects of the program for me was training with all the other participants. Working out with the girls was a huge motivating factor. They kept me honest and accountable. I also learned so much from them—their struggles, ideas, tips, and stories. We also celebrated our successes together and helped each other when things were tough."

I'm a firm believer that if you are who you say you are, you don't have to tell people. You show them, and your story will be told through those who are a witness. Customers don't become fierce advocates simply because you provide a great product and service. They follow you because of your story—what you stand for, what you value, and who you are as a human being.  

How do you get your customers to tell your story? Create experiences worth telling. "People don't buy what you do. They buy how you make them feel and the story you give them to tell" (thestoryoftelling.com)

Create a tribe. 

Create a place of belonging. Soulcycle is a great example of this. They don't sell memberships to a gym. They sell memberships to a tribe—a group of like-minded people who share the same passions and goals.

"At Soulcycle, we aspire to inspire. We inhale intention and exhale expectation. We commit to our climbs and find freedom in our sprints...One right at a time, Change your body. Take your journey. Find your soul."

In one brand story, a member wrote, "I love SoulCycle. It has helped me to change my own life. I am a proponent of SOUL. I am a defender of SOUL. I share the experience of SOUL with friends and family. I love that SOUL still surprises me."

Make your customer the hero. 

Customers are the lifeblood of Airbnb. Without them, the brand wouldn't have a story to tell. 

Airbnb created the page Stories from the Airbnb Community where customers to share their adventures. They tell stories about trying new foods, experiencing new cultures, and meeting new people. These stories have less to do with Airbnb itself and more to do with the experiences they are excited about as a result of using Airbnb. 

Barrie Seppings nailed it when he said, "Your brand is not the story. Your brand is IN the story." Brilliant!

Provide positive experiences people can’t help but share. 

"Your story isn’t just what you tell people it’s also what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends. The story is a complete picture made up of facts, feelings and interpretations, which means that part of your story isn’t even told by you" (The Story of Telling).

Providing exceptional service is one of the best ways to get people to talk about you. Imagine the impact you can have by making one person's day and them telling ten friends about it. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference. It's often the simple things that will do the trick. Even as freelance marketers and writers, who don’t always work with clients face-to-face, you can apply any of these best practices and make a difference.

  • Go above and beyond with helping a client out of a tough situation.

  • Put the needs of your client above your profits.

  • Provide a personalized experience that shows you care about them as people not transactions.

  • When a mistake is made, own up to it quickly, and fix it.

  • Be responsive to their needs and concerns.

  • Be proactive in solving their problems before they occur.

  • Always tell the truth and honor your promises.