Use Storytelling to Draw In Customers

storytellingI realize that a business purchase is supposed to be a rational decision driven by the need to maximize net present value or achieve a high internal rate of return or return on investment or whatever. Sure, it’s just economics.

It’s not really that simple. For one thing, everyone has their numbers, so as a buyer, what gets my attention? Try telling stories.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist. How exciting do you suppose a lecure from Dr. Taylor would be on the mental and physiological effect of a left hemisphere brain hemorrhage?

You might be surprised. Watch this TED video.

It’s about 15 minutes long and you won’t want to turn it off.

Let’s take a look at why that is. First, it turns out that the subject having the hemorrhage is none other than Dr. Taylor. Our expert is suddenly vulnerable, a regular human being, not just a super-genius scientist, so we can relate to her. There’s very little jargon in her language (“A blood vessel exploded in my brain.”). There’s tension. A life is on the line. There’s even humor. Our hero pulls through and we learn something from the experience. Wow, awesome stuff.

If Dr. Taylor can make neurological disorders come to life for you, surely, surely you can find a way to make your software/business service/manufacturing system compelling.

I spent part of an afternoon this week watching some customer case study videos remarking on how hard it is for us in practice to employ storytelling techniques. Too often the formula is like this: 1. Business challenge. 2. Selected Vendor X for various reasons. 3. Implementation went well. 4. Business benefits.

That’s a very sensible, rational way to make a grounded business argument to invest in your product or service. But it’s dreadfully boring and won’t get anyone’s attention. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
1. Make a person the hero of your story, not an institution. It’s hard to feel like a multinational corporation is just like you. But that CIO or finance manager or supply chain manager is a human being. He or she has good days and bad days, loves the job sometimes and dreads it at other times. We can empathize.
2. Remember the setting details. It may not seem all that relevant when you’re collecting the information for your story, but noting the little things – like what the weather was like or what they ate for lunch or how people were behaving – can help pull readers into the story.
3. Tell the bad, then the good. You can’t jump right to the glorious solution. You have to make people worried at first that the bad guys might actually win. Just how grim was the situation? Suddenly, your solution looks like a glorious dawn after a horrible night and your audience will find themselves wanting to be a hero just like your customer was.

There’s certainly art to this, not just science, but principles of storytelling have stood the test of time and can be used not just by communications professionals but also by marketing and sales teams. In fact, we’ve trained scores of folks on how to get the most out of storytelling. Give it a try yourself, or give me a buzz if you need help.

Published by

Aaron Pearson

Aaron Pearson is a senior vice president in the technology practice of Weber Shandwick, a global communications firm. He is also an adjunct instructor at the University of St. Thomas Opus School of Business, where he teaches a master’s course in communications technology. His B2B experience includes industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture, as well as functional audiences from IT to HR.

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