Marketing: The Art Of Masterful Storytelling

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While marketing will never get someone to do something they don’t want to do, at its core, marketing (and sales, for that matter) is about influence. We are fortunate to live in a time when we have multiple products and services to choose from for nearly everything we could possibly want or need.

That’s why referrals and word of mouth are so powerful. People trust their friends more than they do companies and brands. And yet, despite all of our guards against unwanted marketing and advertising messages, no one can resist a powerful story that’s told well.

There Are Only Five Stories

You might be surprised to learn that there are actually only five stories that we are all hardwired to hear. Check this out. Every book you’ve ever read, movie you've ever watched and every story you can remember can be categorized into one of five major themes:

• Boy Meets Girl: The quintessential and universal love story (and the basis for every romantic comedy).

• Rags To Riches: Anyone who has ever started out poor and worked their way to the top (e.g., the entrepreneur's dream).

• Revenge: When righting the wrong trumps everything else.

• Stranger In A Strange Land: The story of discovery as one embarks on the new and different.

• Holy Grail: The ultimate tail of revelation whereby the reluctant hero seeks to accomplish something larger than him or herself.

I first heard this audacious claim by my speech coach, Nick Morgan. I spent the next several months attempting to disprove what he had told me, only to find that when I boiled down the essence of each story, it neatly fit into one of the five story archetypes. Sure, sometimes “Boy Meets Boy” and “Girl Meets Girl,” but the framework of the story is essentially the same.

Each Has Unlimited Variations

Just as there are only 12 notes per musical octave, it’s up to the composer as to how simple or complex you make the story. Beethoven’s masterpieces use the same 12 notes as every other composer. The variations on each theme are what makes them magical. Subconsciously, there’s something very familiar about the story, even though you’ve never heard it before.

And this is where masterful storytelling skills kick into high gear. Once you’ve identified which story your audience needs to hear, you can become a very powerful influencer. That is to say, while you can’t force anyone to do anything, by understanding the story that your audience is seeking, you can immediately align what your business does with their given need state. Deeper alignment with their needs drives rapport and ensures that you deliver more powerful storytelling.

The Neuroscience Behind Storytelling

Simply put, we have both a left and right side of our brain. Neuroscience shows that the left side is where we think logically and methodically, and the right side is where we engage emotionally. We know that people buy on emotion and back-fill with logic. Before you decide to drive a car off the dealer’s lot, you first must imagine yourself behind the wheel. That emotional connection is how you feel about the car. But since we see ourselves as rational people, we still need to justify our purchase decision, which is where the left side of the brain kicks in.

That’s why successful marketing campaigns focus on powerful stories that evoke emotion rather than on facts, stats and pure logic. It’s also what great salespeople do. When someone launches into facts and figures, we tend to put our guard up and not trust what that person is saying. Conversely, we can’t help but become engrossed in a powerful story, especially one that speaks directly to a pain point we're currently experiencing.

Powerful Stories Build Brands Quickly

If I were to ask you to think about the story behind TOMS Shoes, you might recall the story of the founder going to Argentina and seeing children running around without shoes. As the (Holy Grail) story goes, Blake Mycoskie decided that for as long as his company was in business, he would give a free pair of shoes to needy children for every pair of shoes that were purchased (Buy One, Give One). Ten years and 60 million shoes later, TOMS Shoes was, in 2014, valued at $625 million.

You have probably heard an unbelievable story from Zappos, whose obsession with “delivering happiness” drove the company’s valuation until it was purchased by Amazon for $847 million.

Stories Of Injustice Quickly Tarnish A Brand’s Image

From Facebook and Equifax’s data breaches to United dragging a passenger off an airplane, it doesn’t take much to tarnish a brand’s image. Outraged customers take to social media and share their disgust, and late night talk shows skewer companies that make poor decisions. Remember Pepsi’s misguided advertising, promoting its product within a backdrop of a protest against police brutality?

As a society (and especially on social media), we share stories to feel connected to one another. When brands make PR blunders, it makes for a great story to share and connect with like-minded people who galvanize around their repulsion. Which is all the more reason why companies need to move quickly to not just apologize, but to demonstrate that they’ve learned from their mistakes and make amends in some demonstrable way.

What’s Your Story?

I invite you to ask yourself, “What is the story I want my customers to remember about my company?” This starts with your internal team. Understand the foundational story you want to tell and then build momentum with your employees around that story. Help them craft the essence of the story so that it can be easily shared.

Masterful storytelling begins with a core purpose or mission that you set out to achieve. This is your company’s “True North,” and the story you tell needs to encapsulate the very essence of your existence. When your best customers can easily repeat and share this story, you know you have resonated at the deepest level and have created a powerful brand.