Steve Jobs sold millions of iPods by skipping the technical details and simply stating that one thousand songs could fit in your pocket.
When humans need to persuade people about ideas and products, we tell stories.
The John Lewis Christmas adverts have become a fine example of great storytelling. Instead of promoting the latest gadget, they tell a story which pulls at the heart strings, resonates with viewers and engages them. The adverts have become so popular they are now part of the traditional Christmas build up.
In his book The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall points to research by Italian neuroscientists as evidence for the effectiveness of stories in advertising. The research found that humans live vicariously through the actions and stories of others. It’s the reason why we wince when we hear a disgusting story or feel our heart race when riding a rollercoaster — they invite empathy, which increases the likelihood that they will be accepted and adopted.
You won’t be surprised to hear that telling a great story takes effort.
In traditional storytelling, you usually start with a character or location and the story evolves as underlying themes are exploring. When you’re using a story to persuade someone about your idea or your product in a professional context, the approach needs to be a little more precise.
You have to first determine the one idea that you want your audience to remember. Then, make that that ‘controlling idea’ the cause for interest and intrigue, the conflict and climax.
Steve Job’s controlling idea was that 1,000 songs could fit in your pocket.
A good story will always allow the audience to get engaged in the narrative. It might only be four sentences, but a good story starts with one kind of mood or attitude. This mood should stay with the reader as they progress through the story. It keeps everything together and makes the words more than just random information.
Think of a story as a series of images hanging on a clothes line with three poles. You need a beginning, middle and an end (the three poles) but it’s the imagery and emotive content that brings it together and makes for a truly memorable story.
The focus for businesses should be on emotion and sensory descriptions. It’s worth continually asking yourself: how can I make this more emotionally resonant for the individual? People appreciate an economic approach to words, so use only the words you need.
A lot of businesses make a mistake by thinking their story has to be perfect. Showing vulnerability isn’t a bad thing. When you admit your own faults or flaws in your story, the audience is more likely to empathise with you and remember your message.
It may take a few drafts to perfect, but telling the story of your business in a genuine and engaging way will help you connect with your audience in a profound way.