Let Your Story Guide You

Don’t say the old lady screamed-bring her on and let her scream.
— Mark Twain

Mark Twain didn’t know it when he uttered the quote above, but his quote is the essence of what I was trying to get at the other day with my post about telling a romantic story to sell lingerie. Show, don’t tell. Instead of simply telling a visitor that your lingerie will make her feel sexy and turn up the romance in her relationship, create that experience for her on your site. If your site can create an atmosphere of romance and make her feel sexy she’s going to associate that feeling with your lingerie, which is the story she wants to hear.

That post has generated some interesting comments (thanks everyone), which made me think a little more about the idea of storytelling to market your business. I wanted to take a step back from the story itself to see the whole process. Walking away from the trees in order to see the forest if you will.

The Storytelling Process

Whether you realize it or not your site is telling a story. You may not think so, but it is. Successful sites tell the right story to the right people about the right products at the right time. Unsuccessful sites don’t. Research your market, craft the story they want to hear, and then let that story guide all your decisions from then on.

I think most people start with a product or service and then go about researching who their target market might be. Ideally you’d probably do this the other way around so you could design your product specifically for a market and around the story you’re telling them, but most of us will usually have the product or service first. Either way your story will come into play after you know your market.

In the comments Khalid mentioned personas and even gave a couple of quick examples for two personas that might visit a lingerie site. Here’s Sarah:

– Sarah is 37 year old mid level successful executive who is looking for something to make her sexy. She bought lingerie before, she is looking for something specific. She wants to see this years fashions and what is hip and hot.

Your personas will tell you what story you need to tell them. Sarah wants to hear a story about how your lingerie will make her hip and fashionable. She wants to feel like she’s part of the in crowd. She’s got plenty of lingerie, but it’s so last year. If Sarah doesn’t believe your lingerie will make her feel sexy she won’t buy it. Tell her a story so she knows it will.

Once you have your personas create the story you’re going to tell them. You may even need to tell slight variations of your main story to each of your different personas. Once you have the story. or stories, do everything you can not to deviate it otherwise you may not be telling the story you think you are.

“You’re call is important to us and will be answered by the next available operator.”

I know you’ve heard that before on more than one occasion. The story that message is trying to tell you is that the company cares about you and values you. Is that how you feel when you hear it? Certainly not after being on hold for 20 minutes and listening to that same message a dozen times. You’re probably thinking if the company cared about you they’d answer the phone instead of playing that message again.

The Muscle Car vs The Environment

On my previous post Yuri brought up the idea of benefits to solicit an emotional response and you should absolutely be mentioning benefits over features. Features are the story you want to hear. Benefits are the story your customers want to hear. Still I think benefits need the context of a story to elicit an emotional response. Let me illustrate with two types of cars you might sell.

  • Environmentally friendly green car
  • Muscle car

Two very different kinds of cars and two cars that will need different stories to sell. Muscle cars are not green. Trust me as the former owner of a mid 70’s Camaro that got about six miles to the gallon if I remember right. Green cars generally aren’t setting any speed records. they go from 0-60, but we’re not guaranteeing when. You’d list different benefits for selling each car.

You might tell prospective customers of your environmental car of how the planet will be better because you drive their car. You might tell them of all the money they’ll save not needing to fill up with gas so often. You might even tell them how the larger economy will improve because it reduces the nation’s dependence on gas and oil.

In buying your green car your customers will feel like they’ve contributed to the well being of the planet and all the life that inhabits the planet.

Your prospective muscle car customers don’t care about any of that. They want to know how cool they’re going to look driving your car and how fast they’ll be able to go. They want to know how the sound of your engine is going to announce their presence before they arrive and remind you of their presence after they’ve gone.

In buying your muscle car your customers will feel powerful.

Two different stories with two different sets of benefits.

Imagine for a moment that your muscle car happens to get good gas mileage, the best in the industry for muscle cars. Maybe you even managed to design a new cleaner emission system for it too. Would you tell your customers about it? You might since those are both good things that you’re undoubtedly proud of. They might even help convince a few people who want your car, but also want to live in a pollution free world. But you’d better not be leading with the green benefits of your car. Why? That’s not the story your customers want to hear.

People buying the muscle car are looking for the power and the speed and the image the car gives them. They may care about the environment, but that’s not why they’re buying your car. The environmental impact of the car is secondary at best. If it was that important they wouldn’t be looking to buy a muscle car in the first place. Muscle car buyers won’t feel an emotional response to saving a few dollars at the pump. They may like it, but they won’t feel an emotional response to it. The emotion will come from how powerful the car is going to make them feel.

The feeling of power. That’s the story you need to tell them and the benefits you list better reinforce that story. Mention the gas mileage and the lower emissions if you want, but only after you’ve persuaded them how powerful they’ll be driving your car down the road.

That’s My Story And I’m Sticking To It

Think of your story as your marketing strategy. Think of your site design and your copy and the benefits you list as the tactics. Your tactics need to be subordinate to your strategy. If your strategy revolves around being the company that cares don’t leave me on hold for an hour.

The romantic story I was trying to tell the other day was about reinforcing the story of romance a lingerie shop might tell its customers. There are other stories that site could tell. The point was to think about every aspect of your site and ask yourself if it is telling the same story you are. Where your site isn’t telling the same story, make changes so it is.

Every time you stray from your story even a little bit you weaken that story. Very few stories are 100% consistent, but they should all aspire to be. Writers will tell you that no word should be wasted. Every word in a story should have a purpose and they should all work to propel the story forward to its conclusion.

The situation is the same with your website. Nothing should be wasted and everything should be reinforcing the same story and propelling visitors from entry to conversion. If you want your customers to buy, tell them the story they want to hear. And be as consistent as possible in telling that story from the development of your product to the minor details on your site. Your customers want to hear a story. Let your site tell it to them.

Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results.
—Nancy Mellon, The Art of Storytelling

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  1. I love the title of this post – Let the Story Guide you.

    Anyone who wants to improve their storytelling – take an improv acting class. You learn about exploring different characters and stories.

    Most importantly, you learn that good storytelling (and good comedy) is rooted in truth. That doesn’t mean you can’t make something up – it means creating believable characters and believable stories. Let the audience relate to your story/characters and you’ll get the reaction your looking for.

    I’ve been taking improv classes for years and it’s amazing how much of it I can translate to the “real world” (marketing, life in general, etc).

  2. Thanks Nathania. That makes sense about the improv classes. I’ve never taken actiing classes, but I have taken a number of creative writing classes, read many books on the subject, and have done some creative writing here and there.

    I think that’s where these two storytelling posts have come from for me. Seth Godin is the one who pointed out the concept of story in marketing, but the details are coming to me from my creative writing days.

    I bet there’s a lot of similar teaching between creative writing and improv. I like the idea of good stories coming from the truth. I think even the most fantastic stories still originated with the truth.

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