Monday Mornings with Madison

Turning Storytelling into Sales

Word Count:  1,476 

Estimated Read Time:  6  min.

Great storytelling – from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace– is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.  Storytelling has been important to every people in history.   It is a cornerstone of human existence, enabling people to communicate and connect.  It’s been a primary tool used in government, religion, education, and – of course — business.  The world’s most persuasive, compelling, and successful communicators were all great storytellers.  Socrates was a great storyteller.  Ben Franklin was even better.  Walt Disney was masterful.

Thanks to the Internet, mass media and social media, storytelling has become a quintessential part of sales and marketing strategies.  So how does a company take good information and turn it into a great story?   For stories to be impactful, they need to be easily recalled and they need to motivate people. They must have emotional resonance and relevancy — most of which comes out in the details.  A good story holds the audience captive. It stretches the limits of the imagination and allows listeners to marvel or wonder at something. It touches them and leaves them vulnerable. That’s why stories are such an amazing communications tool.   Here’s how to turn a product or service into a great story that enhances the bottom line.

Transforming Good Information into a Great Story

Companies that truly understand the power of storytelling are daring to take their storytelling to a whole other level… turning stories into sales.  Case in point.  The February 2014 animated children’s movie titled “The Lego Movie”, released by Warner Bros., got children and adults alike to laugh and engage in an entire world made of Legos.  Everyone was thoroughly entertained as a brand told a winning story, starring their product.  It is, arguably, the most effective 90-minute toy advertisement ever made!  Besides earning over $257 million worldwide at the box office, it also pushed Lego sales up.   In households everywhere, parents reported that as soon as kids returned from watching the movie, they immediately starting playing with Legos they hadn’t touched in months or years.  They also began asking parents for Legos as birthday presents.  In fact, the popular film increased sales of Lego toys by 11% during the first six months of 2014, according to the Danish toy maker.  Given that, it is also no surprise that Warner Bros. will be releasing a sequel in February 2019.  Now that’s how to tell a story that leads customers to act.  Making people enjoy a story is all well and good, but making them spend their money on a product or service is the ultimate goal for a business (if we’re being completely honest).

So why was The Lego Movie – an animated story about interlocking plastic bricks that were invented in 1949 — such a hit?  They aren’t new and exciting.  They aren’t ‘high-tech.’   Why was it so successful?  Besides having a well written script and quality animation, the movie taps into profound, meaningful messages that resonate and inspire.

1.  We can access the builder within each of us, if we just believe in ourselves.

2.  There is no limit to imagination, and we’re only as limited as our imagination lets us be.

3.  We can create astonishing things at any age.

How to Weave Data, Information and Facts into Great Stories

1. Start with the End

According to Jean-Luc Goddard, “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”.  Visualize the ideal outcome; the actionable results you want to see. This ensures the story is focused and fine-tuned, but it also infuses it with creative tension– and casts all of the information in a more meaningful light. Starting with the ending helps establish what information matters and what doesn’t – and it will make it far easier to communicate why it matters to the audience.

2. Keep the Wheat; Eliminate the Chaff

As John Le Carré once put it, “the cat sat on the mat” is not a story, but “the cat sat on the dog’s mat” is.  The first describes a fact with no meaning.  The second puts a fact in a context that can be discerned as important… part of a bigger story.  Every story does not need to have all the facts and information about a brand in it; just what is relevant to the story. Focus only on information that helps bring the story to the surface.

3.  Connect with the Audience

What made The Lego Movie so effective is that it had deep, important messages that had nothing to do with selling a product but had everything to do with what is so great about Lego blocks.  The reason Legos continue to be a beloved toy – even in the digital age – is that it encourages kids to build and make things that make the world a better place and inspires their creativity.  The Lego Movie drove home that message, which connected with parents and kids alike.  That, in turn, made kids want to play with their old, forgotten Legos and to ask for more Legos.  The story didn’t say “Buy Legos.”  It didn’t say “Legos are great.”  The story showed why Legos are great.  It reminded audiences of all ages why this 65 year old toy continues to be enjoyed and embraced in every household with kids.  That’s the point.  The storyline connected with the audience.  The rest – including a significant bump in sales – came after.

4. Use an Active Voice

Stories have narrative drive. They don’t just describe an unchanging situation; they move things forward and compel the audience to want to know what happens next. The situations that data and information describe must also be inherently dynamic, and so should the language used to describe them. Writing in the active voice gives a story greater energy and directness, both of which keep an audience engaged.

5.  Tighten the Writing and Edit Ruthlessly

When it comes to storytelling, less is more.  One of the benefits of writing with an active voice is that the storytelling can be more concise.  This is not about dumbing down or oversimplifying the information, but it is about getting rid of redundant words.  Concise writing has greater impact and helps the reader understand the message more easily.  It cuts out fluff and signals that the story has value.  A story does not need a lot of words in order to sound meaningful.

6. Spice up Facts and Information with Story Details

Don’t hesitate to put rich details into the story.  There may be lots of facts and information, but it’s the details that make the story come to life.  It’s the fusion of this with the narrative that turns a dry story into a compelling one and converts insights into actions.

7. Use the Correct Tense

A good story may deal with information, data and issues of past, present and future. To make each of these story elements as clear and compelling as possible, it’s important to use the appropriate tense for each.  It may sound simple but it’s not.

8. Revise and edit

Once the story is written, put it down, walk away and let the subconscious take over. As John Cleese once said; “…a lot of my best work seemed to come as a result of my unconscious working on things when I wasn’t really attending to them.”  Later, when you re-read it, you’ll hear/find any problems with the writing.  Fix them and then repeat this process.  The first draft is rarely good enough.

9. The Final Check

When there’s a clear, purposeful story woven through the narrative, the ending should pretty much write itself. That’s good news for the author – and great news for those reading the story.  If the story ending is not obvious, then the story needs work.

Stories aren’t just a snazzy way of presenting data and information about a brand.  Storytelling should be central to a brand’s entire sales and marketing approach.  As Peter Guber once said, “Today everyone, whether they know it or not, is in the emotional transportation business. More and more, success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move people to action. Simply put, if you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.”  The goal is to turn information into stories that convey meaning, inspire action and enable a client to make informed decisions – to choose what happens next.  Human brains are primed to respond to such storytelling – and help build memories around them.  From a psychological point of view, people are made to integrate and retain complex episodic material.  In other words, we remember great stories.  And it is those great stories that can move listeners to act.  What’s your company’s story?

Quote of the Week

“If you wish to influence an individual or a group to embrace a particular value in their daily lives, tell them a compelling story.” Annette Simmons


© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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