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It’s the Story that Sells: Not the Facts

pic-6.jpgWhy Storytelling is Selling

Remember that FedEx commercial where Tom Hanks is stranded on a tropical island and he still delivers the package? If you do, chances are you not only paid to watch it, you sat through 183 minutes of it! That’s how powerful storytelling is – it can mask the sale so heavily that you don’t even know you’re being pitched a product.

There’s a myriad of psychology behind the power of stories, but the mechanisms involved really aren’t all that mysterious – stories influence through the power of empathy and sympathy. On a primal level, our brains are equipped with what neurologist call mirror neurons, but for storytelling purposes they could be said to be empathy and sympathy neurons, and we’ve all experienced their handiwork.

Have you ever seen someone yawn and felt the urge to yawn yourself? Or maybe watched a movie where they were eating steak and started craving a ribeye – those are your mirror neurons at work. They allow us to empathize, or in other words, relate what we’re seeing to our own experience of that activity. 

Sympathy requires a little more creativity – you’ve probably never been stranded on a deserted island, but you can certainly imagine how utterly surreal it was for Hank’s character to return to all the comforts of modern life. That’s sympathy, and storytellers feel no shame in exploiting it. In fact it’s their job – it’s also why people pay to be taken on the roller coaster ride raconteurs know how to deliver.

Don’t bore your audience

(Hopefully you’re still with me.) Have you ever wondered why an episode of NOVA can fly by, but a lecture on the same subject can feel cruel and unusual? That’s the difference in drawing on emotion versus drawing on facts. Typically NOVA producers will take you on at least a slightly personal journey involving the scientist and people affected, thereby using empathy and sympathy to stimulate an emotional response to the information. To take it a step further, think about how much more engaging an episode of say, Breaking Bad is than NOVA, where the personal story is rich with emotion, conflict, and suspense. 

Unfortunately, there’s a tendency in sales to be more of a lecturer than an auteur, and it’s a HUGE mistake. Again, the meta-psychology behind this is self-evident – when we know we’re being sold to we become suspicious; furthermore, most of us only want to be sold to when we’re actually shopping for that product. 

This is all leading back to the Cast Away effect and the power of empathy and sympathy – stories allow you to sell a product without putting on the salesman cap. For example, which is more compelling: a story about all the flashy gadgets provided in one pocket knife, or the tale of a man who fought off a bear, skinned it, and made a rug out of it, thanks to the versatility of the one and only tool he possessed – his handy Gadget-Man pocket knife? 

How to use narratives

The best thing about using stories as selling devices is they’re entertaining – that is to say, they can, and should, snap listeners out of their inner dialogue and into your message. Storytelling can be incorporated into your business on your website, through sales pitches, emails, presentations – the trick is choosing the right stories.

Fortunately, there are professional storytellers out there who specialize in stories that sell. In fact, if you’re still reading this, you might consider consulting with the raconteurs at ContentBacon – we’ve already caught your attention, let us do the same thing for your business.