7 Storytelling Tips to Increase Sales

by Corey Pemberton 9 Minutes

StoryYou already have a great product or service.

You’re confident in your ability to add value to people’s lives.

So how come clients aren’t blowing up your inbox?

This is a problem a ton of freelancers and agencies face. They have the skills they need to succeed, but they struggle to get noticed. Without attention, they don’t get a chance to impress the best clients.

That’s the dilemma:

In a world of information overload, how can you get people to know, like, and trust you enough to do business?

Some companies throw a bunch of ads at the wall and hope something will stick…

But you probably don’t have that kind of cash to play around with. Even if you did, spending it like that isn’t the most cost-effective way to win business.

There’s a better way – one that’s been around as long as we have and cuts through all of today’s modern distractions:

Storytelling.

Buying Attention Is No Longer Enough

Businesses used to be able to buy attention with intrusive ads.

With less media channels and ways to distract themselves, people were more of a captive audience.

But those days are over.

As competition increased and people’s skepticism grew, it became harder to create profitable ads. This happened in television and radio, and now it’s happening online too.

People’s attention spans are shorter now. They have more devices and media to occupy their time than ever before. And most of us are dead tired of being bombarded with ads all day wherever we look.

Think about it. More ads then ever, plus more distractions, fit into the same 24 hours in a day…

It’s a bad equation if you’re relying on advertising alone!

Even if your ads do manage to grab someone’s attention, you have to say the right things within a second or two or you’ll lose them.

The Answer: Tell Engaging Stories

storytelling tips businessPhoto Credit: Montclair Film Fest

Blatant ads and sales pitches intrude.

Stories engage.

Storytelling is trendy in the marketing world right now, but it’s as old as human communication itself. From cave paintings to campfires to the latest Hollywood blockbuster, we’ve been sharing stories for thousands of years.

There’s no better way to relate with other people and better understand their experience. Everyone loves heroes, epic journeys, and crazy plot twists.

You can tell engaging stories and win more business – without spending any more cash. Storytelling is a great equalizer for smaller brands on a budget. All it takes is creativity and a little know-how.

Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how to translate a seemingly obscure concept (“write better stories”) into actionable steps you can apply today.

7. Make Your Audience the Hero

audience heroPhoto Credit: Malabooboo

Everyone wants to be a star, or at least to feel that the story is talking to or about him personally. – Chad Hodge, screenwriter

It’s natural to be excited about your own business. After all, you know exactly what kind of value you can deliver. And you’re eager to convey that whenever you engage with people.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a “me, me, me” situation if you aren’t careful.

Want to know a great way to bore someone?

Talk endlessly about yourself!

Stories aren’t effective without a character the audience can relate to.

In good stories, we get to imagine what we would do if we were in the character’s situation ourselves. Too much “me me me” talk – and not enough room for empathy – kills the momentum.

Make a conscious choice to shift the focus from you and your business to the client. Make them the “hero” with the dragons to slay, and they’re more likely to engage your stories.

Remember, your audience is interested in you only to the extent you can help them solve their problems. So make sure to keep them involved. Address them in the second person (“you,” “yours,” etc.), or focus on aspects of your business directly related to what they’re going through.

You don’t have to stop talking about yourself completely. Just be cognizant of how your audience can relate.

6. Start Right Where the Action Is

start in the actionPhoto Credit: Sharon Drummond

Start as close to the end as possible. – Kurt Vonnegut

Ever read a book with an introduction and prologue that stretches dozens of pages before the story actually starts?

If you’re like me, you get frustrated or skip over that stuff completely.

Too much detail up front will kill you. Your audience doesn’t have time for a massive “info dump” where you share the back story of how your dreamed up your latest service or blog post.

Where should you start instead?

Right where the action is!

The “action,” in the eyes of your potential clients, is what they are struggling with right now. It’s the pressing questions on their mind, as well as any doubts and fears they have about finding a solution.

There’s no need to put things in chronological order either:

You can start in the “middle” – where the clients are struggling now instead of worrying about how they got there. You can even start at the “end” – getting people to imagine how their lives will look once their problems are solved before circling back.

Your prospects probably know how they ended up in their current situation. Going over all that will bore them. Focus on the now and the future, and you’ll tell more compelling stories.

5. Use “Carrots and Sticks”

the carrot or the stick?Image Credit: Success Factor LLC Blog

Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery). – Michael Moorcock

Traditional copywriting wisdom says negative motivation (running way from pain, fear, or other unpleasant emotions) is more powerful than positive motivation (running towards something beneficial).

But a lot of this depends on your target audience and the story you’re trying to tell.

Why not use a combination of both?

A healthy mix of “carrot and stick” motivation will keep your audience guessing and give them extra motivation to see what happens…

It’s easy for someone to get bored if you keep harping away on the same motivator for the tenth time in a row. But if you frame your message in a different way within the same story, you keep them intrigued. Maybe they hadn’t thought of it that way. And now they have to see how the story ends.

Pushing and pulling your audience keeps things spicy and wondering what happens next…

And when they wonder what happens next, they keep reading.

4. Keep the Stakes High

high stakesPhoto Credit: Adrian Fagg

What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against. – Emma Coats, Pixar Studios storyboard artist

No one’s interested in reading about minor struggles or annoyances.

We have enough of those to deal with every day.

What we’re really interested in are major challenges. We want to know if overcoming them is even possible … and what will happen if we don’t.

That’s why high stakes are key.

Sometimes these stakes are obvious. If you’re a plumber, for instance, your potential clients know exactly what will happen if they don’t get their problem fixed. Their stakes are leaky faucets. Water damage. Flooded bathrooms.

But sometimes the stakes are more subtle. If you’re an SEO expert, local businesses might not understand the impact of not hiring you. It could take some time to educate them on the stakes of ranking poorly for key search terms – less visibility, loss of market share, etc.

Either way, regardless of whether you have to introduce the stakes yourself or just reinforce them, they need to be a central part of any story you tell.

People just won’t care about the story if there isn’t enough at risk.

Even if Bob is a likable guy, his “dilemma” about deciding whether to eat a salad or turkey sandwich for lunch isn’t exactly a nail biter. It’s a bore.

3. Start with an Ending in Mind

Photo Credit: Kazyel

The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around. – Billy Wilder

Remember the Lord of the Rings movies?

As much as I love them, I have to agree that a lot of critics and casual fans were right about the third movie.

The ending just meandered… on and on. Every time I went to climb out of my seat, another “ending” would flash across the scene. I spent the last 45 minutes or so trapped in that theater, wondering if Peter Jackson had just played a sick joke on us and the movie would never end.

Multiple endings are bad. No ending is even worse.

Most storytellers, even the seat-of-their-pants types, at least have an idea how they’d like the thing to end. How they get there might change as they start telling and their creativity kicks in, but the ending is usually conceived beforehand.

For every story you’re going to tell, whether it’s in an email, web page, or blog post, think about how you want it to end.

How do you want people to feel?

More importantly, which actions do you want them to take?

Having a least a rough idea of this will really help you avoid the unnecessary meandering and ruthlessly cut out the boring parts.

2. Invoke the Senses

storytelling five sensesPhoto Credit: Rafael Parrsie

To create a full, engaging experience… we must write to delight all five of the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. – Marianne Richmond

Appealing to the senses adds an immediacy to your story. It gets your audience imagining what things look, feel, smell, sound, and taste like – a recipe for high emotional engagement.

Using visual, audio, and kinesthetic cues are some of the best ways to get your audience immersed in the story experience.

Why?

When storytellers invoke the senses, it gets people out of their heads and into their bodies. Mirror neurons fire in our brains, which makes us feel whatever the storyteller describes. Do this from the get go, and you can ease people into a highly emotional and receptive state.

Too many businesses are shooting themselves in the foot by talking product specs and technical details early on.

You can (and should) discuss that stuff later to help people rationalize their decision to do business with you. But they’ll get bored quickly if you don’t work them into an emotional state first.

The goal isn’t to get people to shut off their brains or manipulate them. It’s to get them so immersed in the experience that they can’t help but keep reading to see what happens next.

1. Use Conflict As Fuel

storytelling conflictPhoto Credit: toddheft

Good stories are about challenge or conflict. Without these elements, stories aren’t very interesting. The compelling part of a story is how people deal with conflict – so start with the people and the conflict. – Susan Fisher

Great stories wouldn’t be great without drama… and there isn’t drama without a healthy dose of conflict.

Imagine telling your friends a story of how you woke up one morning, went to work, and decided to sit outside on the patio after you got home. You might get a sympathy “nice” or “that’s great.” Mostly, you’re get confusion and bored looks.

But what if you told a different version where which you woke up and were about to leave for work, only to be interrupted by a loud banging noise? When you looked outside, you saw your neighbor’s apartment getting kicked in by a horde of cops and even the SWAT team?

Their ears perk up. You have their attention now. The conflict – wondering what happened to the neighbor inside the apartment – makes all the difference.

What are the top challenges your audience is facing right now?

How can your products or services help them overcome them?

That gap – between where they are now and the outcome they want to achieve – is fertile ground for engaging stories.

The more specific you can identify pain points and tailor your messages to them, the more engaging your stories become.

The Path to Authentic Connection and More Business

No matter how tight your budget, you can use storytelling in your blog, emails, advertising hooks, and anywhere else you communicate with prospects.

No one has to listen anymore. Today, people have thousands of other things they could be doing. Shopping online. Playing on social media. Texting. And so on.

It’s up to you to get people wanting to pay attention.

So give storytelling a try. In our hyper-stimulated world, there’s no better way to deliver a truly captivating experience.

Do you use storytelling in your communications with prospects and clients? How do you do it? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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by Corey Pemberton
Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses and software startups get more traffic and conversions online. You can find him on his website or follow him on Twitter.