How to Tell Stories That Sell

Emotional power. A character you identify with. Conflict and resolution. Surprise. Intrinsic truth. All qualities of great fiction—and all qualities that make for a great marketing story.

Think about it. What makes your work memorable isn’t an in-your-face sales pitch. Anyone who ties you up with ego-first talk or clogs up content with text about how great she is will surely cause you to excuse yourself as quickly as possible or click away.

What we all remember best are stories—stories that grab us, that move us, that we know in our guts are true, that teach, that inspire.

Using stories to sell is the hot trend in all genres of marketing these days. But how to do it well? You don’t want to be the boring guy at the party who rambles on and on and loses his punch line in the telling.

Here are some basic elements to keep in mind, borrowed from the world of fiction writing, that will help you craft a memorable story about your good work:

Build Your Story Around a Compelling Character Your Client Can Relate To
Great characters—flawed, complex, human—are at the heart of all great fiction. For a story to sell your work, you need to focus on someone who came to you for help, someone down-to-earth, with problems and interests that reflect your target client.

Give some telling details about the person. What brought her to you? If there isn’t an issue with confidentiality, use her name, describe some aspect of her personal circumstances, mannerisms, appearance. Enable the reader or listener to picture her and feel a connection.

Describe a Problem and How You Solved It
This is the marketing version of the classic conflict-resolution structure of any work of fiction. Your main character comes to you for help. What is she struggling with? How did you draw her out, listen to her concerns and then come up with the perfect solution to her problem? What was her reaction? What was the outcome of your work together?

It’s most persuasive if you can show the actual benefit—an eleventh-hour computer fix that enabled your client to meet her deadline, a student who won first place in a poetry recitation competition because you tutored him in the use of mnemonics, an injured athlete who regained the ability to compete because of your excellent massage therapy.

Pique your audience’s interest with a problem-solution that’s unexpected. Don’t settle for the typical story that any of your competitors could tell. Demonstrate what’s unique, creative and thoughtful about the way you helped your client. And if the story has some humor, all the better.

Use Telling Quotes and Details that Establish Your Authority
We can all see through fake testimonial stories—the ones that are so general, they sound made-up. When you create a story to sell your work, like any good fiction writer, be sure to use specific details that are unique to the situation, to your professions, that feel real because they are true.

If your client/central character said something truly unique and memorable, using words that no one could have put in her mouth, to describe her feelings about how you made a difference in her life, be sure to include that. Often, a powerful quote that drives home the point of your story is best placed at the end, where the words will resonate long after your reader clicks away from your website.

Above all, be sure that everything about your story is true and verifiable. Nothing undercuts your work more quickly and completely than exaggeration and out-right lies.

Of course, if you do great work, you won’t be at a loss for great stories that prove it.


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