‘Those who tell the stories rule the world.’ – Hopi proverb

So you’ve had a business idea and you’ve made a start. You’ve been hustling and putting stuff out and you’re getting good feedback. Perhaps you’ve worked directly with some clients and they rave about what you do or you’ve got some early adopters of your app or service and they’re loving it.

Congratulations! You’ve proved what you’re doing has some real value to people. But for some reason you’re not getting enough people turning from website visitors into subscribers or buyers. You’re great but people don’t know it until after they’ve used you. When you reach this point it’s time to tell a story. A story in this context is about capturing what you do in a simple message that instantly communicates its value to the people who can benefit.

Stories are at the heart of modern marketing. One of the world’s greatest marketing experts, Seth Godin, says that, ‘Marketing is telling a story about your value that resonates enough with people that they want to give you money.’

Marketing is different in this connected world than it was in earlier days of TV, radio and magazines. In the last century you could simply describe your product, broadcast it to millions of people and guarantee you’d get sales. But today that doesn’t work so well. Your opinion of a product is probably based more on what you hear from friends and social media than on broadcast TV ads. Therefore, as Seth puts it, ‘Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make but about the stories you tell.’

What is a story?

A story is simply the most effective way to communicate information and make it stick in people’s minds. Stories are how we think, how we make sense of the world. The difference between information and a story is emotion. An effective story makes you feel something. And as Maya Angelou once said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Stories are how we think, how we make sense of the world. The difference between information and a story is emotion.

What makes a story emotionally powerful is a sense of change over time. At the start you are one thing, by the end you are something (or someone) quite different. In the Harry Potter story, Harry starts as an orphan living in a cupboard and ends the first novel as a wizard and a hero.

Don’t imagine though that a story has to be as elaborate as a novel or film. Screw Work Break Free is a story even if it is only four words. It speaks to the desire to throw in the towel on a boring job and escape to freedom. Think of it like a before and after. Before, you’re in work you want to say ‘screw it’ to. After, you’re free to do whatever you want. For both the before and after, an image is brought to mind and it’s the transition between these two images that generates the emotion – in this case, excitement.

What’s your makeover story?

If you’ve ever seen a makeover story in a magazine, it is a very visual way to show someone’s transformation – the guy who guys from dressing like a slob to looking smart and fashionable or the woman who guys from drab office wear to Saturday night star.

A makeover story revolves around before and after photos. And even if you are not transforming someone’s wardrobe and don’t have photos, you can apply exactly the same principle. If you can capture an image in someone’s mind of someone before they use your product or service or advice and after, it is a very powerful piece of marketing. That’s because it’s the transformation people are paying for – from being unsatisfied to feeling happy.

For example, if you are someone who teaches people how to get the best out of their PC and the internet, describe the image of the person despondent and frustrated before they meet you and happy and productive afterwards.

If you make an app that manages people’s social media notifications in one place, describe the image of the someone distracted by numerous different social media inboxes and notifications (and occasionally missing some important things) and afterwards feeling completely in control.

If you can describe the before and after in a sentence or two you can use it on your website, when people ask what you do, and when giving a presentation. It’s the heart of your marketing.

Can’t think of your story?

If you can’t quite imagine your before and after, try asking someone who is a fan of your work. Then use their own words! So if they tell you a story like this, you’ve hit marketing gold: “I was always so disappointed by other snacks that claimed to be healthy but actually were packed full of sugar. So when I finally found your healthybars I was delighted! They taste great and they’re really healthy. They’re the perfect snack when I’m rushing to my morning gym session!”

So what’s your story? Post it in a comment below…


Learn more about he power of story and viral marketing in my new book Screw Work Break Free. Enter your email to download a free chapter: