By Tom Lazaroff & Bruce Dundore, cofounders at The Fundamental Group
- Companies are accustomed to telling stories about themselves and their products. But in reality, these types of narratives often don’t hook customers.
- Instead of focusing on your company’s story, try focusing on your customer’s story. Captivate your audience with meaningful and relevant stories about them, not you.
- Executing this requires 1) getting to know your audience, 2) avoiding jargon, 3) identifying an underdog in your company or customer’s story, 4) connecting data to that story and 5) building drama within that story.
Every game has its rules. Storytelling is no different. If you are going to tell a good story, you’ll find the most success if you play under some basic guidelines.
After decades of helping companies like BlackLine, LaCroix and New Balance craft their stories, The Fundamental Group has pinpointed five tricks to telling company tales that customers actually want to hear.
1. Get to know your audience.
If you sell dog leashes in a B2C business, then you probably understand dog owners pretty well. You know what their interests are (dogs), what gets their attention (high-quality leashes) and what they are passionate about (getting their dog a high-quality leash). Thus, you know your job is to tell a story about dogs and leashes in a way they have never heard before.
In the B2B world, it’s not so simple. It’s not as easy to understand the interests and passions of a compliance manager, CIO or controller. However, if you want any of these people to purchase your product, you must create a story that’s relevant to their world. So get to know their world in detail. Get to know their hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations. Focus on the problems your audience is trying to solve, then let your story be the solution.
2. Lose the jargon.
Please don’t use a three-letter acronym or industry-specific phrase in a meeting with a customer. The dog-leash buyer at a pet store, for example, likely doesn’t know media consulting jargon like “SME” or “boil the ocean.” Jargon is one of the most alienating, narcissistic and self-sabotaging tactics you can use with customers. It communicates a message of, “I know more than you, and I am keeping it a secret.” It puts up a wall between you and your prospect. If they aren’t familiar with your lingo, then they’ll feel confused or inferior and tune out. Jargon puts them on guard and creates distrust.
To fix this, go through every presentation, blog post and page of your website, and take out the jargon. Your potential customer will thank you.
It’s worth noting, however, that jargon can be helpful when you’re selling. If you use jargon from the prospect’s industry and “speak their language,” it can demonstrate empathy and show that you understand your audience.
3. Identify an underdog.
Humanity has rooted for underdogs since the days of David and Goliath. Today, box office champions are those with stories about overcoming impossibly long odds to succeed: Think the Guardians of the Galaxy, Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen. Every movie hero needs an uber-villain and impossible odds to make them an underdog and to make the audience cheer for them.
Similarly, people want to see small companies to succeed. They’ll experience your brilliance through the obstacles you overcome. Thus, in the B2C world, you should tell a story about going up against the “big guys” (Goliath) and why being the “little guy” (David) makes you different.
In B2B companies, meanwhile, your customer must be the underdog. They’ve got a ton of concerns, a limited budget, and they struggle to survive and to stand out in their industry. Your stories should focus on how your customer becomes a hero with the support of your product or service. The longer the odds, the better the story.
4. Connect your facts to a story.
In the old days, car companies loved to use cutaway shots of engines in their ads. But just telling your audience that an engine “runs at XX RPMs” says nothing if that engine speed doesn’t deliver on an emotion. Putting facts out there without a “why” behind them means everyone is free to draw a different conclusion from what you’ve told them. Is that engine’s power a good thing because it makes me go fast? Does it put me in danger of getting a speeding ticket? Does it mean the car is dangerous and shouldn’t be purchased? Data without context is a dangerous orphan.
In 2018, we have more data at our fingertips than ever before. So make the data a slave to your story. A pair of wireless earbuds can be sold with the phrase “has a 25-hour battery life” or “offers an entire day of musical escape.” The number isn’t the point here: it’s what you can do with the battery life that matters. If data doesn’t make you feel something -- I can spend an entire day listening to music without having to recharge! -- then it’s worthless.
5. Build drama.
Have you heard the old adage, “You need to have a bad relationship to truly appreciate a good one?” The same goes for stories. They rely on drama and tension. Will love conquer all? Will the good guy survive? Is right stronger than wrong?
To take advantage of this, set up a strong “bad vs. good” contrast in your customer story. Perhaps the “bad guy” is the earbud brand that offers only 15 hours of battery life, requiring battery packs for charging on the go. In this scenario, the “good guy” is your earbud company, which offers 25 hours of battery life with no need for extra gadgets.
Successful stories also have an explicit downside if the hero doesn’t prevail. Maybe the world will be overrun by aliens. Or maybe the hero will die. Or maybe couple will never find true love. Unless there’s a real threat of something bad happening, there’s no joy when something good happens.
Thus, your customers need to know what the stakes are if they don’t use your product. They need to feel the looming failure that awaits. The fate of the world might not hang in the balance (indeed, the planet won’t explode if they purchase those 15-hour earbuds), but there will be personal ramifications if they make the wrong choice (they’ll lose significant amounts of listening time every day if they don’t choose your 25-hour product). Talk about those ramifications in your story.
This article is part II of The Fundamental Group’s three-part series on storytelling. For more, see part I, “The Surefire Way To Make People Remember Your Brand.”
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