Life isn’t fair.
If it were, your success would be directly proportional to your ability. The better you were, the more business you’d get.
But it doesn’t quite work like that does it.
Just because you do a good job for one client, doesn’t necessarily result in more customers banging at your door.
So if your market won’t come to you, then you’ve got to go out to the market and make a good argument for why it should pay attention to you.
And that’s not easy. You’re up against a huge amount of noise and the volume dial is already at 11.
In this environment, shouting louder isn’t the answer.
You need something that has the power to penetrate the maelstrom of marketing. Something that will garner your market’s full attention and clearly communicates the value of your unique expertise and experience.
That thing is a good story.
Problem is, stories have gotten a bad rap lately. The term has been so overused so as to render it almost meaningless.
And that’s a shame because the right stories are packed full of meaning for your market.
Take your customers’ stories. Coming as they do from credible third parties, they offer an independent, relevant and more convincing evaluation of the value you deliver.
Because they help your market see your business through the eyes of your customers, they deliver a more believable appraisal of who you are, what you do and what makes you special.
What’s more, there’s strong scientific evidence that their personal story is one of your businesses most powerful attention grabbers.
Let’s look at how the science works.
The Science of Storytelling
Take a look at the image below.
This is your brain on stories.
The image is the result of a study undertaken by Jack Gallant, a computational and cognitive neuroscientist who has his own brain research lab at UC Berkeley.
To get the image, Gallant placed his subjects in an FMRI machine and recorded their brain activity, while they listened to stories.
His stimuli were taken from the Moth Radio Hour. A platform for semi-professional storytellers to share their anecdotes. The stories were mostly autobiographical, covering themes such as love, loss and redemption.
What you’re seeing is the brain lighting up. Synapses firing and neuro-processes sparking into life.
Gallant found that when language passes from your ear to your brain, it splits into two elements, syntax – what is being said and semantics – the meaning of what’s being said.
Syntax is dealt with in one place, the primary auditor cortex. Essentially language’s gateway to your brain.
Semantics, however, passes much deeper and activates an entire constellation of brain activity. The process of finding the meaning within stories involves lots of different areas of the brain.
Gallant concluded that stories hold your brain’s attention. The more engaging the story, the more your brain hums to the tune of the tale.
It’s worth noting that this study was the only one he didn’t have to pay his subjects to take part in. This is important, not just because of the participants’ willingness to be involved but because being in an FMRI machine is not an attractive proposition.
How to Capture Compelling Customer Stories
Your job is to find the stories that will set your market’s minds alight.
People are innately self-centered and so they typically enjoy stories that relate to themselves and their situation.
So it makes sense that your customer stories will be of interest, especially when told from their perspective.
Crafting your customers’ stories is not something you can do in isolation. Only your clients can tell you their story.
And that means sitting down with them to get it.
However, capturing the story in a way that will be persuasive to prospective customers requires knowing the ingredients that will grab interest and the questions you need to ask to uncover these valuable insights.
Here are the 5 areas we explore to capture compelling customer stories for our clients:
1. What prompted the search for products and services such as yours.
This speaks to motivation and the factors both good and bad that triggered their search. You’re looking to them to communicate a relatable scenario that will be meaningful to your audience.
Areas to explore: The objectives they wanted to achieve, the challenges they wanted to solve and the consequences of failing to meet these needs.
2. Why they chose you.
This speaks to your customer’s buyer journey and decision making process. It highlights how they made their decision and the distinct factors that they felt made you the perfect partner. What’s more it offers you key insights for displacing your competition.
Areas to explore: Who else they considered, what they liked about you and what they didn’t like about the other options they investigated.
3. What you did.
This speaks to the efficacy of your process and approach. It reveals the reasons why you were so well equipped to help your client achieve their goals. Be careful. This is not about how it works but why it works.
Areas to explore: The specific actions you took to help achieve their goals and why they were effective.
4. The results you achieved.
This speaks to the effectiveness of your unique mix of experience and expertise. It further cements your difference from the rest of your market and offers a tangible measurable result from which your audience can gauge their own potential success.
Areas to explore: The measurable outcomes of your work together.
5. The impact of your work together
This speaks to transformation. After all, this is the real end game for your client and your market. It’s what they are really buying. Some sort of positive transformation in their situation. And while results are enticing it’s the impact those results have had that makes them meaningful. Because it’s the impact that demonstrates the real positive change.
Areas to explore: How your client’s circumstances have improved compared to when they first approached you and the positive impact your work has had on other areas of their business.
A Masterclass in Selling with Stories
To see this process in action, I’d highly recommend checking out the inspiration for this article. ‘Your Brain on Podcasts’, is an episode of Freakonomics Radio, presented by Stephen Dubner, of Freakomonics and Super Freakomonics fame.
For those interested, the first half offers more insight into the science behind Gallant’s research.
In the second half, Dubner talks to listeners of the show to find out why they like Freakonomics Radio and more importantly what they get out of it. It’s a masterclass in how to elicit great stories and use them to trigger a specific action.
In this case fundraising for the show’s continued existence.
It’s also worth listening to the opening seconds of the podcast titled ‘In Praise of Maintenance’, which delivers one of the worst uses of the word ‘story’ in any marketing, I’ve come across.
With strap lines like that, it’s no wonder stories are getting a bad name.