Most people love stories for entertainment-we go to the movies to watch stories, we read novels before bed, and we share our own stories with friends. But aside from the entertainment value, storytelling is a powerful marketing and selling technique that you can use for business-related writing projects. And by understanding how stories work, you can engage your readers and teach them with examples that illustrate your ideas.
What Makes Stories so Effective?
Stories work well because they SHOW readers what you want them to understand, rather than TELL them. That means your readers will picture what's happening in their minds. This can be quite powerful if you're trying to teach them a new skill or make the case for an argument. Plus, people remember stories for longer and if the story is particularly memorable, they might share it with someone they know and pass the word along about the solutions you can offer.
How Do Stories Work?
If you consider movies, short stories, and novels, you will probably notice some similarities in the way the story is constructed. Every successful story includes some basic elements, including a character/hero, a goal or journey, an obstacle, a solution, and a resolution. You should include these elements in your stories as well.
Start with the character or hero-who is your target audience for the piece you're writing? Either imagine this person in your mind, or pick a person who you've worked with in the past, and make sure the person is someone your target reader can empathize with.
That empathy might come from a common goal, or the need that your product or service fills. For example, if you're marketing a weight-loss program, your target audience will most likely be someone who is overweight. Therefore, your character should be overweight too.
The solution part is easy: whatever product or service you're marketing is the solution you want your readers to see. So this is what your character finds and uses to reach his or her goal. Finally, the resolution. That's the benefit your readers will experience from using your product or service. Consider again the weight-loss example. The benefit would be losing the weight.
How Can You Harness the Power of the Story?
To make your story work, you need to know what conclusion you want your reader to draw from reading it. So first, think about what you want your reader to learn. If you're marketing a how-to book, for example, you might use a story in your marketing materials that shows how a person (very similar to someone in your target market) was struggling with a particular problem, then read your book and found the answer, and finally resolved her issue and reaped the benefits of doing so.
Here's another example: When Ben bought his new house, he couldn't wait to plant a vegetable garden out back. He found the perfect place with plenty of sun, and then started digging up the grass to expose the soil underneath. As soon as the earth came into view, Ben got worried. The soil in his yard was dry and spent with big seams of clay running through it. My garden will never grow in soil this poor, Ben thought. Then a neighbor recommended 10 Steps to a Bountiful Harvest by Betty Green. With a whole chapter devoted to soil preparation, Ben knew exactly what he needed to do to get his garden ready for planting. Three months later, Ben was eating plump red tomatoes right off the vine.
Now, if you were a new gardener hungry for your first harvest, wouldn't you be interested in Betty Green's new book (which I completely made up, by the way)?
Now it's Your Turn . . .
Although we think of stories as entertainment, they can also be powerful motivators in your marketing materials. When you use stories in your articles, blog posts, and other business projects, your audience will not only enjoy reading what you have to say, they'll also better retain it and be more likely to view the solution you present in the story as something they can use too. Now that's a powerful story!