Want to engage your prospects? Tell them a story

To engage with pospects use brand stories

How often have you visited a company’s website to read something like “we go the extra mile”, “we give one hundred and ten percent”, or “our product is best in class”? I’ve lost track of the number of companies that make those kind of statements on the homepage, but offer nothing to back them up.

All the statements about service, product quality, innovation, or how much you care may be true, but they’re meaningless if everyone says the same thing. We read those generalised messages of excellence everyday, and our usual response is, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, “well they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

So how do you rise above the din of empty phrases and really convince people that you mean what you say? Well, I’d suggest that you look to one of the oldest tricks in the book — storytelling.

Stories have the ability to tap into our imaginations and emotions, and once you have someone picturing a thing in their mind’s eye, or feeling emotionally involved with something, you’re half way to convincing them. Quite simply, there is no more effective way of building a bond with your customer than through a story.

When I write story here, I’m not talking about the kind of tale we tell children at bedtime (although The Guardian’s Three Little Pigs advert from last year shows that there is still plenty of mileage in children’s stories), I’m talking about storytelling in the broadest sense of the word.

Let me give you a few examples.

Leather goods may not seem like an obvious product to offer a compelling story, but Saddleback Leather, a purveyor of hand-crafted leather products, would prove that assumption false. The company’s website, prominently features “The Saddleback Story”, in which the founder of the company details the story of commissioning his first leather bag from a Mexican leather worker and how that event lead to the creation of his business.

It’s an engaging tale, peppered with personal details and stories of his adventures in Mexico, and throughout the narrative he weaves in references to the quality and workmanship of the bags his company produces. When you’ve finished reading, you know something about the man behind the business, you have a sense of his passion for what he does and the values his company stands for. Most importantly, you want one of Saddleback’s tough as nails, beautifully hand-crafted leather bags.

Recently, supermarket chain Waitrose promoted a series of recipes from chef Heston Blumenthal. It started with “The Boy and the Lamb” a short tale recounting an early culinary experience from the famous chef’s life. A young Heston, on holiday in France with his parents, visits a restaurant where he sees a chef creating an unusual lamb recipe using anchovies. The story was presented through TV ads and print, with the recipe distributed in store and on the web.

You might wonder how much impact a story like that can have. Well, if I tell you that The Boy and the Lamb campaign delivered Waitrose a 400% increase in week on week sales of anchovies, and likely a similar increase in purchases of lamb, you might have some idea of its effectiveness.

But you don’t have to be a major brand to adopt the storytelling approach. A little while ago, one of my agency’s clients was looking for a way to communicate his company’s dedication to good customer service without resorting to the empty phrases I described earlier. We looked to storytelling for a solution.

In screenwriting, there is the mantra “show, don’t tell”, so along those lines we looked for stories about the company that would show its commitment to service. The client explained how he chose to move his customer support centre out of London — not for the usual cost-cutting reasons, but so he could spend more of the budget on hiring better qualified staff instead of spending money on the high costs that came with being based in the capital. It’s not a big, sexy story, but shows (rather than tells) prospective customers the focus the business has on providing great customer support.

As John Hegarty (multi award-winning copywriter and founder of advertising powerhouse BBH) wrote in his book On Advertising, story is “the simplest most memorable device we have for engaging, learning, entertaining and persuading”. So if you’re looking to make your business stand out, and want to truly engage with prospects, tell them a story.

To get some tips on how to find the brand stories that work for you read my previous article on finding compelling brand stories.

This article previously appeared on talkbusinessmagazine.co.uk.

About the Author

Nick Irons

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Nick Irons is Co-founder and Creative Director of Tribus Creative Ltd., a brand communications company for small businesses. He spent almost fifteen years in the entertainment industry as a writer, producer, and performer, before moving into branding and design consultancy. He is a fervent believer in the power of storytelling to unlock the value in brands both big and small.