The Art of Story-Selling and Why Social Enterprises Need to Master It

Storytelling doesn't just happen around the campfire.
Storytelling doesn’t just happen around the campfire.

By Zack Rosenberg

A great entrepreneur once told me that the key to his success was getting the voice of his business just right. Fifteen degrees in one direction and the tone of the conversation might sound too salesy. Twenty degrees in the other direction and there is a risk of losing the interest of the target audience.  How many attempts would he have to tell his story and peak the interest of potential consumers? Not many. It had to be right.

With the advent of social media, we can find out if our “voice” works, in real time. This is both a blessing and a curse, but no matter what we are able to quickly gauge a reaction from our consumers. While this proves that great stories are important, the reactions, however, are typically in the form of “shareability” metrics which can handcuff us as brands to the wrong things. Our goal at the end of the day is to move business metrics (sales, traffic, sign-ups, etc.), and to do that, we need to use the power of story to reinforce the brand and relevance for the listener. I call this “story-selling.”

Content and stories are and always have been the ideal way to market, everyone loves a good story. But, it’s the story of how our brand or product impacts those who use it that matters. For example, Subway restaurants became a great example of storytelling through their Jared campaign. While their message about how healthy their meals were had long been a part of the brand story, demonstrating how it transformed someone’s life made it real in a way consumers had never seen and the message resonated. Sales jumped 20 percent, huge for a company that size.

That’s where I believe the better, more refined approach is story-selling. TOMS shoes is another great example. The story begins, “for every pair of shoes you buy…” and the ending, another is given to a child in need, story-sells the listener. My action caused a reaction. Now, that’s compelling!

Better than compelling, trying asking someone about a pair of TOMS they are wearing, “Did you know they….” In other words, the consumers become advocates who then become story-sellers too.

Here is another example. FEED: Projects recently launched a national campaign with Target. The campaign touted cool clothes that also provided between 35-50 meals per purchase through Feeding America. I don’t know about you but that promotion took over my newsfeed for weeks!

We use story-selling every day and you can too. One caveat. The most important phrase in the story-selling repertoire is Because of You.

Recently our company ran a campaign promoting natural/organic bug sprays that cost nearly twice as much as those found on drugstore shelves. Why would someone have paid that much more? Yes, it works and yes it’s the safest product for children and pets. Having said that, why pay twice as much?

The answer is… Because of You. The customer needs to understand the benefit of the additional financial investment. We worked with an organization called Thistle Farms who used the proceeds from sales to give women a second chance at life. Our social media content focused on the good that could be done in the community through every purchase. Now this product is our number one seller and we can report to our customers that so far we have given 12 women the opportunity to enroll in college programs. And that message of success was picked up by social media, urging more people to support the product and the cause.

Suddenly paying more offered even more value. Our consumers became advocates and the sales keep coming in.

As you are reading this you likely came up with some ways this strategy can translates to your business, whether you are a small business, nonprofit or a multi-national. The key is to focus on what you mean to your communities and just as important, what your customers do as well. Share their stories and remind us how because of their actions, great things happened.

[Image credit: seantoyer, Flickr]

Zack Rosenberg is a social entrepreneur and Co-Founder of DoGoodBuyUs, the marketplace for Goods that Do Good. After a career in advertising working for companies such as BuzzFeed, WebMD, SmartBrief and others, he turned his attention to transforming the world through business.

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