What’s the biggest challenge of marketing in the Age of Information Overload?
Cutting through the clutter and getting your audiences to notice you and then to trust you.
Corporate trainer and storyteller Annette Simmons has the answer: don’t try to explain things to people. Instead, tell them a story.
Melting the heart of a racist
For example, take the story at the beginning of her book, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling.
It was 1992 and Simmons was attending a storytelling conference in Tennessee. She was sitting next to a “grey-bearded farmer-type in overalls with an ‘NRA’ button on his cap. As an African-American man got up to speak, this man turned to his wife and whispered something in an irritated tone that included the word ‘nigra.’ I mentally dared him to say it again.”
But then, something surprising happens:
The African-American storyteller began to tell us his story of a lonely night during the 1960s deep in the heart of Mississippi. He and the six other activists feared the dangers they would face by marching the next morning. He described how they stared into the campfire, as one of them began to sing. The singing calmed their fears. His story was so real we could feel the fear and see the light of the campfire. Then he asked us to sing with him. We did. ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ vibrated out of our throats like a big 400-pipe organ. Next to me the farmer man sang too. I saw a tear roll down his red cheek.
This anecdote is just one of dozens of inspirational tales in Simmons’s book. For those who already know the power of story to build trust essential for business managers, salespeople and marketers, The Story Factor is a goldmine for anecdotes and quotes to use in your own storytelling.
Why you need more stories
And for those who are not yet convinced of the value of story in business, Simmons offers a solid case that telling tales will make you more successful.
Just as inbound marketing is a more successful way to reach consumers today than interruptive tactics like ads or cold calls, so telling a story is more persuasive than giving a straight-up pitch.
“Other methods of influence — persuasion, bribery, or charismatic appeals — are push strategies,” Simmons writes. “If your story is good enough, people — of their own free will — come to the conclusion they can trust you and the message you bring.”
While we may use lots of new technology to communicate with each other today, the basics of human psychology remain the same as in caveman days:
- People act on emotion rather than logic
- They’ll fit your data into their existing story
- Thus, story trumps facts
Arguing over climate change
For example, just think of the issue of climate change.
I believe it’s real and that it’s caused mostly by humans burning fossil fuels. Every new scientific report of melting glaciers in the Rockies, hurricane devastation on the East Coast or drought in California, makes me more certain that America needs to start doing something to seriously reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, take this recent one from green blog Grist: “Sea levels are rising and they’re not going to stop, says NASA.” Depressing.
Sometimes, when I share the latest scary climate article with my conservative friends on Facebook, Jonathan and Rick, I naively hope this is going to finally be the one that convinces them that they’re wrong about climate change being a hoax. Especially if the source is NASA — how can they argue with that?
It turns out, they can argue with that.
They’ll say that NASA is part of the climate alarmist conspiracy. Then, they’ll post a link to a counter-study touting its own data proving that things aren’t really so bad. The climate isn’t warmer. It’s actually cooling!
Or, if it really is getting hotter, then it’s not so bad.
Or, if it is getting hotter and it is bad, things will get better soon because climate change is a natural cycle. Or that it’s caused by solar flares. In any event, there’s no reason to cut greenhouse gases, so no reason to cut coal and oil either.
The point is, Jonathan and Rick have got their story down. No amount of facts from me will change that.
Story first, facts second
The big message here? Tell your story first and then give your facts second. Otherwise, you’ll meet resistance, as I do when I talk about climate change with my conservative friends.
A good story helps you influence the interpretation people give to facts. Facts aren’t influential until they mean something to someone. A story delivers a context so that your facts slide into new slots in your listeners’ brains. If you don’t give them a new story, they will simply slide new facts into old slots.
I honestly haven’t found a good story for people like Jonathan and Rick who reject climate science. That would be the Holy Grail of storytelling for me!
In the meantime, I’m convinced that, in marketing, telling a story will create more trust than trying to make a sale. And the beauty of story is that, as a softball pitch rather than a hard sell, it’s the pitch that keeps on pitching.
“Story is like a computer program that you load into someone’s mind so they can play it using their own input,” writes Simmons. “The best stories play over and over and create the outcomes that fit your goals and ensure that the person you influence (in absentia) is happy with their new choices.”
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group