Stories/Storytelling Archives

Marketing lesson from a singing janitor

While leaving a medical appointment at a clinic a couple of months ago, I walked alongside a janitor on my way to the elevator.

He sang the entire time while carrying his supplies and putting things in order. He’s an older guy so his songs were from a different era and far more pleasant than the usual Top 40 hits piped through speakers.

We entered the same elevator and he paused to chat with a woman who was exiting the elevator.

During our elevator ride he spent the entire time telling me what a wonderful woman she is and how he wished he could chat with her in Spanish, her native language. He was generous with his praise even though I didn’t know the woman.

As we left the elevator he immediately started singing again as he set about his cleaning tasks.

I was only with him for about 30 seconds so there was no chance to ask him how long he’s worked there or get any details about his life.

Even though he didn’t say a word about himself,  those 30 seconds in his presence told me volumes about him.

Normally when passing people in a hallway at a medical clinic you usually don’t give them more than a moment’s attention and you certainly don’t remember them two months later. The same is true of most websites.

When people drop by your website you probably have no longer than 30 seconds to make an impression before they move in.

Are you like the singing janitor and stand out from the crowd by being different and by NOT blabbing endlessly about yourself or your product?

Do you leave them with the desire to learn more about you and your story?

Marketing and storytelling lessons from QVC

QVC, the ultimate home shopping network, succeeds in persuading people to buy products they can’t see or touch.

Even perfume.

So I think there are a few copywriting lessons here for you.

According to The Atlantic’s story about QVC this month, each QVC host receives six months of training because they must master the details of dozens of products.

Here’s quick video of how they sell perfume on television:

How do they make perfume appear so desirable on TV?

“The answer is that you tell a story—a story about the viewer, and the product’s place in her life.”

QVC hosts usually work in teams, which fosters an “over the backyard fence” atmosphere.

“The model is less a sales pitch than a coffee klatch where friends trade tips on hot new products.”

Here’s how a host describes a pair of earrings:

“It’s almost like they’re coins you’ve been collecting for years, and you had them made into jewelry.” She beamed at the camera. “There’s a very Aztec feel.”

In addition to the stories, the hosts succeed in making you feel like you’re having a conversation with them. QVC fans talk about the hosts as if they are their friends.

How can you create this “over the fence atmosphere” in your business?

Consider making videos where there are two people conversing about the product.

Also, email and social media give you opportunities to be conversational.

Granted, QVC sells products that are largely status items to an audience that is mostly female and your business may be nothing like that.

But QVC is a reminder to every marketer that storytelling and building relationships with your customers is what it’s about, regardless of your product or niche.

5 types of stories to use in email copy

An email copywriter is, essentially, a storyteller.

My clients will usually ask me something like, “Write me stories like that one you wrote on your blog/list about the old lady in the grocery store.”

They almost never say, “Write me 7 killer tips about affiliate marketing” even if they have an affiliate marketing product.

Stories are memorable. The reader probably forgets whatever marketing tip was at the end of the story but they remember the actual story.

It’s through the stories that some serious relationship-building can happen too.

Obviously it all depends on your own list and your niche but I’ve had clients in niches as diverse as how to teach your child the Nigerian language, family law, internet marketing and muscle cars and stories seem to work across the board.

Even if the client wants a 7 part series on, say, SEO, I’m able to include stories. I mix it up, of course, and often use a mix of these 5 types of stories during the course of a series:

1.) First person story – a story about you, like, “While I was at the driving range the other day…”

2.) Third person story – such as telling a story about a customer’s experience with your product.

3.) Metaphor – a metaphor is a mini story that succinctly summarizes a benefit or problem in a sentence or two. Gary Bencivenga says that if you master metaphors you’ll be one of the most persuasive people on the planet. A metaphor example: “A burst of energy just hit me like a train carrying 10 tons of espresso.

4.) Analogy/Extended Metaphor – open with a description of a current news item, movie, book, etc. and transition
into the how-to tip/product promo.

5.) An “imagine story”- Tell a story of an ideal situation or fantasy and then show how your product will help make that a reality.

The less an email reads like a how-to article or a sales letter, the better.

How to add Breakfast Club moments to your business

Today we will discuss the power of the Breakfast Club story and how to add Breakfast Club moments to your business.

The movie came out in 1985 and is about five high school kids who have to spend a Saturday in detention together.

On the surface, the kids each fit a certain stereotype and seem very different from each other: a criminal, athlete, princess, basket case and brain.

The movie made such a powerful impact on us Gen Xers at the time because the movie understood us. It perfectly portrayed what high school life was like.

If you’ve never seen the movie, click here to watch a trailer.

It’s almost impossible to discuss the movie without asking, “Which Breakfast Club character were you in high school?”

For the record, I was a mix of Anthony Michael Hall (brain/dork) and Ally Sheedy (basket case) in high school.

In addition to making us feel understood, the movie helped us understand others.

There are many moments throughout the movie where the characters let down their guard and talk about the pain beneath their facades. One even felt empathy toward Bender, the loser/criminal character, when he showed everyone the cigar burn on his arm from his father.

The movie also me feel empathy toward the bullies I knew in high school.

At the end of the movie, the brain character writes an essay in which he says that all five of them realized, at the end of the detention, that all of them are a combination of the princess, criminal, brain, athlete and basket case. They are all more alike than they ever would have guessed.

Or as the Emilio Estevez character said, “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”

So what does this have to do with your online business?

The relationship the Breakfast Club characters were able to develop with each other on that day never could have been planned.

Like all such experiences, it happened spontaneously.

Obviously you can’t get your clients and prospects together in a detention hall and spend a day listening to them.

But when your clients and prospects spontaneously contact you through email and social media, they will sometimes reveal things to you that you never would have thought to ask yourself.

Quite often what they will say to you has nothing to do with you or your product and sometimes it will be negative.

Instead of dismissing what they say, you should treat it like a Breakfast Club moment.  The more you show  you understand them and have empathy, the more effective your marketing campaigns and product development will be.

For more about that I suggest you read my other posts about listening.

Finally, when writing email copy, include occasional Breakfast Club moments of your own, where you are transparent and tell a story about yourself and connect with your prospects on a human level.

No one wants to read one sales pitch after another and constant chest-thumping. How-to information is useful but too much of it is just makes people feel overwhelmed, especially if it’s not immediately applicable to them.

Like Claire in the Breakfast club, who overcame her embarrassment and showed them all her unique way of putting on lipstick, let them see a different side of you sometimes.


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Fun Friday: On baseball flips and marketing

Check out this video of a baseball playing doing a flip over a catcher to avoid getting tagged:

Of course after watching this I wasn’t content… I wanted to know the player’s story.

Does he have a gymnastics background? Did he hurt himself? What was going through his mind before deciding to do the flip? Where did he grow up?

He’s an ordinary player who plays for a team with a losing record, yet he managed to do something extraordinary. This play happened two days ago and the video has more than a million views already.

The marketing (and life) lesson here is pretty obvious. If it seems for all the world like you’re going to get called out, there’s probably a way you can flip over the catcher too, so to speak.

And when you do, be ready with your story. Nothing makes people want to hear your story more than when you do something remarkable.

If you want more details about this baseball player’s story, click here.

3 marketing lessons from gardening

This week I was able to work in the flower garden for this first time since last fall.

It seems like every time I work in the flower beds I get new encouragement as a copywriter and entrepreneur.

Even when none of the flowers are blooming yet, as was the case this week.

There was something satisfying about clearing away the dead branches and debris from last year’s garden to make way for the new shoots pushing their way through the dirt.

An early spring garden reminds me of a business that has hunkered down after going through a difficult time.

On the surface there aren’t many signs of life.

There is evidence of the successes of the past (last year’s dead blooms and branches)… but it’s hard to take encouragement from that.

So what are the upsides?

Here are 3:

*It’s obvious what you need to clear away and what’s not working.

When a garden is in full bloom it’s not always easy to tell the weeds from the regular flowers. And even when you can, it’s difficult to pull out the weeds because they have deep roots. Also, there are so many weeds it’s often hard to take them time to get rid of them all.

Whereas in early spring it’s easy to scoop up the dead blooms and leaves and throw them on the brush pile. The dead weeds pull out effortlessly.

So it is in business. When your business is thriving it’s easy to ignore the stuff that isn’t working. But when you go through a dry spell, it’s far easier to cast out the dead products and ineffective ad campaigns.

*There are fewer distractions. As wonderful as it is to gaze at a beautiful garden, a certain complacency kicks in.

Sometimes there are so many flowers that it’s hard to appreciate them all, as I discovered last December. And one starts taking the flowers for granted.

Not so in early spring. Or in your business if you’re struggling right now.

When you no longer have the distractions of a successful business you have the freedom to experiment and try new things.

Maybe that will include letting a copywriter write your copy instead of taking the DIY approach.

Perhaps it means developing that new product you’ve had on the back burner for a long time.

Whatever it is, take full advantage of the silences in your business and let yourself try new things the busier businesses don’t have time to do.

*Nothing fancy is required. I used a small clippers and my bare hands to totally clear my garden and get it ready for spring.

I didn’t need a lawn mower, weed eater or the assistance of family members, like I do later in the season.

As a result, I was able to get results quickly and can now see the shoots that are poking through the dirt, which give me encouragement about the possibilities ahead. I wasn’t able to see them before.

So it is in your business if it’s not realizing its full potential right now.

Inexpensive low-tech things like a blog, social media campaign or local Meetup group will get you some quick results to help motivate you as you move forward and see the new possibilities start to appear on the horizon.

As this blogger reminds us (and I once blogged about how my daughter responded to a beggar’s story).  Tell stories in your copy too if you want increased response.

A couple of days ago my daughter told me she had trouble getting to sleep the night before.

I asked her what helped her get to sleep and she said her big sister told her a story.

“From a book?” I asked.

“No! Better than that!” she said.

Her big sister told her a story about when she and the biggest sister were little and shared that same room.

The story made her feel safe…if her big sisters slept in the room without fear when they were little then she could too.

Also, little sisters always love when big sisters pay attention to them and create a story just for them. This is far more exciting than just reading a book to them.

Stories make any situation better.

So it’s not surprising that stories are just as important in your business as well.

Your clients and prospects have anxieties too.

One of the best ways to sooth their anxieties is to tell them a story.

Not some canned sales pitch, but a story just for them that makes them feel understood and also addresses whatever anxiety they may have.

If you listen to your customers, you’ll know what kind of stories to tell.

Learning to tell stories will also improve how you communicate with your friends and family and colleagues.

Have you ever noticed how the best marketing tips are applicable to real life too? Pretty cool.

It’s About The Stories…Not Your Products

“Programs don’t make great presidents,” said political scientist Jim Morone after President Obama’s State of the Union speech. “Stories make great presidents.”

He went on to say that the president failed to persuade the American people as a result of not having stories.

This is a reminder that stories are key to persuasion.

And, yes, it means that stories make for a great business. Not products.

What’s your story? Are you telling it to your customers?

Marketing lesson from a December rose

As the new year began, I thought about the rose bush in my flower garden that still had many pink blooms.

Here’s a photo:

I live in Wisconsin so this is quite a feat. All the other flowers had died and were pruned back, bracing for the winter that was to arrive in full force a few days later in the form of a blizzard.

I confess that in the summer I hardly paid attention to the rose bush, except for the times the thorns scratched my hands, even when I was wearing gloves.

There were so many other flowers that captured my attention: the hibiscus, petunias, irises, morning glories, day lilies…and my favorite… the peony bushes. It’s always something of a tragedy when June begins and the peonies begin to die.

But this past December I think I may have taken more pleasure in those pink roses than I did in the rest of the flower garden in the summer.

You see, those pink roses remind me of a copywriter/marketer/entrepreneur (or anyone in any field) who perseveres.

Maybe these people aren’t standouts or #1 in their field.

Perhaps they screw up kind of a lot and are even “prickly” at times, like the December rose.

Put them in a room with other marketers, especially those who are newbies full of enthusiasm and hype, and maybe you wouldn’t notice the quietly confident “December rose” marketer.

But as the months and years pass, and the other marketers give up and fall by the wayside, the December rose is still standing, even after several frosts and bitterly cold weather.

Don’t give up.

As Yoda said, there is no try. Do or don’t do.

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