Telling stories all the way to the bank

by
July 16, 2011

When your business is called “stories that sell” it’s pretty obvious that you think stories can sell.  And over recent weeks there has been a crop of….err, stories, that suggest this is indeed the case.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass

Take News of the World.  They didn’t have any news any more – it was all online, days before their Sunday publication date.  So they were desperate to get behind the news to dig out the hidden stories behind the news.  And they tried too hard.  The fact they were willing (allegedly?) to do such despicable things, and take such risks, tells you how valuable stories are.

My fair goatherd

Then there was a story that powerfully illustrates the point that when you are selling a person in today’s ultra-competitive environment it’s not enough to rely on their obvious attributes and positive qualities – you need to embellish these with an engaging and moving narrative.

The story I’m talking about concerns the supermodel Iman, now wife of David Bowie.

Born in Somalia, her father was a former Somali ambassador to Saudi Arabia and her mother was a gynecologist.  She studied political science at Nairobi University and is fluent in five languages: Somali, Arabic, Italian, French and English.  However, The Times recently ran an article reminding us that when she was discovered by photographer Peter Beard in 1974, and went with him to the US, he introduced her as a dirt-poor goatherd, who couldn’t speak a word of English.  “It was a good story,” chuckles Iman.  “It was a bit like My Fair Lady – it was insulting, but I can’t let Peter take the fall for that alone.  I knew exactly what was going on.”  Borrowing the story worked and the rest was success.

Stories for votes

Then there’s the American primaries, which are just kicking off.  The Republicans are scratching around for a candidate who can take on Obama.  As the incumbent, Obama’s rating are low, and he has spectacularly failed to live up to his promise.  But there’s a real reticence to go up against him.  Why?  Because he still has a great story – black, and, unlike Iman, his family from East Africa really is dirt poor.  Plus his wife’s great-great-great-grandmother was a slave valued in her owner’s will at $475 in 1850.  Beat that!  The best the Republicans have come up with so far is Mitt Romney.  His story is pants – he’s a Mormon, so forget it.

Remember the last US election?  Who did the Republicans pick?  John McCain.  Great story – Top Gun fighter pilot who fought for his country in Vietnam, was shot down, held in captivity for years and tortured, a story stuffed full of “the right stuff”.  Who does he pick as his running mate?  Instead of going for someone with political experience and brains (to exploit the fact that Obama patently lacked experience) he goes for the one with the best story – Sarah Palin, whose woefully inadequate knowledge of anything outside Alaska was illustrated by her remark that “We’ve got to stand with our North Korean allies.”  So why pick her?  Great story.  A woman, the youngest person and the first woman elected Governor of Alaska – religious, gun toting, a mum…

Brand stories

It was recently my birthday and my dad bought me “Hegarty on advertising” by the famous creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (think Levis, Audi, Lynx/Axe).  Chapter 7 is entitled “Storytelling” and the frontispiece to that section of the book has these words.

“Probably the most powerful form of communication we have at our disposal is storytelling.  It has been incorporated by virtually every civilization into their culture.  It is the simplest, most memorable device we have for engaging, learning, entertaining and persuading.  It’s not surprising then, that so many great advertising campaigns are based around this simple device.”  He ends the chapter with this statement, picked out in bold type, partly underlined “And never forget: a brand is an agglomeration of stories linked together by a vision.”

The End

Want your business to succeed?  Get a good story and tell it for all it’s worth (which is a lot).

Picture credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/nattyart/4551914533/  Many thanks!