You’re Not The Hero of Your Story

One of the big trends in selling over the past year or so in the online marketing community is the notion of selling with stories.  I’m quite a fan of this idea and it’s something I’ve been doing for a few years as telling stories is my most natural way of getting my point across.

Much of what you hear and what people teach is rather formulaic because to be fair, that’s what’s needed to be able to “sell” the idea of storytelling – you have to break it down into a repeatable framework for people.

The lazy point around this would be to say that you need to turn it into a formula because some (or most) people aren’t natural storytellers.

I don’t think that’s true at all.  I think it is a somewhat innate human quality that almost all of us have from early ages, just that some of us are more attuned to it and have had more practice using that “storytelling muscle”.

Think about it… If you’ve spent any time at all with small children, say when they are about 4 or 5 years old, you’ll know that they almost never shut up.  Their little brains are learning how to formalize thoughts, harness their imagination, combines that with their rapidly growing vocabulary and then express all of that into words.

And what form does that usually take?  They just make up stories.

Somewhere along the line though, some people stop telling stories to other people and our naturally expansive way of communicating that way takes a back seat to direct and minimalist directive based speech.

When you go back to storytelling as a tool in your marketing and particularly when you’re selling, then you have to hone this skill.

There are generally two mistakes that I see people make with their use of storytelling – one small mistake and one giant mistake.

The small mistake is that they aren’t entertaining enough.

The best stories are fun and engaging.  They pull the listener or the audience in and get them visualizing what they’re being told in their own minds.

When you can achieve that, then you’re 90% of the way there.

Which leads perfectly to my next point, the big mistake that people make.

In their story, they don’t miscast the hero – they place themselves in the role of the hero rather than the person reading the story.

People want to imagine themselves in the story – when they visualize it in their minds, they see themselves as the protagonist, not you.

And that one simple shift in perspective makes all the difference.

If you’re trying to place your reader as the hero then everything about the way you structure the story changes – it becomes their journey, their destination, their fears and their ultimate victory.

However, in the case of selling something online, you don’t give them the victory, you explain the opportunity to attain victory with what you’re offering and then give them the chance to grab it by becoming your customer.

One of the great stories of our time is Game of Thrones as told on TV.  The book version is a bit meandering, has too many characters and subplots, and lacks the cut and thrust that makes for a great cinematic/TV story.  What the TV show was able to do was to peel that back into something digestible for a mainstream audience.

The great plot device that the TV show uses so well is the idea of the “wise counsellor” – every protagonist on the show has someone giving them sage advice and helping them stay true to their path.

In the story that you craft for your customer, they are Jon and Dany and you’re Jorah Mormont or Tyrion Lannister.  Your job is to help guide them to the right decision and when they take that next step and become your customer, they need to know that you’ll be right there with them, helping them achieve their desired outcomes.

But so many people get this wrong – they talk about themselves rather than the customer, they talk about their journey.

A great example recently was Facebook – many of the memos and things that have leaked out about the way they have mismanaged data revolves around them talking about “their mission”.  They waxed lyrically about how they see it as “their job” to bring the world closer together.

It didn’t seem to matter if, in the process of achieving their mission, they mishandled everyone’s personal data and were duplicitous.

They cast themselves as the hero in their story and then tried to shape the narrative in a way that somehow they were always just trying to what was in our best interests.

That’s entirely the wrong way to think about.

Your customer has to be the hero of the story, what you want doesn’t rate a mention, your “mission” doesn’t matter.

You see even smart marketers make this mistake when they say things like, “My mission is to create 1,000 new online business millionaires.”

That statement has nothing to do with the person reading it – they are an afterthought at worst and at best, they are part of a statistic in that other person’s narrative.

So definitely use stories in your marketing, but remember that you’re trying to help your customer ascend to the Iron Throne, you are The Hand, not the King or Queen.

And once you get that squared away in your own mind, structure your entire story around that premise.

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