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3 Things that Stories Do Really Well

Telling tales is even more powerful than you think

What makes “story” such an important factor in marketing your business? It’s the operating system of the human brain. We are wired to wonder what happens next. Our lives are chock-full of villains who cause us problems. When you sell a solution to a problem—that resonates with something deep inside us.

Stories draw a crowd.

It’s no accident that Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and other streaming services are selling us stories. We can’t get enough. And we’re no longer satisfied with the two-hour plot of a normal movie; we binge-watch series after series with story arcs of eight, ten, or twenty hours total.

Stories touch our hearts.

It’s almost as if the stories are grabbing us by the heart and pulling us into the screen. We care about Arya Stark and Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag. Stories engage our emotions.

But it’s not just the dramatic series. Certain TV commercials have always made me cry. I remember one from more than a decade ago that showed a harried businesswoman on a flight home. We saw images of an angry meeting, a missed taxi, rushing for her flight—and then she’s striding through her home airport, and a little girl scampers to meet her. We got a story arc in thirty seconds—there’s no place like home—and it brought me to tears.

Stories get remembered.

When I speak in public, I often use stories to illustrate my main points. I’m amazed at how vividly people will remember the stories, even years later. In one talk at my church about two decades ago, I told about leaving my sister at a turnpike rest stop. (I swear, Sis, it was unintentional!) Even now, when I introduce her to some church folks, they ask, “Is this the one from the rest stop?”

But here’s the thing. People don’t remember why I told the story. My main point is long forgotten, but the story remains powerful. It’s the same thing with the commercial about the businesswoman. I don’t remember what company created that ad. I think it was an airline. Or an insurance company. Or a bank.

This creates a challenge for marketers. It’s not enough to create a compelling story. You need to connect that story to your product. Granted, there may be some value in subliminal responses. That is, I’m more apt to buy from that airline (or bank or insurance company) because I feel strangely connected to them, whether or not I consciously remember that their ad made me cry. But I still suspect that many companies waste money on stories that entertain or impress or make people cry but don’t make a strong enough connection with the company. I believe they underestimate the awesome power of story.

Strong stories easily overwhelm messages. It happens all the time. So if you’re looking to grab people’s attention with a cute story before offering your product pitch, stop and think it through. People will probably remember the story and forget your pitch.

But if you create a story with your pitch woven into it, then it’s hard to separate them. Start with a basic story of your company helping a customer solve a problem, and that can become the core of any further marketing output. In essence, the story is the pitch.


Randy Petersen, founder of Petersen Creative Enterprises, is a veteran author, playwright, teacher, speaker, and consultant.

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