Jun 5, 2012

Tell Me Your Story and I Will Trust You and Buy from You

email address of photographer is marproch@gmail.com
Charles Bridge in Prague by Martin Procharzka
“What I did during my summer vacation?” You’ve probably had to tackle this subject in an essay for school. I feel that’s what I’m doing now. My wife and I traveled 6000 miles, and I learned a lot of interesting facts about the places we visited., I also re-discovered a truth far away that was in front of my face all the time.

Luda and I visited three Eastern European countries that had long been on her “bucket list”-- Hungry, Austria, and the Czech Republic. It was a fascinating trip, full of exciting places to visit, new places to walk, and great restaurants (our family grew tired of all the restaurant pics I kept posting on Facebook). But of all its sights, sounds, and tastes, I will remember the longest the 20 minutes I spent with Martin Procharzka. 

Luda and I were walking across the Charles Bridge—the oldest bridge in Prague—and confronting vendor after vendor who had set up small souvenir stands on the bridge.   I stopped to admire a photograph and asked, “This isn’t your work, is it?” The middle-aged man answered in the affirmative. We began to discuss photography in general and the details of how he had captured this amazing image of this  famous bridge.

“I came out here early, around 5 AM, to get a good spot for the foot traffic. There was just a dusting of snow. After I had set up, snow really started to fall, and I got this great shot.”

Martin’s story behind the shot anchored my visit to Prague, made the whole adventure more real for me, and certainly more memorable. It also tied into the bigger story of a city and a people released at last from the confines of their previous system and free again to be creative individuals pursuing their dreams.

The power of narrative is a great truth that we sometimes forget as business people when we focus on our accomplishments, customer testimonials, or exciting product features. We all need to remember the “story” that helps our customers anchor our “truth” and remember it.  All businesses, but especially service businesses, can benefit from becoming skilled in telling their story to customers and prospects. 

But it is not just about telling your story. You need to link your story to a bigger theme that resonates with your prospect or customer. Storytelling marketing pioneer Michael Margolis has made this point in his book, Believe Me! You can download a free PDF copy with this link. 

Margolis believes that “Only when people can locate themselves inside [your] story will they belong and participate in your narrative.” By “participate,” he means remembering and retelling.  Sometimes it’s tough for business owner to overcome our own pre-conceptions about our businesses and think about them in a new way to harness the power of storytelling.

One of our engagements from several years ago illustrates the point. A computer firm in Silicon Valley was puzzled. No matter how much it promoted the new and improved versions of its industry- leading hardware, its existing customers—the largest businesses, with the biggest networks—kept buying at the same rate, year after year. Why were they not responding to the firm’s considerable investment in marketing? We did a research study to find out and determined that, in most cases, the customers were most influenced by the firm’s service and not its hardware, which was expected to keep pace with market trends.  Since the firm’s service offerings had not changed but were generally satisfactory, the customer buying habits remained unchanged.

By combining this Voice of the Customer data with powerful storytelling, the company added new service offerings to make its brand of hardware and services indispensable and part of a compelling larger story of a labor-saving, time-saving, and money-saving solution. The results?  This firm grew its hardware AND service revenue and profits so much that within a year it was acquired at a large premium.

As you think about how to grow your business in the coming months, think about your story. How will you tell it to make it engaging? How will you link it to a larger theme?