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Using the power of stories to sell

Stories and story-telling are the creative copywriter’s secret weapon. Because while your customer will only remember around 10% of the information about your product if you present it in the form of statistics, they’ll remember around 70% if you present the same information in story form. But remembering your product is only part of the power of stories. They also create an urge to act, making your call-to-action all the more effective. Here’s an Oxygen guide to harnessing the power of stories to sell.

Humans are addicted to stories

Once upon a time humans loved stories. They still do, and the evidence is that they always have. Research shows that the neural pathways of a storyteller and their listeners will synchronize during the story-telling process. So it’s natural way to produce rapport and empathy, which is great news for any copywriter hoping to disarm a savvy or even jaded customer as part of the sales cycle. But the other reason stories are such a friend to the copywriter is that they’ve always been used to instruct. Since the beginnings of speech and cave painting, stories have been used to convey vital information about how to keep safe, how to survive, and how to negotiate the human and emotional world. All the great religions have harnessed the power of stories. Humans trust stories as if they were old friends, and this trust of stories is hard-wired into your customer’s brain.

Stories provoke a response

Stories are nothing without emotion. A good story will provoke a powerful emotion too. A story can work quietly to change an attitude, make people change their ways, or even powerfully enough to provoke a revolution. Great copywriters understand exactly how to harness this emotional power to drive conversions and to make stories sell goods and services. Because it’s not enough to tell a great story. You need to tell a certain kind of story, that makes the reader feel compelled to act, and to take the kind of action you want them to.

When to use stories

Long copy uses stories to play on a customer’s fears and concerns, leading them on a journey that ultimately offers them a solution. Press releases are also stories which have to be good enough to make journalists want to circulate them. Case studies are real-life stories illustrating how well your product or service has worked. And the ‘about us’ page of any website tells the story of how your company evolved and what’s important to you. Brand stories can be the most powerful of all. Just ask Apple and Pixar. Their stories have become almost biblical in the devotion they inspire.

Story-telling secret #1 – make your customer the hero

A great story may get your customer to read you copy, but it won’t necessarily get them to buy or act. Since stories were first designed to tell us how to negotiate the world, you must choose a story which puts your customer’s dilemma and the solution to it at the centre of your story. Add enough detail to enable them to put themselves in the protagonist’s place. This will grab their attention, elicit sympathy and allow them to identify with the hero/heroine.

Story-telling secret #2 – cut out anything that’s off message

Human beings are story sophisticates. After all, we’ve been listening to them for thousands of years. One trick is to involve a reader by making them work a little. Try leaving them room to infer and come to conclusions by themselves. Set up an information gap that your reader feels compelled to close. Cut out anything that doesn’t expressly lead them towards buying (or enquiring – whatever your call-to-action goal is). The key difference between a story told purely to entertain, and one used to sell, is that the reader must themselves take action at the end of it.

 Customers are happier to pay more for a product or service that comes with ‘provenance’ − basically a good back story”

Use stories to…

Stories are a great way to grab a cynical customer’s attention and keep them in relaxed and receptive state, so that they’re more ready to purchase. They’re non-threatening and customers are happier to pay more for a product or service that comes with ‘provenance’ − which is basically a good back story. It’s the thing that will make them remember you too.

Finding your brand story is crucial to adding value to your offer for your customer. If you need help doing that why not give Oxygen a call today on 0845 2606 255.

Steve Lodge :Steve trained as a NCTJ journalist and is an experienced copywriter. He has over 15 years in agency, and started Oxygen in 2002.

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