I forget who recommended the book, The Third Door by Alex Banayan. It’s an entertaining story of Alex’s search for advice from the most successful people.
What got my attention was a story about a story.
In one chapter, Alex writes about meeting with venture capitalist Elliott Bisnow. At the time, Alex was a 19-year-old student at USC, although he spent more time studying the Wall Street Journal than studying for exams.
Elliott asked penetrating questions, including, “How did you get funding for this journey to meet with top business people?”
Alex explained. He’d figured out how to hack the TV show The Price Is Right. He won a sailboat, which he sold. That money financed his trip.
Elliott was stunned.
“That’s your story,” he exclaimed.
“That’s what you should be talking about,” he said. “Don’t talk about your mission. Tell that story.”
He brought Alex to a group of high-powered business people and made him tell the story…and sure enough, that got attention.
Some people would say the lesson here is, “See? Stories work.”
Nope. The lesson is, “Find the right story. And not everyone has one…and not every story will work for you all the time.”
That story worked for a 19-year-old who wanted to stand out. It showed what he was made of. It’s part of his personal brand, which was all he had at the time.
A second lesson is that it’s hard to find your own best stories. Often I’ll be talking to a client when they’ll toss off a casual comment – something they’d taken for granted. And that becomes their story.
Once I had a client who specialized in inventory control management. He casually mentioned that his team usually spent just a day or two on-site with their own clients, while the competition stayed for more than a week. He hadn’t thought of the implications. We wrote the copy to emphasize the benefits, such as freeing up the client’s management time and less disruption of production.
More than once I’ve found myself saying to clients – “Wait, you did that?!” and that’s when we found their story.
Two cautions: Not every great story belongs in your marketing story portfolio. You may have heard the story of the FedEx founder who gambled in Las Vegas, winning enough to meet payroll. It’s a great story, but not a marketing story.
And sometimes you just don’t have a story. If Alex had inherited that money from his grandmother, we wouldn’t be hearing about it today.
When I work with clients on copywriting projects, we often discover surprising stories. And if you don’t have a story…no worries! There can be other ways to accomplish your purpose.