You’re hearing lots of advice to “just tell stories.” But in fact telling the wrong stories can send the wrong message. Here are 3 stories I’ve told over the years, before I understood the importance of understanding your marketing archetype.
(1) That story is too far from my own experience. I can’t relate to you in that context.
Many of my stories fit this pattern, especially (a) in my earliest days online and (b) when I listen to well-meaning but misguided advice.
When I was doing standup comedy, an experienced comic advised me to tell stories about my time in Alaska. So I shared the story about flying around Alaska in a tiny Cessna with a colleague who had less than 100 hours of flight time. Alas, the vast majority of my audience wasn’t sure what a Cessna was. They did know they weren’t crazy enough to fly around the mountains with an inexperienced pilot.
(2) The misunderstood story that sends the wrong message.
I didn’t share the Alaska stories in my business. But when I first started, I was advised, “People want to know you,” and, “People will look to you for the qualities they wish they had.” The first is true mainly for Role Model Archetypes, the second for Celebrities. Bottom line: this was bad advice for me.
At the time, I’d just published my book on relocation as a life transition. I wrote that I’ve always been willing to move and make changes that would bring me closer to the life I wanted.
People didn’t feel closer to me. They didn’t relate to me at all. They wrote things like, “I couldn’t do that – take risks and leap without a net. You must be totally unconcerned about money.”
The truth was, I didn’t leap without a net. Most of my moves came with jobs where my employer paid for the moves. I had a nest egg. There really wasn’t much risk and yes, I cared about money.
Needless to say, that story disappeared quickly from my website.
(3) The story that gets taken way out of context.
Once in my newsletter I shared a story about taking a bus to go somewhere. I got a few comments asking, “Why didn’t you drive?”
Apparently many of my readers thought “taking the bus” meant “being too poor to own a car” or possibly “too poor (or dumb) to take an Uber.”
The truth is, I live in a major city. Almost everything I need is in walking distance. I do use cabs and cars, but often it’s simpler to hop on a bus.
Lots of people take public transportation or ride bikes. Our mayor was seen on the subways before he got elected.
In Philadelphia, many people don’t own cars. Many never bothered to learn how to drive.
In many other places, a car is just a part of your life. I’ve lived in those places. I owned cars. It doesn’t make sense.
The same holds true when city dwellers talk about where they live. A luxury apartment in New York (and often in Philadelphia) will seem …well, much less luxurious to those who live in other parts of the country.
Bottom Line: Successful storytellers begin by considering the purpose of their stories. If they want to be viewed as “a down to earth human being,” they introduce themes that resonate with their audiences. They talk about “safe” topics, like family and gardening. They avoid stories that raise questions about their ability to deliver their services.
Successful storytellers also consider their audiences, their business and their brand. If you’re a life coach specializing in grief recovery, it might make sense to talk about losing a close family member. If you run a website software company, that same story will seem irrelevant or even intrusive.
People who live in Philadelphia like stories about buses. They go over well when I do comedy. I wouldn’t share those stories with an audience living in an area where car ownership gets taken for granted.
Most important, they consider the purpose of their story.
Are you trying to establish a personal connection? Do you even need one?
Are you introducing prospects to a system, program or service that will benefit them in surprising ways? They’re more likely to respond to stories of, “How my innovation helped these clients.” Or you could try a story that draws an analogy with what you offer, especially if you offer a particularly complex or new service. I explain more about those concept stories in my book, Grow Your Business One Story At A Time.