When I was in high school, our neighbors decided to get out of their stinky pig-raising business. Over the course of the next year, they converted their pens of squealing hogs to rows of grapevines. It wasn’t easy, but today, they own one of the most successful, upscale businesses in our local area: a thriving vineyard and winery.

Not really want you’d expect from rural pig farmers, right?

They make a great product, which I believe is always key, but they also have a great Cinderella story that intrigues people. If you were told that the best bottle of wine you can buy in the entire state is produced by former pig farmers who clawed their way to success when no one thought they could do it, wouldn’t you want to stop by for a tour and wine tasting? Everyone loves a good underdog.

Actually, everyone loves a good story, underdog or not. If you have one to tell, you can use it to build deeper relationships with your fans and convert them to customers.

Finding Your Story

I’m a strong believer that everyone has a story to tell. The one thing your business has that none of your competitors have is you. You just need to find what makes you unique and how you can share your story with potential customers.

If you’re drawing a blank, here are a few prompts that can help you find your story:

  • What’s your origin story? In other words, how did you get started and why?
  • Do you have a unique charitable mission that pulls on people’s heartstrings?
  • Did you make a mistake along the way that your potential customers might also be making?
  • Do you live a lifestyle that most people want?
  • Did you face a common fear to get where you are today?
  • What happened along the way to make you successful?

When looking for your story, it is important to always be authentic. People can sniff out a liar pretty easily, and online, they aren’t afraid to call someone out for being phony. So, make sure that story you tell is the unembellished truth. For example, don’t try to tell a rags-to-riches story if you never experienced true rags. Selling with storytelling isn’t about lying to make sales.

Structuring Your Story

Your story will fall flat if not structured properly. Start with the basics, then build on the framework you’ve created to connect with your readers.

The basics, as the name implies, are simple: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Your story should start in the same way you would start a blog post: by hooking the reader in some way, so they want to read more. This is the most important part of your story. The rest doesn’t matter if no one reads past your first paragraph. Here are some of the best ways to hook your readers:

  • Share something surprising, like the fact that you used to be a pig farmer, but now run an upscale winery. Whatever you share should make your reader think, “Wow, I want to know how that happened.”
  • Make the reader feel some sort of connect to you. You want them to feel like they are in the same situation you were in at the start of your story, so you can lead them on a journey of realizing they can follow you to learn how to be successful.
  • Hold back a vital piece of information that makes a reader need to keep reading to learn more. Just make sure you can deliver; don’t mislead the reader, because it will only make them roll their eyes and click the back button.
  • Write to your readers. Do you know your target audience? If not, now’s the time to figure that out, so you can write a story that will connect with them. You’ll have a hard time selling with storytelling if you don’t know who the buyer is.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your story lead. Write a few different versions and have some trusted friends evaluate. If you’re feeling stuck, skip the first paragraph and start writing the middle section, the meat of the story. Sometimes, the lead will emerge only after you tell the rest of the story.

The middle of your story should focus on one thing: emotion.

Emotion is how you’ll actually make sales. If you can make a reader laugh or cry, they are your new biggest fan, because it is not easy to evoke such strong emotions from someone – especially someone you don’t know.

No matter what kind of lead you use, during the meat of your story, you need to make the reader feel some kind of connection to you. In our example, the reader might have no idea what it is like to turn a pig farm into a winery, but who among us, at some point in life, hasn’t felt the soul-dragging pain of hating their job? Who among us hasn’t dreamed of starting a business they feel passionate about? Who among us hasn’t been afraid to go for our goals?

Keep in mind, however, that your story might not be relevant to everyone. And that’s okay. You want to touch on the pain points of your target market, but if your story doesn’t resonate with every Joe Schmoe who lands on your website, that’s okay. When you make your message so bland that you try to reach everyone, you end up not being able to instill a sense of excitement in anyone. Again, selling with storytelling is about knowing your target market.

Keep the middle as short as possible, because you want to take readers by the hand and lead them to the end, where you have some kind of call to action (CTA). This is where we are asking someone to do something specific. Sign up for my mailing list. Buy my product. Download this free report. Tweet a message to your friends. Your CTA can change based on where you are using your story.

From One Story to Multiple Stories: Branching Out to Make Sales

Thus far, I’ve been writing about the concept of “your story” as you might use for your About page, but selling with storytelling goes so much farther. Once you’ve told your story (and I do recommend this becoming your About page), you can then go on to tell stories that all connect to the same points.

For example, on Boost Blog Traffic, Jon Morrow’s About page tells his story of being a successful professional blogger and living in paradise, despite having muscular dystrophy. But he also wrote about his mother learning about this disease in a post for Copyblogger about fighting for your ideas and he also wrote in a post for Problogger about using your blog to live the life you want and change the world. These are all expansions of his core story, told on his own blog.

Another great example is Paula Pant, who runs the financial blog Afford Anything. Her About page tells her story, but almost every post she writes builds on her themes of living financially independently with stories. One of her most popular posts tells the story of attending the wedding of some friends, who met because they both were traveling, rather than working conventional jobs and settling for an ordinary life.

Not every story you tell has to be an epic. Sometimes, adding in the story element simply means that you’re including some personal details into your content. If you’re teaching someone on your home improvement blog how to fix a broken toilet, tell the short but hilarious story about a pipe bursting in your home – and how you fixed it. When they go to your About page and read about your mission to learn how to do it yourself instead of hiring yet another unreliable handyman, the first story will serve to strengthen your brand.

Do you tell your story through content? What are your biggest struggles with storytelling? For more advanced information about digital storytelling, check out this post.

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2 Comments on Content Marketing 101: Selling with Storytelling

    • Thanks for stopping by, Paula. That stat does not surprise me at all. People always make decisions when they feel an emotional connection. At least, I do!

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