Story to Sell or Story that Sells?

Remember when the world woke up to plastic pollution?

It was around 2017.

But we’ve been aware of the problem for some time now.

In 1972, scientists published their findings of small plastic particles in the Sargasso Sea.

In 1986, aboard boats, they started counting plastic debris in surface trawls to build a data set of the problem.

In 1996, Captain Charles Moore discovered the first patch of plastics in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

Lots of reports on the impact of plastic pollution

Each discovery led to further discoveries and proof of the impact of plastic pollution. All were reported at the time of discovery. First in scientific journals, then in the media, then in political movements.

And yet, it took 45 years to break into broader public consciousness.

The reason?

Stories persuade. Data support.

The awakening to plastic pollution happened with a story (as awakenings always do) presented by one of the best storytellers of our time.

David Attenborough.

Blue Planet II was released in 2017. In the first six episodes, we enjoyed story after story of these majestic animals living in the oceans. We fell in love with the wildlife and were pulled in by beautiful moments of them playing, socialising, and fighting.

Blue Planet II was full of beautiful stories covering orcas, manta rays, penguins, turtles, seals, octopus, and crabs.

Until episode seven.

Only in episode 7, when we truly cared about the oceanic wildlife, did David Attenborough share the impact of plastic pollution on those animals.

And they did it visually (after all, a picture speaks a thousand words).

It’s hard for humans to comprehend (or care about) big numbers.

But we can comprehend this:

Images of wildlife suffering amongst plastic pollution had a huge impact.

And with a story behind plastic pollution, we care.

Is this the part where we talk about how great Steve Jobs was at storytelling?

I know. I feel the same way.

Storytelling has been a buzzword for a few years now.

How helpful is it to break down the impact of Blue Planet II or to wax lyrical about Steve Jobs’ iPod presentation?

LinkedIn and Twitter are full of ‘story porn.’

(I cringe to think I was part of that a while back during the height of my Twitter Hack game - forgive me 🙏).

Carousels on the genius behind Toy Story and Creativity Inc. regularly go viral, accompanied by the promotion of a $99 Notion template sharing the great story frameworks used by Disney and Warner Bros.

All utterly useless.

Because you’re not selling a story

These production houses and their businesses are built on selling stories.

And whilst Steve Jobs was selling an idea, he was also adored by millions of people when he pitched the iPod. When he spoke, people listened.

Unless you have thousands of people waiting to hear what you’ll say next, the ‘Steve Jobs Story Framework’ has limited benefits.

But whilst these frameworks aren't entirely helpful, the fact remains - stories do resonate.

Take the Bible.

Regardless of our religious beliefs, we can agree it’s been somewhat of a success 🙂

The first books of the Old Testament were written over 3,400 years ago, and today, there are over 2 billion Christians worldwide. Why such an impact?

As Brian McDonald says:

“It could be just a list of rules, but it’s not - it’s stories. Stories resonate with people. Lists do not."
Stories sell. Lists do not.

So, how do you make stories work for your business?

You don’t build a story to sell - you build a story that sells.

Big difference.

And the good news is, it’s possible to do that. To tell a compelling story that aligns what your business delivers with what your prospect wants.

A story that takes the fundamentals of the great tellers, from Malorie Blackman, JK Rowling, and Christopher Nolan, then tweaks them to help sell your idea.

A story that aligns the listener and teller emotionally.

Because when the listener believes what you believe and sees what you see, then they know what you know.

And that’s when they buy.

The best part is that there’s a structure for creating this kind of story, which you can find in the next article: Your core story ingredients.

Want to become a thought leader?

Every 4 weeks, I publish deep dives into B2B thought leaders, breaking down the content strategy they used to go from unknown consultant to top tier personality.

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