The Best Example You Will Find On The Value Of Storytelling

I hear it all the time: “you can talk all you want about thought leadership and content marketing, but we’re here to sell stuff.”

Have you ever heard that line?

Well I know there is more value to effective storytelling over hard selling and cold calling.

I’ve proved it out in a variety of roles and in many different scenarios. I’ve seen it in companies I’ve worked for and in companies I work with.

But I’ve never seen anything close to a scientific experiment that quantified the value of stories over cold, hard facts. That is until I met Michele Miller. Michele is head of content strategy at eBay Enterprise. And since she lives and works close by to me, I reached out and we grabbed a coffee.

I love making connections with anyone in the content game, but Michele started talking about storytelling. And while geeking out (I was geeking out. She was just telling a great story) she mentioned this “Significant Objects” project. I was intrigued. I needed to know more.

So I promised Michele that if she posted something about this on one of my favorite storytelling sites, Slideshare, that I would write about it and embed her slides. So here you go Michele. Better late than never?

Significant Objects And How They Got That Way

What happens when you hire creative writers to make up stories about cheap trinkets, and they post these stories, along with the items online for sale? This was exactly what Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn did back in 2009, as part of their storytelling experiment.

Significant Objects: a literary and anthropological experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.

They asked 100 creative writers to invent stories about $129 worth of items, then selling them on eBay to see if the stories enhanced the value of the objects being sold. In case you were wondering how the experiment went: the net profit was $3,6 million. A 2,700% increase in final markup.

The hypothesis was that stories are a driver of emotional value, and can transform insignificant objects into significant ones.

Take the globe paperweight pictured above for example. It was originally bought for $1.49, but was later sold at $197.50. Why? Because the stories in the handwritten note that came with the globe resonated with the buyer. This insignificant object became highly significant to someone else.

The experiment proves that we, as human beings, are drawn to and connect with stories. We feel stories. Data and statistics, on the other hand? Not so much.

In Michele’s presentation “The Art of Effective Storytelling,” she mentions that humans are not hardwired to understand logic and remember facts for long. But we understand and remember stories.

What does this mean for marketers and businesses?

If you want to stand out from the noise in today’s attention-starved world, here is what NOT to do in your content marketing efforts.

  1. Don’t dump data on your audience. This confuses, disengages, and even intimidates your audience. Make sure the data you are presenting is relevant and easy to understand, and clearly communicates value. Otherwise the data simply becomes meaningless noise and your audience will tune you out.
  1. Don’t use industry jargon. You will risk alienating your audience because they may not be able to understand or have the ability to relate to the industry talk full of convoluted syntax.
  1. Don’t tell them. Show me. Don’t tell your audience how your solution works and why it’s the best. Tell your customers’ stories. Highlight them as real people with real problems with real families and real bosses. Try to demonstrate how you help your customers without talking about your solution. Don’t talk about what you do. Talk about what you do for your customers.

How do you go from product-centered to story-driven content marketing then?

You need to change your way of thinking from “Here’s what our product can do” to “Here’s what you can do with our product.”

Stop talking about yourself and start thinking like your customer, with a focus on them. Tell stories that they can emotionally connect with. Create content that informs, entertains, and provides value to your audience. When you do this, the content you create helps your audience, and this in turn builds a relationship based on trust. This trust is what ultimately will drive real sales and business value.

The Art of Effective Storytelling from Michele Miller

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Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.

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